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(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

Once upon a time I was a small-town girl living in a lonely world—well, while attempting to get my career started in the metropolitan area where I have since lived for over 31 years. I first came to Denver to study book publishing at the (University of) Denver Publishing Institute, returning a month later for good.

I didn’t find many openings in book publishing so I set out to information-interview the local publishing companies. After one such interview, my car (of the same vintage I was—young for human years, but old in car years) broke down at the side of the road—fortuitously by a gas station that still had working mechanics on site. The young mechanic got me back on the road (for free!) and I returned to the faraway suburb where I was staying with my mother’s friends during my initial job search.

Fast-forward (slow-forward?) almost 30 years and I answered a job post (through the Publishing Institute’s job listing) for the same company I visited right before the car’s roadside drama. Morton Publishing is still in the exact same location, although expanded, yet the people interviewing me were much younger than I was, including one I knew from yoga. I did not get that position but later that year Morton contacted me about doing freelance proofreading for them as they went through the busy preparations for the annual textbook releases. Completed two books for them in 2014 and four in 2015.

This loop in my life looks even more orchestrated when I think about how I met and married a man who owned a house less than a mile from Morton. I have lived and socialized and worked out in the same community as where the company is for almost 28 years. For 11 of those years I have attended the yoga class where I originally met someone who would eventually work at Morton because another student—who later joined our yoga class—worked at the company.

Over the years I’ve deviated from my original dream to work in book publishing. I began in magazine publishing, but fell into (and learned to like) numbers work there. I reasoned that I could do numbers work in a variety of industries, so I moved into a financial reporting business. At one time I was even an accountant—and, yet words kept calling me. I eventually wrote articles and compiled detailed charts for magazine articles. And then—through that yoga class—I connected with an author who needed an editor for two projects over many years.

And, now, I start a job as assistant editor at Morton in just over week. As my daughter pointed out, “It took you 31 years to get that job.” Right—while the company was growing, and while I was adding to my skills as well as raising a family.

Don’t stop believing.

(About the photo.)

(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

Winter term, freshman year, on a bleak, white-washed January Ohio day, I showed up for the first day of that necessary evil of college: composition or expository writing or whatever you want to call the class each college makes you take to ensure you write well enough to get through any future college writing assignments. That day I met my future academic adviser, though I didn’t know it yet. The major hadn’t chosen me yet so I still had the adviser assigned to me before I showed up on campus. Dr. B. seemed the picture of one of those common caricatures of what a literature professor is like—he was a former beatnik with a salt and pepper early Beatles’ style haircut who rode an old black bike across campus, keeping his small manual typewriter set in the mesh basket attached to the front. He wanted us to call him by his initials or his nickname, but I stuck with the formal “Dr.” whenever I addressed him. I was way more uptight than this man, but we got along just fine, nonetheless.

When I left for college, I wrote well enough—you know, for a person who could apply basic grammar rules. My papers made sense and I could say what I meant. Still, like most of my peers, I did not write well enough to test out of the basic composition class. At the time I put that down to a writing prompt that had something to do with the Iran Hostage Crisis. As I mentioned in the previous post, I was really not into thinking that deeply at that point in time, but I’m pretty certain the reason I didn’t test out of the class was because I needed to take it not because of the difficulty of the prompt.

What I learned most in his class was less about writing with correct grammar—because I already did that well—and more about how to create writing that sounded fresh in a variety of settings. Yes, we could insert fragments (incomplete sentences) as long as we applied them sparingly and used our pens to indicate we knew what and where they were. (Excuse me while I apologize to him right now since it appears I often ignore his “sparingly” rule regarding usage of fragments—sorry, Dr. B.)

However, the fragments are just something that really resonates with who I am as a writer. I imagine I might write better if I stopped making quite so many asides. Not that I’m stopping. (Mark that frag. for Dr. B.) What mattered most was that he taught me and all my classmates the difference between writing in passive and active voice. He challenged us to circle every instance of passive voice we used in our papers and to leave as few as necessary in the final drafts. Even if I hadn’t majored in English or chosen to write/edit, I would have needed to learn this—hey, I think everyone needs to know how to write in active voice. Not only does writing become more immediate with active voice, but using it also forces writers to search deeper for just the right verb, something that tends to develop a more creative process.

To this day, I struggle to get through a book that distances itself through passive language. Maybe reading all those (mostly ancient) philosophy texts my first weeks in college influenced the amount of relief I felt from learning how to bring about some clarity in writing! Yet, I have read books on topics such as probability, process management, business, psychology, and DNA but only if written well—which for me tends to mean the writing uses active language. Even the chemistry and astronomy textbooks I proofread last fall avoided most usages of passive voice—the writing spelled out concepts in a straightforward and accessible manner that should aid future students in applying those concepts to the associated exercises and experiments.

