Tag Archives: columbia daily tribune

A little Rowling here, a little Twain there

If you ask a question often enough, you’re bound to eventually get the answer you want.

Today one of the members of the Columbia Missouri Novelists Facebook page posted what could be either the most instructive, inspiring link or the most vanity-laden, time-wasting link.

I Write Like … You paste a sample of your work into a box, click “analyze,” and within seconds you find out your word choice and writing style compares favorably with — which famous author. I quickly yielded to temptation, certain that I could embrace or reject any conclusion.

I encourage you to give it a try.

First I submitted two samples from my current work, “Dixieland,” the 2012 National Novel Writing Month project. Both analyses determined the word choice and style compared favorably with H.P. Lovecraft. That was baffling, because I neither read nor write science fiction or “weird fiction,” the genre that Lovecraft basically birthed. So I copied and pasted another “Dixieland” sample that compared favorably with Stephenie Meyer.

The Twilight Saga? What? Flattering as that was, I have to confess that I also don’t read — and really have zero interest in — paranormal romance, vampires and werewolves, and death-pale young men and women.

So I sought additional analysis. Next to copy-and-paste was a dialogue-heavy scene from “Chasing The Devil,” my 2011 NaNoWriMo project. (Still unfinished, still unpublished). The analysis reported: J.K. Rowling. (Here’s the link if you think I’m fibbing). Again — sorry. I’ve read maybe six pages of the Harry Potter series. Wizards, sorcery, Harry himself — just not my cup ‘o tea.

Or is it? Meyer has made a gazillion bucks with her Twilight series; Rowling has made a trilabilagazillion bucks from Harry Potter. Hmmm?

Let’s try some more. Two selections from “Gone” (2010, NaNoWriMo). Different conclusions but familiar results: Meyer for one, Rowling for the other.

Still not satisfied, I reached into the archives of Jackson’s Journal to one of my favorite blog posts, Aug. 17, 2012, the conclusion of a three-part story of the time I almost drowned in the Gasconade River. Surely this would break the Lovecraft-Meyer-Rowling spell?

I pasted the copy, hit “analyze,” and this time the answer didn’t come right away. I laughed out loud at the conclusion.

“Mark Twain.” Ahhh! A kindred spirit, a fellow journalist.

So I had to check one more time, pasting the copy of a news story from April 2009. (It’s a horribly tragic story if you care to read it). The story was awarded second place for spot news reporting in that year’s Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors annual competition.

The analytic conclusion? “Mark Twain.”

twain and friends

It was a fun exercise in vanity, but more than that, as I perused my unfinished, novel-length works, it was a stark reminder that I have too many unfinished, novel-length works screaming to get out of their desktop folders, out of my noggin and into the hands of readers.

And that’s where any real or imagined similarities with famous authors end. They’ve actually finished a book or two.

Excuse me, then. I have some work to do.

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Filed under "Dixieland", "Gone", A reporter's life, Chasing The Devil, Living Write, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month 2012, WIPs

Be nice, give blood

NEEDLES ARE NEEDLES
I’ve got a co-worker, Catherine, who won’t get a flu shot, so I was especially intrigued this afternoon when I saw her making a donation at the Red Cross/Tribune blood drive. Fascinating, I thought, because I assumed that perhaps she was fearful of needles. But no. Miss Martin is simply opposed to getting a flu shot; she’s sure that her young’ish immune system will ward off influenza and its many incarnations. However, I tried to convince her that we get the flu shot for the people we love, not for ourselves. While she might not get sick because of her (hypothetically) superior immune system, she can still carry the “bug” to, oh, an immune-compromised grandmother or a small child.

The guilt trip didn’t work. So instead I told her that the size of the needle they used to drain a pint of our blood was waaaaaay bigger than the needle that injects influenza vaccine. That made her face get a funny yet queezy look.

YEAH, ONE MORE THING
I was in the pre-jab position on the blood drive bed (it’s more of a chaise lounge) as the above-mentioned co-worker slipped off her bed and headed for the delightful blood drive snacks. As Catherine passed, I asked her to sing “Soft Kitty.” She didn’t, but I think she understood the reference.

