Monthly Archives: October 2014

Holiday Hoopla

Which is your favorite holiday?  Today is a holiday that has seen a tremendous shift in meaning since it originated, and the coming months will bring other huge holidays that tend to be high on the list of favorites.  Holidays are a great time to lift ourselves from our routine, celebrate family and friends, and connect with the past. And usually participate in the economy.

 

I haven’t put out a single decoration this year, though I have a sizable collection of Halloween dust catchers which have accumulated over the years of raising my boys.  There are the tall, slim figurines that I bought in a kit and painted myself.  And a hollowed out gourd, made into a ghost, that I bought on an afternoon spent in a quaint town with my mom and sister.  The scarecrow made from a softball by a fellow mom who was trying to impress the other homeroom moms with her creativity.  And plenty of other things, most of which have a memory or two attached.

 

public domain image

public domain image

One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving.  Because it is quieter and except for food hard to exploit with merchandise.  Even though my dad and I would regularly lament that it was difficult to find Thanksgiving decorations.  Now I have his and mine – mostly Pilgrim and turkey themed.  I love that the focus is around family and friends gathering to share a meal and think about gratitude.  (We won’t think about the fact that shopping for Christmas is encroaching upon this more serene holiday.)

 

I know plenty of people whose favorite holiday is this feast of Trick or Treat.  I know others who refuse to partake in the fun for religious reasons.  (To them I’d like to point out that Halloween is a contraction for All Hollow’s Eve, which is the precursor for All Saint’s Day November 1st – and a day for religious observance.  And was timed to counter a pagan ritual observing harvest and the coming of winter.  The Monsignor at my old church used to hold a great Halloween party for the families.)

 

We need these holidays to brighten up our days as the natural light grows scarcer this time of year.  Colorful décor, strings of lights, cheerful greetings for those known and not known – may all of our next few months be enjoyable – full of food, baubles and hoopla.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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Number Stories

(Originally posted on 9/25/14 to a shared blog – http://blogtowork.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/number-stories/)

photo credit: Huffington Post

photo credit: Huffington Post

Math and numbers have never resonated for me the way that words do.  I understand that they have a practical use – at least basic math – and appreciate knowing how to use them for things like balancing my checkbook.  And I’ve always been happy to know people who really get numbers so I can ask them for help when things get beyond basic.  It has only been in recent years that I have discovered an area of numbers that really is fascinating – statistics.

 

Statistics are stories told with numbers.  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?  Not story problems like why did the train go faster from station a to station b or whatever nonsense.  No, number stories – data meets the story arc.  Very intriguing.

 

Why am I bringing this up here?  Because job search is loaded with statistics, some of them quite contrary, and all of it worthy of some attention by job seekers.  We all know about the unemployment rate, at least the national one that is regularly reported on the evening news.  But there are state and regional unemployment rates.  Rates based on ethnicity and age group, level of education and industry segment (healthcare, manufacturing, service, etc.).  Oh and make sure that you know how it is calculated because that is a whole other facet of the story for this number.

 

What about the workforce participation rate?  I don’t remember ever hearing about this one until the Great Recession.  This one is the percentage of adults who are working for pay.  This number is also at an all-time (read since this has been tracked, I believe starting somewhere in the 1970s) low and seems to be dropping.  The story is in understanding better why it is dropping.  And in comparing this data to the unemployment rate – if the unemployment rate is dropping, why is the workforce participation rate also dropping?

 

Then there is the job opening ratio – the number of posted open positions juxtaposed with the number of qualified applicants who are actively looking.  This seems to be coming down a bit, there aren’t quite so many qualified applicants for each open position, but still too many for the comfort of each job seeker.  This is the number that directly affects another number – the average number of weeks or months it can take someone to land their new position.  Last year I know that this average was hovering around eight months.

 

There are plenty of other statistics, but you get the idea.  These numbers aren’t just for the media and politicians to bandy about – there are lives behind each one.  Stories of individuals affected, but also of how the information is collected and applied.  The statistic isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning.