Some of life happens to us—passive voice sometimes works in the tales we tell of those stories, but not always—unless, of course, we are deliberately trying to downplay the action. Imagine the emotional and visual difference between saying “I was hit by a car” versus saying “A car hit me”—one creates distance and a sort of matter-of-fact impression of the news while the other projects a strong picture that could lead to a more visceral response. Nonetheless, the first statement is exactly how my mother finally admitted she did remember after all that a car hit her first before she came home and fell again. Though my mom had a story to tell, she did not want to do so—she deliberately fell back on passive voice to obfuscate the facts.

Don’t make the mistake of using passive voice when you really want others to hear your story, though. Doesn’t matter if it’s an annual report for a business or a technical how-to piece or the story of how your mother broke her foot—if you want the reader to stay with the story, write in active voice as often as you can.

(Even after a car hit my mother, she healed well. Thank goodness we soon found a doctor practiced enough at listening to seniors that he could interpret passive voice narratives meant to conceal health and/or safety concerns.)

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Good morning! And, yes it is. Yesterday, no matter how the day progressed, I could not find any energy. What’s different today? Not a whole lot—that’s the crazy part. Do you suppose that our energy levels ebb and flow naturally but our controlling natures just refuse to accept that?

Of course, since my personal controlling nature doesn’t really want to accept that I’ve been thinking maybe I should get a Fitbit device that records the quality of my sleep and maybe the results would explain all about my inconsistent energy. Then I could say, “Ah ha! No wonder I felt tired.”

Or not, right?

Yesterday, neither my brain nor my body had any desire to do anything. Was neither depressed nor distressed so I thought if I would just get up and move to a new space, my perspective would change enough so that I could get myself going. However, despite this strategy and its frequent application, I could only manage to putter at best. Was the sort of day when I needed non-negotiable activities on my agenda but, unfortunately, had very few of those scheduled.

It wasn’t the prospect of an open day that did me in—it was who I was that day and how I felt that slowed me down so much. I tried to write, really I did. I was certain that if I went outside and moved a little and focused on some minor gardening tasks that the change of location and activity would get either my brain or my body to sharpen and move forward. But no, after said gardening tasks, I went back to a torpor in which I could not even write about something as minor as those gardening tasks.

Today I am writing—in the morning—and looking forward to getting out the door to exercise. I also have other tasks in front of me on my desk that don’t seem daunting at all.

What’s different? I had a similar amount of sleep, similar aches and pains in the night, similar diet, etc. The only thing that seems different today is my energy level.

Are these patterns just part of the mystery that is life or is there something I can do about them, for goodness’ sake? Should I accept the consistency of inconsistency or—by accepting—am I giving in to something over which I could have power?

Maybe while I have all this energy I’ll go climb some mountaintop in order to find some guru to ask.

P.S. I know that it’s afternoon by now, but I’ve been too busy being active to sit back down and edit these words until now. This morning’s run was not easy but at least just the thought of putting on my running shoes did not make me tired as it did yesterday. Have not climbed mountains nor spoken to gurus but I have been moving. Hooray for today’s energy.

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

The past two Aprils I participated in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge—well, April starts tomorrow, so it’s time again to challenge myself to writing an almost-daily blog post.

Believe it or not, I even started thinking about my April blogging before April. As much as I think past experiences with this blogging challenge have been good training by forcing me to meet a prompt-based deadline, I also think I have a lot to learn about planning ahead. Yes, gasp, I decided this would be the year for a theme, although I do wonder if it will be a bit too ambitious—or at least difficult to keep myself to writing short posts.

My first-time-ever-theme is based on NPR’s “This I Believe” series. By this age in life I either believe certain things strongly or don’t believe them at all. Opinions? Yes, I have opinions. The trick might be choosing just one for a specific day, especially with letters such a “C” or other letters full of great options.

Now, the question is, will my humor still creep into my belief statements or will I be “playing it straight” in the coming month? Even I can’t predict that one! Until tomorrow . . .

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Last Sunday our son Jackson was struggling with writer’s block for an assignment due the next evening. After spinning with few results all day, he finally came upstairs and announced, “I need a jigsaw puzzle. Do we have one?”

Now I know some people think you just need to plant your butt in the seat (or your laptop on your lap)—but sometimes that just isn’t enough. I’m not just a former student—I’m also a writer. Writer’s block can be real and what you need to do is change your mindset so that whatever’s locking up your mind will let loose.