When my pint-sized donation was finished, the blood tech who got the life-giving liquid flowing from my arm with one stick –kudos to Olivia for that — asked if I needed anything. I replied, “Will you sing ‘Soft Kitty?'” She didn’t.

So here’s “Soft Kitty” for everyone.

REVIEW
One more thing to think about. We have the technology to produce vaccine to ward off influenza. (Although not 100 percent “guaranteed” to keep you from getting the flu, it does an amazing job of averting potential pandemic outbreaks.) By some estimates, influenza has killed more people throughout human history than any other disease. It was the ninth leading cause of death in the United States in 2010.

By contrast, science and medicine cannot produce a synthetic product to replace blood. The only place where blood is “manufactured” is in our bodies.

Be nice, give blood.

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Filed under A reporter's life, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

NaNoWriMo Day #7: Takin’ a Kianna break

Actually, Days #6 and #7 were temporary detours from National Novel Writing Month, although it would be inaccurate to say I took a break from writing. Yesterday (Nov. 6) was Election Day, which kept me jotting notes and typing away most of the day. (Is it still accurate to refer to “typing”?) My day job with the Columbia Daily Tribune found me arriving at the Hallsville Community Center at around 6:50 a.m. Tuesday and leaving a Democratic election watch party (the third watch party I’d been to since 8 p.m.) at The Blue Note in downtown Columbia just after 11 p.m.

That, my friends, is what you call a real long day. There was nary a moment free for my WriMo tasks. Today (Wednesday the 7th) was less busy and less long … at least I think so. I was in a post-election fog most of the day.

Considering that I was a WriMo machine the first five days of our 30 days of literary abandon, I allowed myself to step away the last two days.

Here was the highlight of today:

Having a great time with soon-to-be 9-month-old granddaughter, Princess Kianna Brown. (Grammy got some sugar, too. Scroll down). This caption should be: reading and sucking her thumb and leaning on Grandpa. This little beauty melts my heart every single time I see her.

 

Grammy lovin’ on Princess Kianna Wednesday evening in Jefferson City.

 

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Filed under Family, Kelly, Kianna Allene Brown, National Novel Writing Month 2012

NaNoWriMo Day #4: That old-time religion

Tonight was my first (slight) detour from my outline. I’m at the point where I need to write the main conflict — the meat of the story, the single event that changes my main character — but I realized I hadn’t yet injected enough back story about her journey of faith which, for many years, was superficial and based not on love but on fear. What follows is a 700-plus word excerpt from Edna Mae Ferguson’s conversion experience at the age of 8 in April 1926.

Unedited. Some rabbit trails here. Hey, it’s a work-in-progress, right? But no apologies, fellow WriMos. Remember, these are our stories, our rules. And inner editors remain bound and gagged in padded, sound proof rooms in our mental closets. Right?

EXCERPT, “Dixieland”

But eight-year-0ld girls didn’t question spiritual things. Edna Mae learned that lesson the hard way. Pastor Clemens a year or so earlier expounded on the virtues of childlike faith and how the Lord Jesus besought the children to come to him. He also said that anyone who came to him with the faith of a little child would go to Heaven. In the same breath, Pastor Clemons directed all the parents to “cease the infernal shuffling and fidgeting of your disrespectful children.” Sondra Ramsey thumb-thumped little Edna Mae on top of the head as a domino-effect of thumb-thumping cascaded through the congregation.

“Ouch!” Edna Mae exclaimed. “What did I do?”

She’d already said too much and it was unusual for her daddy to answer in church, but when he said, “You’ve got to stop fidgeting,” Edna Mae immediately responded, “But little kids fidget, and Jesus loves little kids.”

What followed at home was the worst spanking of her life, and probably had more to do with the ladies on the pew behind them that giggled and guffawed over Edna Mae’s cute little quip. But it embarrassed her daddy. And you never, ever embarrassed George Elliott Ramsey. Apparently one needed childlike faith to come to Jesus, but once you were there, no more need for that. And no fidgeting.

