Friday, February 19, 2010

February 2010: Sixth Anniversary Letter

February 1, 2010

I begin my seventh year of writing this letter. As I have written in almost every previous anniversary letters, the project has been one of the best things I have ever done and I plan to continue it for as long as I possibly can.

I have always wanted to be a writer. I have always been one in my mind’s eye. But, like many people, what is often in our mind’s eye is not what we are and not as others see us. I write as a hobby and it has been enjoyable. I write every day.

From Paper to PC: In 2004, when I began this letter project, I hand wrote every letter. I write 500+ words per day. I would select a theme and write several days about it. Then toward the end of the month, often on the very last day of the month, I would type the letter in this two column format, edit it, and then e-mail it everyone.

Sometime in 2007, I began to type some of the entries directly into my laptop. Even then the majority of the first drafts were handwritten and maybe only a few hundred words were typed. Yet, a trend had started. By 2009, all of the letters in the sixth volume were done entirely on my computer.

The same is true for our company blog. I strive to contribute one 500 word piece a week to this blog, is also typed directly. So, in recent months, I have typed directly about ten days a month and handwrote the remainder of the month. I still enjoy handwriting but when I have a topic well in mind, I prefer to type the first draft. I suppose this evolution was inevitable.

Last year I wrote about creating a blog for these letters. I launched Every letter is now there. In two recent months, I actually posted other articles on the blog. There are three in September 2009 and one in January 2010.

From the beginning of keeping a journal which began on June 25, 2002, when I wrote for a purpose and with a set topic, the writing was crisper and actually could have been a typed stream of consciousness. When there is no specific theme, my daily writing tends to be more “dear diary” kinds of rambling drivel.

This month, I will endeavor to write every day directly into my laptop. I will not handwrite a single page. Each day will be dedicated to either this letter, my personal blog where these letters are posted, or for our company blog.

Usually in this anniversary letter, I write about the kind of pen I am favoring. Given my stated desire, at least short term, to type instead of handwrite, it seems pointless, pardon the pun, to expound on this pen or that. My laptop? I bought a Toshiba Satellite in June of 2009 upon embarking on our business. Most writing is done on this compact beauty using MS Word 2007.

February 5, 2010

It is late Friday night. It was a grayish damp day in Chicago. It was a bit too warm for winter and definitely too cold for spring. It sleeted most of the day. It accumulated just a bit faster than the snow melted leaving the snow equivalent of a two day beard growth on the sidewalks. I guess I could have called it a dusting.

I intended to write a work blog piece today. I had just posted a piece on Statistical Thinking I wanted to write Part 2 and introduce a concept I have developed called Optimal Thinking. Well, it is more a concept that is still germinating in my head. So, I was not able to finish that blog piece today. Instead, I meandered over to this letter to muse a bit.

I had attended a seminar a few weeks ago on writing and publishing your own book. It is something that I want to do personally and for business. It was sponsored by the National Speakers Association – Illinois Chapter. It was held at Maggiano’s in Oak Brook.

I did not know what to expect. It ended up being both very informative and very inspirational. They had flown in two guest speaker both of whom had written and published their own books.

Debra Fine was the first speaker She created a speaking and training business around the concept of The Fine Art of Small Talk, which is also the title of her book. She helps people be able to start, sustain, and maintain general conversations in business and business-social settings. Her premise is that people need to nurture and re-enforce relationships to get ahead and to sell themselves and their business offerings. Debra focuses her message on the shyer among us and refers to herself as an “enginerd” before re-inventing herself as an author and motivational speaker.

The second speaker was Elaine Dumler. She is also a motivational speaker and trainer helping people with networking and communication skills. Her book actually added a new dimension to her business. She collected stories and tips from military families in how they dealt with their soldier being away especially in families with small kids. She came to idea of writing the book by serendipity and then she ran with it and made it happen. She even wrote a sequel.

I am currently reading Debra’s book. It is very good. While, as mentioned, it probably best serves the shy, I am benefiting from the message.

February 6, 2010

Debra Fine and Elaine Dumler are authors and make a good living writing and speaking. They were an inspiration to take my writing to the next level and even showed me what that next level might look like. They are not, however, the kind of excellent writer I have been featuring in my Anniversary letters.

On January 27th Jerome David Salinger passed away at the age of 91. J. D. Salinger was best known for his novel, Catcher in the Rye. It still is a very popular novel assigned in High School and College English courses. Upon publication in 1951 it was controversial. The novel follows the adolescent narrator and main character, Holden Caulfield, through New York City after getting himself expelled from an elite prep school. The book traversed many of the social norms of the 1950s by its use of profanity, placing the seventeen year Caulfield with a prostitute, and perhaps, as some of the obituaries speculated, sparking the generation gap of the 1960s and 1970s.

On occasion, the book has been banned and censored in the United States and around the world. For this reason it is always in and out of the news. This kind of controversy has probably helped make it a success. Ban or burn a book and watch how many people will read it just to see what the hubbub is all about.

I read one of Salinger’s short stories, A Perfect Day for Bananafish, while in high school. I did not think much of it then. I then read Catcher in the Rye in college because everyone was reading it and I was simply curious to see what all the hubbub was about. Plus, it was the rebellious thing to do to… er… read a book everyone else rebelling was reading. I kind of liked the seamy underbelly aspect of the novel but did not think much more of it. I did not care much for Holden Caulfield.