If all the planting hasn’t produced even a single seed, let alone a single weed, then the best thing you can do is something else. This isn’t about those activities you do just to avoid work—I mean there are only so many toenails you can clip. No, this is about doing some sort of movement or activity with the express idea of fertilizing the mind—and then setting a timer to go back to face the block and the mind.

Jackson had almost waited too long before coming up with this most excellent idea—so much so that when he found out we didn’t have a puzzle at the ready, he really didn’t think it was worth a trip to the store. Sherman and I, however, thought the puzzle was really the best hope he had for success, so off the two of them went for a quick shopping excursion.

While they were gone, I cleared off the table space. As soon as they returned, we broke into the box and started looking for the edge pieces. We were off—and obsessed.

Yet, as obsessed as we were, we knew the real reason we were doing a puzzle was so Jackson could write a paper. After about half an hour, we started asking him questions. He had the basic idea for his paper, but couldn’t move forward. Heads down, hands moving through the pieces, we kept talking. Eventually he had more and more to say. Then it was a matter of setting a timer and his working between his paper and the puzzle. (Yes, of course, we stuck with the puzzle alone!)

He had a good start on the paper before we went to sleep. Just to make sure this puzzle thing continued to be a good idea, we turned off the upstairs lights so he had to go downstairs—and away from the puzzle.

The next morning he did a little more working on both the puzzle and paper before he left for classes—where he had time to finalize his assignment before it was due—which he did do.

In the past, Jackson hasn’t been great at pursuing Plan B (or any options beyond Plan A) when things don’t go as planned, but it seems he’s starting to get there.

Jackson’s Plan B has worked out well for Sherman and me also. What better week for a puzzle obsession than when a sub-zero cold spell arrived? Plus, maybe the puzzle is fertilizing my own soil—I’ve written three blog posts since we started on the puzzle and done quite a bit of work on the soon-to-be yearend books for our commercial property. Not bad for a small investment in money and time. Sometimes goofing around is what you need to do first in order to solve a puzzle.

Trina (mid-1970s)

Trina (mid-1970s)

Want to know the hardest thing for me to write? A bio! Where I come from, talking about yourself isn’t that common—or at least it wasn’t. Go ahead—read all that pioneer literature and you’ll see how often the adults in the stories admonish the kids for straying from modesty.

And you better believe compliments from others were handed out about as often as candy was, too. My mother’s mother, the oldest child and daughter, had to drop out of school at eight-years-old to take over the household work when her mother was no longer able. Despite her early exit from schooling, it was no secret she valued education for others. But when she talked about my mother, did she boast about her being the first in their family to get a college degree as well as a master’s degree? (OK, she did spend time with a sister-in-law who often dropped news of “her son, the doctor” as often as possible.) No, whenever she talked about my mom, she would say, “All she ever did was read.” If you looked at her face, you knew she was bragging though she was trying to present the statement as if it were a complaint.

Oh, no, I come from a long line of people who downplay our abilities and accomplishments. That is so not the modern way, not even in casual interactions. Can’t even begin to tell you what my grandmother would have said about all those high school and college kids posting their grades on Facebook at the end of each semester. Even my peers would have stuffed me in a locker pronto if I had done stuff like that in high school.

Maybe it’s good that some things have changed over the years—there really is no need to hide everything you do well even if I still don’t think it’s very good manners to rub your successes in other peoples’ faces. Several decades past responding to people’s compliments with an explanation about why their statements are wrong, I’ve moved from protest to simple thank-yous.

On the other hand, I think my kids—part of the everyone-gets-a-trophy-generation—will say I’m still a little stingy with compliments. Even so, they know I value hard work and effort. Plus, by now they understand that when I give them praise, I mean every word.

But back to my own self-promotional words. I’m always working against my background when I need to write résumés, bios, cover letters, applications, etc. I can tell you what I did or do but have a really hard time telling you why I’m good at it, even when I know very well just why that is—and especially when I know why I’m particularly better at it than other people are.

Yeah I know—not exactly the moment for a normally wordy person to plummet her word count.

Speaking of word counts, I have exactly 300 words ahead of me—300 complimentary words about how well I do what I do, that is. This isn’t writer’s block I’m facing. No, it’s writer’s phobia. And the gospel truth is that I don’t do that sort of writing well—yet. Maybe if I pretend I’m writing a character analysis on the fictional hero of my story, I’ll forget my upbringing long enough to get my story into the kind of words my grandmother never would have said of me—despite secretly agreeing with every single word.