 

It comes down to your number story, which is quite simple.  Back to basic math; one person who needs one suitable position.  At least knowing some of these number stories can give you discussion points with Aunt Betty the next time she asks you again why you don’t have a job.

Collaborative Writing

Writing is supposed to be done alone in a cold garret somewhere.  The writer tortured to some degree by the blank page.  Characters, storyline, theme development all taking up a great deal of space in the writer’s thoughts.  Is that still the image?

 

How about the place of the reader?  Should a writer develop ideas based solely on personal interest and preference, or in some consideration of the potential reader?  Particularly in this medium, which is so immediately public.  And yet, only so much so as the blog’s SEO commands.

 

public domain image

public domain image

I used to wonder about writing as part of a group.  I did take a play writing course in high school where we often worked in teams on pairs.  Sometimes this led to better pieces and sometimes to drivel. How does the division of labor work out?

 

I warmed to collaborative writing in the business environment.  It helped that I came across a writing partner with similar sensibilities and a more developed (at the time) methodology.  One or the other of us would usually take a first stab at writing the first draft after a brief discussion of need or intent and then we would sit together and hone it.  Move sections about, sharpen wording, tighten the message so that there was plenty of white space.  White space is very important in business writing.  In the early days, I thought that she spent too much time honing.  But I learned better editing.

 

I came to realize that my interest in fiction was actually useful in this writing environment.  Story is necessary here, too.  Not as in making something up, but in creating a clear arc; keeping the focus of the piece clean.  Every detail isn’t necessary, in fact too much detail is detrimental to keeping the reader engaged in the message.

 

We are writing about this issue.  This is a bit of the background for why we are writing.  This is the solution.  The adage to start in the middle has merit here, captures interest.  Keeps things moving.

 

A strong conclusion – with a call to action.  Here is what we want you to do with this information.  In business writing the reader is highly important, if not properly considered then the message may fail.  Collaboration of minds and writing styles can make the effort more effective.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Wish Lists

Wasn’t it just amazingly easy to come up with lists of wants when you were younger?  Unless made shy by being asked suddenly by a rarely met aunt or uncle, I remember being able to rattle off all sorts of things that I would love to have as my own.  I’m not sure when it got harder.

 

It isn’t like I don’t want or need anything.  And it certainly isn’t that I don’t like to get presents.  But ask me for suggestions and my brain says, ‘uhhh – can I get back to you on that?’.  So I started to keep a running list.  Then my book list branched into a list of its own.

 

Maybe I could have a library like this?

Maybe I could have a library like this?

(And still I was hard pressed to keep myself on track and focus on books already on the list when I found myself at a library book sale recently.  I did end up with some excellent choices, I think.)

 

Anyway, I know that I am not alone in this malady; whether it is one of memory or something other, is a question to discuss with friends over tea.  My friends and I have all gotten to a stage when we are not as quick to acquire – we have pretty much already feathered our nests.  But that doesn’t mean that we might not like to add to a collection or two, or perhaps have a treat or get an item to support a new or old hobby.

 

And there is a pleasure in gift giving that we might have forgotten along the way – giving and receiving.  It has nothing to do with standing in line at odd hours for the latest craze, in a crush of bargain hunters.  It has to do with thinking about that person for whom you are shopping, or remembering the person who gave you a specific treasure.

 

Well, I am gearing up to ask my family for suggestions, so I thought I should dust off my list.  Only I have lost the darn thing.  Now what was on it?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Travelling Tales

Periodically I have reason to spend time enjoying folk and fairy tales and I am reminded anew how wonderful they are.  I am working on the storytelling workbook in Toastmasters and I also just participated in a local Hispanic Heritage day, where I was the storyteller.  We adults who don’t have regular contact with small children can forget the delights, and lessons, of these tales.

DSC03889

Part of what is amazing about these tales, beyond their endurance through so many eons as well as social change, is the way that they travel.  We like to think that we modern folk are better than any of our ancestors at getting around because we have a variety of fast modes to get from here to there.  But the reality is that even back in the days of horse carts and walking as the main means to get around, people were quite mobile.

 

People who study folk tales can provide endless examples of the different versions of the same basic tale that show up all over the globe.  The tale that I told at the Hispanic Heritage day had a very similar flavor to the Brer Rabbit tales in the American southeast.  Which themselves have provenances from other far off shores.

 

A good story is far more that entertaining.  It makes us more receptive to new ideas, learning and growth.  Folk tales are packed with understanding of human nature, right and wrong, and ways to explain the world.  They should since the oldest are quite well travelled.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Don’t Tell Me

Yesterday at lunch one younger fellow starts to tell us that he went to see Gone Girl and it blew him away.  He couldn’t get any farther before there was a chorus of, ‘Stop, No’ from most of the room.  Quite a few people have plans to see this movie and have apparently not read the book.  I read the book about a year ago and have no current plans to see the movie.

 

He really wanted to talk about the plot, it had sparked something in him.  I’m not sure how much of the finer detail I remember since I have read quite a bit in the intervening months but I could probably dredge up enough to have a decent discussion and find out how certain things are addressed in the movie version.  We would have been possibly subject to bodily harm had we continued to discuss the movie, though.

public domain image

public domain image

 

I’ve kind of gotten out of the habit of watching movies in the theater, which is a shame.  It is a very different experience.  And some movies really deserve to be watched on a big screen in a big dark room.  In a shared experience.  A friend and I danced our way out of Jersey Boys awhile back which gave us the opportunity to connect a bit with our fellow movie viewers.

 

But shared sensations – film or print – can lead to that chorus of don’t tell me, don’t spoil it for me.  I still remember trying to stay away from the people who devoured the last Harry Potter book immediately while we, my boys and I, read it at a slightly more leisurely pace.  We wanted to savor this last encounter with Harry.

 

A little buzz, a taste of personal reaction is helpful sometimes.  It might lead us to read or watch something that didn’t originally appeal at all.  Or it might build the anticipation.  A delay in achieving the experience can heighten it as well.  I just watched Captain Phillips, which I have wanted to see since it came out, with my older son and daughter-in-law and we were not disappointed.

 

Have you had an anticipated experience accidentally ruined?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Caution and Risk

Just the right balance between these two forces seems to be not only the key to survival, but also plays into success.  Cautious people live to tell their tales and to raise a new generation, but they might not have taken enough risk.  Risk takers might have gone a bit too far and checked out early.

 

I just spent some time with a couple of four month old kittens.  Sisters, one just a tad bolder than the other.  Kittens instinctively know that a certain hesitancy around new things is prudent, but they also have a strong need to know – what’s in here, can I fit in there, can I jump high enough, will this hold my weight…

DSC03876

Natural laws and human rules provide some boundaries for their explorations.  A thing just beyond their reach is terribly tempting, conversely after a few minutes with the thing it loses its charm and they are off to the next thing.

 

How do we find that right balance for ourselves?  Thoughts of if only I’d done or not done this or that might mean that we were too cautious or too bold.  But maybe only in hindsight, too.  I bought my house right before the housing crash so I shake my head at the amount of money that – on paper – has disappeared.  But I’ve had the benefit of living in the house for the last nine years and being removed from the townhouse complex where I had previously lived.  So, do I count this in the good or bad category?  Hmmm.

 

Stay or move, keep a job or switch, invest in Microsoft (wish I had) or buy that car which provided mobility (when it wasn’t in the shop).  Get married, have a baby, buy a house, retire now – here or there?  Caution or risk?

 

I’m not sure that I will ever figure out just the right balance, but the consideration is worthy of a few more years of research (also known as living).  When have you been overly cautious or entirely too risky?  Or maybe you have gotten it just right?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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