“What’s a wretch?” Edna Mae couldn’t get that thought and images out of her mind. “A wretch like me.” Sounded like “witch,” and that wasn’t good. Whatever it was, a wretch was someone who Jesus could love, but probably nobody else loved a wretch, and Jesus could save a wretch, but then did that person have to remain unwretched in order to stay in good graces with the Lord?

So many questions, but she dare not ask.

Sister Maybelline played a long instrumental piece while the deacons passed their hats to collect offerings from the folks who had been tossing in large coins and even paper money earlier in the week, but now, on the seventh night of hat-passing, there were mostly pennies and probably a few super saver grocery stamps thrown in. George Elliott Ramsey wore a brown fedora with a pheasant feather tucked inside the trim ribbon. He tucked the feather into his front pocket before passing the hat to collect coins.

Edna Mae whispered under her breath, “What is a wretch?” and when it came time for Brother Burden to preach his final sermon of the revival, he dramatically DASHED to the pulpit, shouting “What?” before he even grasped the pulpit. Nary a shoulder slouched.

“What is a wretch!?” he shouted.

Edna Mae didn’t know whether to be terrified or overjoyed that God Almighty so quickly answered a question that she hadn’t even put in a prayer that was properly bookmarked by “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen.”

You are a wretch!” the preacher shouted, his brow already drenched in righteous sweat. “If you are lost in your sin and don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ, YOU are a wretch!”

Edna Mae – and the other 70 or so worshippers underwhelmed by the big ceiling fan – sat motionless.

“And if you DIE as a wretch, oh, my friend, my beloved,” Brother Burden continued. “If you die and don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, oh, my friend …”

Brother Burden’s voice trailed off, his head dropped onto his chest, and he wept. “OH, my friend, my beloved …”

Edna Mae wanted to stand and shout, “Oh, my friend, my beloved – WHAT?”

A great thing was about to be said, and for the perfect punctuation, God Almighty sent another lightning bolt that struck a tree just outside the door. The lights went out.

“Oh, my friend, if you die a wretch, you most certainly … will … go … to HELL!” Another lightning bolt and church-shaking clap of thunder. “Come to the altar NOW! and say the sinner’s prayer!”

Edna Mae sprinted to the front of the church and had no trouble finding the altar in the pitch dark church. Someone lit an oil lamp and the light glistened and reflected off Brother Burden’s red face. Undoubtedly every person under 40 was at the front of the church, kneeling.

The collective spiritual angst was a din of commotion, yet also separate and distinct. The patter of raindrops on the church’s tin roof. Sister Maybelline’s piano gently playing “Just As I Am.” Brother Cy Burden repeating, “Oh, my friend, my beloved.” The sniffling and tears of sinners being saved. And a little girl, surrounded and lost in a crowd of wretches, softly pleading, “I don’t want to be a wretch I don’t want to be a wretch.”

If this comes across as a mix of serious, child-like reflection and a humorous depiction of an old-time revival service, please let me know, because that’s the effect I’m looking for.

Current word count: 12,058. Target for first four days: 6,668. On pace to finish: Nov. 16. But I’m not counting on it. The next three days will be especially challenging for my NaNoWriMo effort. My day job at the Columbia Daily Tribune — Tuesday’s election and a couple of other in-depth projects — will need my utmost attention between now and Wednesday.

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Dixieland: Ready for NaNoWriMo launch

Monday afternoon on my way home from work at the Columbia Daily Tribune I stopped at the nearest grocer to pick up a few items. I hadn’t planned on buying a card. It was one of those “Pages of Time” booklets; the ones that have nostalgic news from the year you were born. In the last few days I’ve poured over reference books at My Favorite Non-Home/Non-Church/Non-Work Place in  Columbia — the Columbia Public Library — and checked out some books and DVDs simply to get “in touch” with daily life in 1944-45 in the U.S.A., and more specifically Natchez, Miss.

But when I stumbled onto the display rack of greeting cards and “Pages of Time” booklets, there it was: “Your Special Year: 1945.”

I think I might have squealed like a little school girl.

Ahem.