(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) 2012 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

My high school employed a stereotypical mean librarian—if you can believe the tales told by my classmates. Nellie looked like our mascot—a bulldog—and you could just imagine her walking down the halls—forcefully, of course—to the rhythm of “Marian the Librarian” without the good looks and amenable personality of Shirley Jones in The Music Man movie. Luckily, I didn’t have much free time in my schedule so I mostly avoided the school library in lieu of the town library where the librarians were more reasonable.

Most libraries have been my refuge, not stale places where the slightest sound brings about censure. From the dark small town library of my earliest years—a cool retreat on hot summer days—to the bright larger town library of my preteen and teen years to the modern, industrial library where I studied almost daily in college, libraries have seemed a pretty good mix of quiet enough yet not so stuffy I couldn’t make a little noise myself. However, the new library is much more of a gathering place. For now the stacks and stacks of books remain, but for how long?

For some the library is like a coffee shop only larger. They ignore the signs about turning off cell phones to walk among the aisles talking—sometimes in volumes louder than normal indoor voices—to invisible listeners in a manner no different than if they were talking in private as is so common pretty much everywhere these days. And when they encounter their friends, they shout across the room, having complete conversations without moving closer together.

In college I went to the library to keep myself from turning to all those pressing problems back in my room—you know, such as toenails that needed to be clipped or posters I should rearrange on the walls or snacks I just had to find—and to limit the distractions from my likely cluttered personal space. Today I go to the library to keep from doing just one more thing here or there (or at least thinking about doing those things), searching out snacks, and feeling distracted from looking at all the clutter at home. Plus, I take pleasure in turning off my cell phone so, for once, no one will contact me.

Oh sure, I enjoy having short conversations with friends I might encounter, but I always try to keep my voice volume not much stronger than as if I were, say, a sports announcer for golfing events. I’m not trying to emulate an auctioneer—everyone does not need to hear every word I say.

Truly, I don’t need to ensconce myself in a tomb-like little room to get myself to focus. In fact, I don’t want to do so. I’ve never really been the sort to take myself away to some study desk—I can study and/or work with a little commotion. After all, I was successful at managing to study in the somewhat social atmosphere of a college library before I became a mom who had to write by the side of wherever my kids were doing activities such as music and sporting lessons and practices. However, I always preferred the more muffled noises from something such as swimming lessons to the loud ki-yaps from the sidelines of taekwondo classes.

Since we live in a new era, both of what is considered proper manners and of how we approach literacy, I’m the one who is going to have to adjust if I still want my library to be a refuge. That’s why, after I plugged in my laptop at a table yesterday, I also plugged in my ear buds and went to the beach, so to speak. The waves on the shore pounded—gently, of course—just enough to cover up for noises from people who are either young enough never to have had the misfortune of being shushed by someone like Nellie or who have buried deeply the somewhat discourteous lessons the Nellies of days gone by were trying to teach about courtesy.

The next time a young man wants to ask me if I have any hand sanitizer or if a couple starts an argument by me or some guy stands nearby shouting into his Bluetooth about nothing in particular, I am turning up the waves. No, I cannot hear you now—la, la, la, la, la.

If I can get to and stay at that beach, I can still also journey anywhere else my mind chooses to go. And that has always been the true magic of libraries.

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

So the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right?

Yet sometimes it seems so wrong when the apple falls from the tree in a way that is so hard—that is even harsher than the way I fell from the tree.

Ironic that I am a writer when the thing that seems most likely to stand between my son and succeeding in education is his writing.

Oh, not his knowledge of conventions or formatting—all that can be taught or guided somewhat in a writers’ workshop. No, his writing problems are more about forcing big concepts into what he considers inadequate forms of expression.

I only worked briefly in my college’s writers’ workshop before my bout with mono brought my neophyte tutoring days to an end. For a few weeks I worked with a student from Puerto Rico. The workshop director matched me with him because, in addition to my studying English literature, I was also majoring in Spanish. In my few sessions with the student, I quickly realized his difficulties had little to do with his knowledge of English and its foibles.

You see, he was a highly analytical thinker who excelled in statistics and mathematics. The bigger problem for him was his thinking style. Here was a black and white mind faced with writing the gray in his philosophy papers. I am guessing he had the ability to write papers for his areas of study with little difficulty. To this day, I wonder if his liberal arts experience taught him how to become more flexible across the disciplines or if he instead had to find a different school that did not require him to open his mind quite so much. How frustrating for such an intelligent person to be doing remedial work because of how far his brain leaned in one direction.

My son at least can see the gray—oh how much gray he can see—but the black and white parts of his mind do not seem to allow that gray to fit into the parameters spelled out in syllabus descriptions.