It must have been in the 1980s, I heard a report on Salinger on NPR’s Morning. It was probably a story about his reclusiveness. It might have even been in 1981, the 30th Anniversary of the publishing of The Catcher in the Rye. Whatever the NPR report was about, I decided to go back and read Salinger’s short stories again. I liked them. A lot. I thought about reading The Catcher in the Rye again, but decided to read Salinger’s lesser novels instead, Frannie and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beams Carpenter. Both were excellent in my opinion. With Salinger’s passing, I should read the short stories again. I am certain that if I did read Catcher in the Rye now I would probably appreciate the skill of Salinger’s writing.

When I heard that Salinger had passed away, I was a little surprised. I was surprised because I thought, for no real good reason, that he was already dead. Then it did not surprise me. Salinger was one of the great recluses in the world of celebrities. He was in the same league of reclusiveness at Howard Hughes and Greta Garbo. Salinger gave his last interview in 1980. In 1953, he had moved from New York City to Cornish, New Hampshire where he lived until his death.

February 8, 2010

It is funny actually. I made this resolution to type rather than handwrite my daily writing this month. Implicit in this resolution was that when I type, I am writing for a purpose: my monthly letter, our work blog, or an article for the Armenian papers. So, how is it going? Well, I am like three quarters done with my monthly letter and have written three work blog pieces. So, I am well ahead of myself. I usually blog once a week and you all know I usually get this letter out on the last day of the month.

This is good and bad. I am glad to be so productive. I am, however, tapped out. I will either write the longest monthly letter ever or if I get this letter out this week which seems very likely, I will have to figure out other meaningful things to write about. I did not fully realize just how much musing and meandering my daily writing has been comprised of. While I am glad I began the project and it was useful to my growth as a writer, most of it was drivel and not worth sharing with others. I always suspected such, but these past eight days have made it painfully clear.

I am very glad I did this. It really brings me to a crossroads and is forcing me to make my daily writing time, usually a half hour to an hour, more productive and meaningful. I have wanted to do this for years and even dedicated a fair amount of my musing and meandering to this. Yet, I was in a rut and just stayed there. I knew I should be doing more and doing more productive and pointed writing, yet I did not. As my favorite quote, which is quickly becoming my mantra states, “Knowing never equals doing.”

So, the intent is to not to be more prolific but rather to create something worthy of sharing with others on a daily basis. I will continue to write this monthly letter in its current form and formats but I may well post more often on my personal and work blogs. I need to do more academic writing with and for my friend and advisor John Surak. I will definitely need to pen… er type… more articles for the Armenian press.

I pushed myself to start this project. I am now going to push myself to make it better.

February 18, 2010

I handwrote this piece last night. Why did I violate my sincere intention to type every word this month? I had the best of intentions and as they say “stuff” happens.

As you know I teach Elementary Statistics at the College of Lake County, a local community college. Classrooms have become multi-media with computers and projectors. The text book publishers even provide power points to facilitate the teaching process. As a result, I am always using a thumb drive to move files from my laptop to and from the classroom computer.

Well the public computers on campus are, how do I say it, cesspools of viruses. Last night, I put my thumb drive into my laptop to exchange a file. Immediately, sirens went off, lights flashed, my virus protections howled in pain, and my laptop froze. Wow. I re-booted and got errors the said the virus protection “black file was corrupted.” Well, I just shut down my system until I could have someone more knowledgeable look at it today.

As a result, I had to handwrite the draft of what I have just typed. We learn life lessons, even simple ones, sometimes by chance. It is not really about typing my words everyday but writing something everyday worthy of blogging or publishing. It is about content and quality not about method of writing. Sometimes it is the result and the method, sometimes it is simply the result. In this case, I will settle for the result.

By the way, the laptop is OK and fully restored to its former state of wellness. Also, if it matters, and I certainly cannot resist, I handwrote this segment last night with a lovely Waterman Carene ball point pen.

February 19, 2010

I always close this anniversary letter by recalling how and why I came to write this letter. I began the exercise of daily writing with the goal, of maybe, possibly, writing a book chronicling my 50th year. I even wanted to call it, An Attempted Mid-Life Crisis. I wrote every day. I kept the journal, but it was not book worthy. The daily writing did not hold together as a book. I always attributed that to not having spent time developing a detailed outline and then writing to it. That is what they taught us to do in school and I have dutifully resisted since the teacher first proposed this approach. I rather fancied the Jack Kerouac, lock myself in a hotel room, smoke cigarettes, type on a roll of telex paper, drink coffee, and end up with On the Road at the end of the weekend.

I also like to thank my mentors that helped bring this letter about. There is Marilyn Zavidow who helped with the design of the letter and actually came up with the name This Side of Fifty. Marilyn just celebrated a landmark birthday. Happy Birthday Marilyn!

I want to thank Aram Kevorkian. I read a few copies of his long standing monthly letters shortly after his passing. They were being circulated via e-mail. They were brilliant and engaging. Aram’s letters directly inspired me to write this monthly letter which now begins its seventh year.

Over the years, Tom Vartabedian has been most encouraging. To have a writer of his caliber comment so often and so positively on my work is most encouraging.

Lastly, I would also like to thank my wife Judy for all her support and encouragement in this endeavor.

Thank you, one and all, for your readership and encouraging comments. I truly appreciate and am grateful for it.

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