When I checked out, the checker scanned the  little booklet and asked — oh, you knew she’d ask, didn’t you? — “Are you getting this for someone special?” Instead of simply saying, “Yes,” and hoping she wouldn’t ask, “Who?,” I answered, “No. It’s for me.”

Awkward silence.

Then I added: “Long story. At least I hope it will be.” She just looked at me and blinked, unaware that the phrase “at least I hope it will be” was a clue — foreshadowing, if you will — of what the purchase would help produce: “Dixieland,” my project for National Novel Writing Month 2012.

Here’s a sampling of some other resource material that I’ve consulted or continue to consult: “Natchez,” by Harnett T. Kane; “Since You Went Away: World War II letters from American women on the home front”; “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” by Anne Moody; “The Girls That Went Away,” by Ann Fessler (you might recall that one of the “Dixieland” characters is named Doris Fessler); and correspondence with an elderly woman who was “incarcerated” — her words — at the King’s Daughters Maternity Home in Natchez, and with someone from the historical society down there in Dixie; and a couple of DVDs on the war that give insight into life on the home front.

And for my listening pleasure, to put me in the moment of the era, I checked out the CD “Your Hit Parade: 1944.” Any of these names ring a bell? Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra. Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest, “It Had To Be You.”

And I’m going to give away a secret that extends from “Dixieland” into “Chasing The  Devil,” the second part of this trilogy that doesn’t occur until 1990. The reason that Edna Mae Ferguson celebrates Christmas in July … well, you’ll have to wait to read “Dixieland.” Her husband, Alvie, is a POW and Edna Mae has fled to Kentucky when Christmas 1944 rolls around. And speaking of Christmas, Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was recorded in 1943; “White Christmas” was recorded in 1942.

Imagine my characters hearing those songs on Dec. 24, 1944 — Alvie in a POW camp, Edna Mae away from home in the hills of central Kentucky. Oh, yes, the theme music for the creation of “Dixieland” is most appropriate.

So here’s a final reminder to myself and all other aspiring WriMos. As we plot, scheme, write and flow from scene to scene, these three things are essential — absolutely vital — to making sure that what we write is something that will connect with readers:

– Conflict. My outline and character sketches have the word CONFLICT somewhat randomly inserted, in ALL CAPS, as a constant reminder that without conflict, rising tension and a story arc that incorporates lots of conflict and tension, I might as well be writing a grocery list.

– Hopes, dreams, wants and fears. What do my characters want? What are their dreams? Ooh: What do they FEAR the most? (Being alone? Not measuring up to a demanding parent/teacher/friend?) What makes them hold out hope for … Racial equality? A lover’s reunion? Forgiveness?

– Breadcrumbs. As a reader, I want to feel like I’m part of a character’s voyage of discovery, and I can follow breadcrumbs that will lead me to AHA!, I saw that coming, and other breadcrumbs that … sort of … trail off — but not to the extent that I feel insulted by the writer, especially when I see the main source of the seemingly irrelevant crumbs in the climactic scene. As the writer, I need to deliberately drop breadcrumbs without making it look deliberate.

Big sigh.

Twenty-four hours from the big start. Thirty-one days from saying, “I did it.”

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Filed under "Dixieland", Inspiration, National Novel Writing Month 2012, Old Time Religion, WIPs

Throw them under the bus

One of the many interesting aspects of my job is the role of unofficial cliché and jargon czar in my part of the Columbia Daily Tribune newsroom.

“I need a cliché ruling,” city reporter Andrew Denney announced this morning. The cliché that popped up in a story he was writing: “Behind the curve.”

My immediate ruling: No.

(Let’s chase a rabbit here for a moment — oops!, there’s a cliché — and talk about the fifth word of this post: interesting. The word has become cliché simply from overuse and laziness. As in: “Election Day will be interesting.” “I don’t know who the Cardinals will try to sign this winter, but it’s going to be interesting.” “It’ll be interesting to see how much snow we get this winter.” I think “interesting” has become tired, a word we throw in to complete a sentence to avoid actually completing the sentence. I’m not suggesting we ban the word, but what do you think? Is the word overused and abused? I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I also don’t like the word “robust” for the same reason. Not everything is really all that interesting, and not everything is robust, as in, “the results of a robust study,” “we had a robust breakfast of toast,” or “we need a more robust definition of robust.”)