And so it’s been for him since elementary school. How many hours has he spent amassing knowledge and thinking about his topics only to find he can’t make what he knows into a writing piece that is good enough to say what he means? Keep in mind that “good enough” is a standard of his own invention, not something found in the rubric provided first by teachers and later by professors. How many of them would be surprised to know just how much he cared about those papers he did not turn in—those for which he preferred to receive zero points versus discover that he had submitted what he considered to be a sub-standard product?

Students with ADD or AD/HD have many possible reasons for why their academic success may not match their intelligence level. However, for my son, this inability to call a paper or a lab report or an assignment good enough for him to consider it completed is the biggest challenge he faces for getting ahead in his education—whether in 4th grade, middle school, high school, or during his current college philosophy course.

Unlike the student I tutored, he can consider possibilities—too many, in fact. He approaches even short papers as if he were preparing for a dissertation—without the benefit of years studying the dissertation topic. In his mind he does not have enough knowledge to make the definitive statements necessary to produce what he considers the Truth.

It breaks my heart to watch such a gifted mind stall out so often in writing a paper—something that is necessary to complete his formal education. At the same time, I know he also watches other less brilliant thinkers move through their college courses quicker not only because they can follow the directions on a syllabus but also because they can either tune out the infinite shades of gray or because they don’t even see them in the first place.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Not so funny how his difficulties remind me of my own. Though I could follow a syllabus in school, I still have a hard time completing longer projects when I am in charge of all the details—so many options, so many possibilities, and yet so little completed production for all my ideas. But at least I can blend enough of that gray so that piece by piece I come up with something that shows up in black and white . . . letters, anyway.

Oh, to find some way to feed this tree and that apple so that we grow out of our limited focus on black, white, and grays in order to expose the Technicolor shades that truly reflect the brilliance of our minds.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

In my 20s, I knew this woman who often dreamed about her teeth falling out—she swore that dreams of teeth falling out symbolized death. And, maybe she did have good reason to worry about her mortality since she’d survived a brain tumor while in college. Of course, in typical twenty-something fashion, she didn’t really do that much to take care of her health, so maybe her sleeping brain had to remind her to do so.

I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed my teeth were falling out—both my grandmothers lived over fifty years longer than their teeth did, so maybe losing teeth doesn’t equate with dying in my mind anyway. If I’m going to dream about my mortality, I dream about my mortality. Isn’t that more attention-getting anyway than dreaming about your teeth?

Last week I had one of those dreams where you wake up unsure that what happened was a dream until, thank goodness, you conclude that it was. On the bright side, my dreams don’t seem to be predictive. No, they serve better to give me that proverbial kick in the head and ask me if I’m paying attention.

Long story short, but in my dream I ran into an old friend who is quite intuitive, but in real life she’s a dental hygienist, not a healer, and definitely not a medical professional in a women’s healthcare practice. After hugging me and spending a few minutes with me, she told me I had a growth somewhere in those often fatal regions of the abdomen.

Well, I got mad. I mean, as much as I’d been whining about all the complications in my life, I wasn’t ready to give it up. Despite everything that can and does go wrong, Life is sweet—a gift I don’t want to waste. Then, I clearly decided I was in a dream and I wanted out of it—it was time to open my eyes.

Sure, after I opened my eyes and loved on seeing even the clutter that is mine, I still felt disturbed for awhile. Had to keep reminding myself I’m not at all psychic, despite the fact my husband Sherman always called my dad the Amazing Kreskin, due to Dad’s ability to predict some things that happened. I never thought Dad was psychic, either, just intuitive.

So what did I do about the dream? First of all, I already have a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the end of the month, so just in case I’m not crazy, I’m covered, right?

But, otherwise it was just another wake-up call to get back to doing the things I want to do.

That very afternoon I wrote the introduction to a fiction story I’ve been talking about writing since earlier this year. Though I had done some background research and written down some thoughts about the character and the plot, I hadn’t written a single word on the actual story–until last week.

The next day I got an e-mail telling me about a ZUMBA training session I could attend. I mean, I think I’m healed, but why haven’t I gone back to memorizing routines so I can put together a full session so I am ready to substitute teach? Sunday, I went. Now I have several new songs in my repertoire.

And, yesterday, well, I organized spools of thread. (Can’t win them all, right? Although if I start doing more sewing projects, I’ll be glad I did . . .)

Geez, if I’m going to live and live well, maybe I better start flossing my teeth again! Mortality dreams or not, teeth do come in handy—and buying dental floss costs a lot less than buying dentures.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert