Archive for June, 2009


June 25, 2009

Most things in life happen “suddenly.” They may not happen quickly or unexpectedly. In fact, they might be very predictable, but when they happen, they happen suddenly.

Using the words “suddenly” or “sudden” is therefore most often redundant, serving primarily to identify the writer as a rank amateur. Stephen King makes this point with great good humor in his book “On Writing.”

Let’s take a simple example:

“Suddenly, the telephone rang.”

Telephones always ring suddenly, even when you are expecting the call.

I see this all the time in undergraduate college admissions essays. In a misguided attempt to color a rather commonplace situation with a sense of sweaty urgency, applicants combine suddenly ringing telephones, especially very early in the morning, with squealing mother’s urging them out of bed to answer the call of destiny.

This will neither attract nor retain the reader’s attention. If anything, it may persuade them to read no further.

Avoid “suddenly” like the plague.


Grim Professionalism

June 18, 2009

In his last address to a graduating class, former Yale President Kingman Brewster warned against grim professionalism. That was in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, the American workplace had degenerated into a sink hole of posturing and preening.  True competence was replaced by the sphincter-clinching grimace of the so-called “professional.” Look around your own workplace and ask yourself if any of this seems familiar.

The Spectre of Grim Professionalism

We had been warned;
some took heed,
but the numbers
were overwhelming.

The Spectre of
Grim Professionalism
grabbed a choke-hold on the
throat of a generation,
forcing us all to grit our
teeth while small
bursts of air
squeaked out
as if through the
neck of a balloon.

The joy of living died,
leaving no room
for imagination.

We were left with
blank bubble-headed stares,
while a lone refugee
brain fragment rattled
around in our skulls
like a marble in a milk can.

What passed for ideas
seeped out from between
our lips
like so much balloon spit.

This gruesome horde
of buffaloed zombies
thundered across
the fruited plain,
trampling out the
last flickering
vestiges of humanity.

I can still see
smoke rising from
the scorched earth
as the
tide withdraws
to gather strength for
the Final Assault,
leaving a high-water mark
just short of
where I stand.

I’m afraid to turn
around and look.

I may be the
last one left
standing on this hill.

So maybe I’ll just
call out:


If there’s
left back there,
let me know!


I’m waiting!

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with One Wrong Turn.

June 18, 2009

Confucius was not wrong, just irrelevant. A journey of ten feet also begins with a single step, but not even the truly lost soul needs to journey a thousand miles, especially on foot, to find the truth.

The truth is much closer that that. It is staring me in the face all day long. I only need to open my eyes to see it.

Let the Facts Speak for Themselves

June 16, 2009

Res ipsa loquitur — The facts speak for themselves.

This is good advice, especially when writing about oneself. Show the reader through examples and anecdotes. Do not tell the reader by making unsubstantiated assertions.

“I am a hard worker who always perseveres to the very end.”

Everyone sees themselves as hard workers who persevere. Have you ever known anyone to describe themselves as a lazy quitter? Probably not, at least not in writing, even if they are lazy quitters. Especially if they are lazy quitters.

Rather than a slurry of empty assertions, simply state facts. For example, a college student who worked 30 hours per week to earn money for tuition, volunteered 5 hours per week at a hospital, and graduated with a 3.9 GPA is obviously neither lazy nor a quitter.

Res ipsa loquitur. Enough said.

Errata Dada Ding Dong

June 15, 2009

Spelling and grammatical errors are supposedly acceptable, perhaps even encouraged, in Blog Land.

Not here. Being conversational does not mean talking like an idiot. At least not here it doesn’t.

I will make mistakes, but I promise not to be proud of them.