I mean, some words just ooze with pretentiousness. For instance, “robust.” I just don’t like it.

And did you catch my lead-in to that last sentence? “I mean.” It is NOT a robust phrase, but it is horribly, grossly overused, and is more of a nervous mannerism these days, you know? Once upon a time, “you know” was the phrase of mockery. Athletes are the worst offenders.

Reporter: “That was an incredible performance. You seemed to put your team on your back.”

Athlete: “Well, you know, it’s like this, you know. Coach says we just, you know, we take it one game at a time, you know. And that’s what I do, you know.”

Reporter: “What is it that you do?”

Athlete: “You know, I give 110 percent, you know. It’s like coach said, ‘We’re not gonna hit a five-run homer, ya know.’ It’s like that. You know.

Reporter: “But this is basketball.”

The new annoying speech mannerism is “I mean.” I so wish someone would teach athletes to stop saying it. Listening to their interviews is brutal. Maybe athletic directors can say, “Here’s your full-ride scholarship to attend our prestigious university. Now play hard and, oh by the way, never ever say ‘I mean’ again.”

Reporter: “How are y0u approaching the homecoming game against Kentucky?”

Athlete: “I mean, we know they have a great team, they have a great coach, and, I mean, they’ll be prepared. I mean, they’ll bring their ‘A’ game and we better bring ours. I mean, they won the national championship last year, so, I mean, we’ll have to give it one-thousand percent.”

Reporter: “Um, this is football.”

Athlete: “I mean — yeah.”

Clichés, repetitive phrases and jargon fill the air, and when it comes to jargon, I have quite a collection. Unfortunately, it often creeps into my reporting, especially when the topic is health care or business. “It was a win-win situation.” Another reporter heard someone at a board meeting refer to “strategic strategizing.” Today I heard a brand-new one: “It’s not either/or. It’s and/and.”

Huh?

I shared that with city editor Lora Wegman, the one who removes the jargon from my stories with surgical precision, and she immediately tweeted that “and/and” must be eradicated immediately. Now, if I can just use “and/and,” “stakeholders,” “collaborative strategies,” and “low-hanging fruit” in the same sentence, I bet I could make her head explode.

Now, moving forward. Two more and then I’m done.

“At the end of the day.” My ruling: Stop it. Just stop it.

“Moving forward.” As in, “Moving forward, we will recognize lazy speech and lazy writing,” or “How will the Cardinals react to blowing a 3-1 game lead, moving forward?” OF COURSE! we’re moving forward!

I’m done now, because no matter how much I talk about this, I just can’t wrap my head/brain/mind around it.

I mean, really. You know.

What are your favorite/most despised clichés or examples of jargon? Please comment.

 

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Me and my big head …

THIS REALLY, REALLY HAPPENED …

Saturday afternoon Kelly and I attended the matinée performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock. It was a great show, Delaney Jo Sauer did a remarkable job as Scout, and if you missed Amy Wilder’s preview of “Mockingbird,” please see her story in Sunday’s Tribune. (Amy is the newest member of the Tribune staff and she has the (mis)fortune of sitting near enough my desk to hear the interesting phone calls that tend to come my way).

Kelly and I arrived in plenty of time to find our seats for the Lyceum’s “Mockingbird” debut. Just before the lights dimmed, I overheard the woman behind me tell the man she was with, “I’m sitting right behind Jodie’s big head.”

Big head. Hmmm. The tone wasn’t denigrating – more matter-of-fact – and was one of those situations we all find ourselves in. I wondered if I’d really heard what I heard. Should I glance behind me and say “Hi?” Did she intend to say it loud enough for me to hear? Did we know the people behind us?

It was unlike me, but I was hesitant to look. Besides, maybe I misunderstood, although I am, by trade and by curiosity, a world-class eavesdropper. There was no doubt in my mind she said, “I’m sitting right behind Jodie’s big head.”

At intermission, when the house lights went on, I glanced behind me, but the man and woman were gone. I couldn’t wait to ask Kelly if she’d overhead the same thing.

Yes. She heard the same thing. But, no, she also had no idea who the woman was. Later we wondered if perhaps we should have known them, and that it looked like we were rude for not saying “Hi.” The man and woman took their seats after the lights were dimmed for the second act and they were gone when the lights came back up.

I’ve been wondering in this big head of mine who she was. In the off-chance that any reader has talked to a woman who said, “You know, I saw Jodie Jackson Saturday at the Lyceum Theatre. Sat right behind his big head. And he didn’t even speak to me,” please tell her I’m sorry.

THIS DATE IN HISTORY

Yesterday, Sept. 10, was the fourth anniversary of the final edition of The Northern  Boone County Bullseye, the weekly newspaper that I owned in Hallsville, Mo. The Bullseye lived almost four years – 202 editions – and I have honestly given it very little thought since shuttering the office the last week of September 2008 and going to work for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

I’m going to spend the next few days reminiscing about The Bullseye and the other newspapers where I have worked.

Stay tuned …

Here’s my final column from the final edition:

THIS DATE IN HISTORY II

From the pages of “My Senior Drear,” the day-by-day account of my senior year at Belle High School:

Friday, Sept. 12, 1980 – Rode bike to Kelly’s before school. (Eds. note: Kelly had a car, a ’73 Impala. I didn’t). Kevin went to Jeff City last night with me. We went to eat at McD’s with my brother and took his cat back with us. Cloudy and mild this morning. Pleasant, lazy Friday weather. Kelly and I are going to Rolla tonight to see a movie.”

First hour (Drama) – Mrs. Ammerman, the ageless substitute, is in for Mrs. Sharp. Assignment: Read pages 3-28, answer questions 4 and 5. Of course, I’m writing this rather than doing the assignment.

Second hour (Ecology) – Mary Hart wrote obscene things about me on the blackboard. I emptied an eraser on her though. Plan to do so again Monday.

(Fast-forward)

Lunch – Hot dogs, mashed refuse, cherry-flavored filth.

(I won’t do this to you every day, but I plan to start providing snippets of the journal I kept throughout all four years of high school).

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And along comes pneumonia …

THIS was going to be the week that I resumed regular blogging. The week I was going to master active voice and conquer passive voice. (Except that sentence). The week my weekly cycling total would eclipse 50 miles. The week that long-delayed, long-term projects at the Columbia Daily Tribune would get new life and bring smiles to the faces of my editors.

I had big plans.

Then along came pneumonia. It’s (at least) the ninth time this respiratory malady has flattened me in the last 20 years.

I know, I know. There seems to be a problem here. Two years ago, my fine physician, Dr. Carin Reust (University Physicians, Smiley Lane Clinic), fashioned a plan to figure out why I’m so susceptible to pneumonia. Whereas most people get a bad cold or maybe influenza and then, after suffering with the first ailment for a while they contract the secondary infection of pneumonia, I get a scratchy throat, a cough, maybe a sneeze and BAM! — pneumonia. Skip all the in-between incubation time.

It’s like a cruel board game I’ve thought about creating. It’s called “You’re Sick!” Roll the dice, move your marker (a DNA-helix of the influenza virus, a vial that represents live smallpox from the CDC in Atlanta, things like that), and you land on a square that says “Select A Symptom.” You pick a card, and yours would say, “Scratchy throat.” In your next move, you drink a gallon of orange juice and that symptom disappears. Trouble is, you now have a “severe lower gastrointestinal disturbance.” Now, I pick a card that says “Scratchy Throat,” and on my next move, I land smack dab on the “Pneumonia” square.

It’s true. I almost always go from zero to 60 like that — from picture of health to pneumonia. I rarely get a common cold or a common anything. I had viral meningitis in 1989 and pleurisy in 1992. And somewhere along the way, according to chest x-rays taken in 2010 during a period of good health, I developed scar tissue in my right lung. Just a smidgen, but probably a tell-tale sign that I had undiagnosed, untreated pneumonia or some other brachialcardialigistic ailment, probably during childhood or my teen years. (I just made up that brachialcaria-word, by the way).

In late 2009 my side business of painting, minor carpentry, window cleaning and deep cleaning  (stuff that no one else wants to clean) was so booked that I actually took off work from the Trib the last week of ’09 to finish two jobs. The last part of the last job was spraying “popcorn” texture onto a ceiling on which I’d inflicted dry-wall repair.

I didn’t wear a mask. Within two weeks I was down with pneumonia and that was the end of Jodie The Handyman. Solvents, cleaners, paint and similar chemicals sort of freeze up my lungs now. The allergic/respiratory reaction doesn’t cause pneumonia, but it basically sets me up for the illness. Or something like that.

I have a few ideas where this scar tissue came from:

– All that airplane model glue that I huffed as a kid. (Okay, I made that up). But these are real …

– Spring 1984, as I siphoned gas from the car to transfer into the garden tiller, I got a mouthful. Some of it made it down my gullet. I probably aspirated just enough not to kill me. I remember that incident by this name: The. Longest. Night. Of. My. Life. Remind me to tell you more about it later.

– July 1978, when I nearly drowned in the Gasconade River. Some of that nasty water made it down my windpipe. My lungs burned for days.

– 1981, Rolla, Mo., Godfather’s pizza. My high school debate partner, Jack Smith, did a sort of Heimlich maneuver on me as I choked on lava-hot double-cheese pizza. Pretty sure a melted bit of that delicious cuisine wound up in a lung.

– 1982, March. After walking back to North Ellis Hall, my dorm at Central Missouri State University, from Country Kitchen, where several of us had a Bible study and where I learned that I couldn’t possibly be a Christian because I’d never spoken in tongues, I went to bed around 2 a.m. Just after falling asleep, I woke up panicked, unable to breathe. No air in, no air out. I raced to the bathroom, splashed water onto my face and stared in the mirror as my eyes bulged and the room spun. Somehow I managed a gasp. (That happened again a month later, but never again since, unless you count sleep apnea, which I also have).

Anyway, I reported to my Pentecostal friends what had happened and that immediately upon regaining full respiratory function, I spoke in tongues. “Sorry,” said my buddy Chris. “Did you pray for interpretation?” No, I hadn’t. Chris said he’d pray for my soul.

There you have it. More of my medical history than you probably wanted to know. And all of this to explain that I’ve missed work all week and, by doctor’s orders, I won’t be back until Monday. Meanwhile, Nurse Kelly is providing exceptional care and, so far, I think I’ve been a pretty good patient.

So far.

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The Write Life: Opt for ‘remarkable’

Saturday in Jackson’s Journal is The Write Life, a trek past the mundane and beyond the borders of creativity. This is where we celebrate the craft of writing, storytelling and connecting with the hearts, minds and souls of readers.

I love my job as a reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I now have 30-plus years of newspaper clips as evidence of my role as a modern-day scribe, chronicling the events and people who I’ve been fortunate to encounter.

Like most writers and reporters, my work leads me to rather paradoxical conclusions. On the one hand, I do believe that what I do is important. I’m telling and reporting history. Live. As it happens. On the other hand, I often believe that what I actually produce is gibberish and not very important because it’s so poorly done.

This week I wrote an article about a rural water district’s bookkeeping problems. Maybe the water district has only 2,500 customers, but to those payers and for the community where the district is located, that’s a big deal.

Without the aid and patience of a gifted editor, however, no one was going to read beyond the lede sentence. I mean, for crying out loud, I learned to write a lede — how to “hook” the reader — in high school. What I presented to my editor began like this: “Officials with Public Water Supply District 4 at Hallsville …”

And I lost her. SHE didn’t read beyond that bland, lazy launch into an important story. Worst of all, I filed the story knowing that the lede stunk. Did that mean I lost sight of the importance of what I do for a living? Probably. Sometimes the reporting and writing seems effortless. Sometimes it’s clumsy and confusing.

My editor, Lora Wegman, insisted on a new lede. This is what I came up with:

“Failure to pay payroll taxes on some expenses and paying a higher-than-allowed mileage reimbursement rate are just two of the bookkeeping issues a former office manager brought to the attention of Public Water Supply District 4 board members Tuesday.”

Better, wouldn’t you say? I got right to it. Still a bit wordy, but so much more interesting and readable than, “Officials said …”

My sophomore (and last) year in college I was editor-in-chief of The Muleskinner, the campus newspaper at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. The managing editor and I decided to reject any article that began with the words “the,” “a” or “an.” Our motto: “Get to the point.” We had journalism professors and all manner of academics argue about our unbending ban, but we won every argument. (Or so we thought. And it was that attitude that led me to leave college after two years because I really did think I knew it all).

Get to the point. If we’re writing something important, get to it. And in today’s newspaper world of a shrinking news hole, maximizing the words we use is top priority — well, second to the journalistic trinity of accuracy, fairness and balance.

The water district story was important to those customers, but I’m also convinced it was a big deal to all readers because watch-dogging and exposing what might be less-than-transparent operations ought to serve notice on all public entities entrusted with the people’s money.

Maybe that’s a lofty goal, but I buy into that aim. My first weekly newspaper boss used to say that photos of car crashes — and sometimes just the crashed car, because maybe we missed the actual accident — made everyone drive more safely.

I remember asking, “Then why do we keep seeing wrecks?”

My publisher, Norman Gallagher, scowled at my seemingly logical question and zinged me with a challenge. “Why don’t we do a better job getting their attention? Let’s tell the story better.”

Mr. Gallagher’s zeal for the truth was sometimes sidetracked by prejudice and personal vendettas, but he was passionate about telling the story.

“Let’s tell the story better.”

That brings me, in a rabbit-trail-chasing sort of way, to the point made by author/writer Jeff Goins, whom I consider a writer’s writer.

“What is up to you is the choice to be remarkable. As is the decision to be mediocre.”

That’s the conclusion Jeff reaches in Friday’s post, “The first day of the rest of your life.” Check out his blog.

Then choose to be remarkable.

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Six-Word Memoir: The Write Life

It’s Saturday, time for The Write Life, an exploration of words and the nuts and bolts of the writing craft. Guest posts and comments are strongly encouraged.

Six-Word Memoir

 I continually break blogging’s cardinal rule about brevity.

 I tend to write long. (Not surprisingly, I have the same habit in my day job as reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. My editors sometimes need an axe and a cutting torch to trim my copy).

 For those of you who have longed for my long-form blogging to tighten up, Six-Word Memoir is for you. In fact, this one is for everyone. However, your participation and commenting is mandatory. I’m going to ask you to write a Six-Word Memoir and share it with the growing crowd that is Jackson’s Journal.

 Legend has it that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. His response? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

 I’m not sure I can come up with something so brilliant that paints a cornucopia of thoughts, images and mysteries. (On a side note, I’ve been dying to use the word “cornucopia” this week).

 This Six-Word Memoir is not an original idea. The online magazine Smith asked readers to write a six-word story of their own lives in a single sentence. That project birthed Not Quite What I Was Planning, a collection of six-word memoirs by writers, artists and musicians.

Larry Smith, founding editor of Smith magazine, and Rachel Fershleiser, Smith‘s memoir editor, offered their own contributions. Fershleiser’s Six-Word Memoir? Bespectacled, besneakered, read and ran around. And Smith’s: Big hair, big heart, big hurry. Some others: Almost a victim of my family; The psychic said I’d be richer; Mom died, Dad screwed us over; Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.

I’m giving you my three stories. Your assignment: write at least two six-word memoirs – one funny, one serious. If you can come up with three or more, you’ll get bonus points. If you can achieve both humorous and somberly serious in a single, six-word entry … well, the cornucopia of warm feelings you’ll have will be the best reward.

Ahem. My stories.

Stop? Ask for directions? Not me!

Apparently left owner’s manual in womb.

Was great, now fantabulous. I’m “Grandpa.”

(Grandpas are allowed to invent words).

Now …

Your turn.

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