Capillary Action

Capillary Action, the blog where words elevate ideas.

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Writing Without an Audience in Mind

Write without keeping your audience in mind, and you will alienate readers right away. Writing requires that you exhibit “soft skill,” which is a combination of skills related to communication style, understanding of language and conventions, personal habits and social adeptness. Disregard these skills, and your audience will know you are churlish.

The U.S. Department of Labor considers soft skill application so critical enough for workplace success that they have produced a curriculum called “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills—Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success.” The learning activities focus on six soft skills: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking, and professionalism. However, one of the most important skills professionals need today is the ability to communicate clearly, effectively and professionally with readers. Anything less is rude.

My homeowners’ association wins the Broad Nib Creek Studio Fatal Flaw in Writing Prize of the Year (2014) for their attempt at either humor or self-aggrandizement.

Where I live, burning brush is a big deal. It seems there’s always a considerable amount to clear, and the easiest way to take care of the piles of it is to burn it. But naturally there are plenty of rules around the burning of brush, as there should be. Physical and property safety are priorities, and it’s the landowner’s responsibility to ensure that surrounding landowners and their property are also safe.

Before I can even think about lighting a brush pile, I have to consider whether or not there is a burn ban, the time of day,  wind and temperature, location of the burn, additional water sources for emergency flare-ups, and whether I can be near the fire from first flame to last ember. The property-owner’s manual also informs me this regarding outdoor burning: “Burning shall not be conducted during periods of actual predicted low-level atmospheric temperature inversions.”

Really? Convolution makes for a poor writing strategy and even poorer communication, particularly when writing about safety expectations. There is a time and a place for wit, and the manual isn’t a good place for wit, especially if that is the one and only attempt at it. I know; I had time to read the whole thing while keeping the burn pile in sight and mind.

Writers should do the same for their readers: keep good communication in sight and mind.

Trust the Road, Watch for Deer

If people from other parts of Texas, like from the Permian Basin or Houston ask you where you live, and you tell them “the Texas Hill Country,” they smile and wish they too could one day move to the hill country. If you tell them you live in Wimberley, they sigh wistfully and say, “Ah, Wimberley!”

Indeed. Living here in the Hill Country is not so easy. Getting around is even more difficult.

If you’re going to live in the Texas Hill Country, you must learn to do two things: Trust the road, and watch for deer.

Texans adore their roads, their freeways and highways, their farm roads and ranch roads. Our farm and ranch roads are nicer than some state’s main thruways! We love to drive all over our state, and many Texans are indoctrinated to think nothing of jumping in their car and driving to wherever they may like to go. A Texan will drive a hundred miles to dinner and back!

The great thing about living in the Texas Hill Country is that there is no easy – or quick — route anywhere. The real Hill Country has no interstate, no loop, no freeways – and no direct route.

If you come to the Texas Hill Country, you must take one of the back ways to get to us. It doesn’t matter which one, just take it.

The maddening thing about living in an area like this with so many back roads is learning one’s way around.   Oh sure you can be prepared with maps and a GPS; however, the roads here are crumpled up. They wind up and down elevated hills, through low water-crossings, and around canyons. They’re wrinkled. It makes finding the way difficult.

My GPS became so befuddled by the roads here that my request to drive south to the Rio Grande Valley was granted by sending me first to Dallas – four and half hours north. The idea was to get me to commit to nine hours of driving before driving to my intended destination. That’s a bit too far even for a Texan!

If you’re one of those people who want to know simply how to get from Point A to Point B by taking one consistent and easy route, then please do not come here. There is no such thing as an easy way here; in fact there are hundreds of ways to get to your destination here in the hill country. You will need to know them all and be able to use alternative routes depending on weather conditions — heavy rains to slick ice – and local events like Market Days.

Here’s what you do:

  • Select your destination – where will you end up?
  • Avoid driving to Dallas first.
  • Develop a general plan – what are the most likely routes you’ll take? Are there alternative back roads you should be aware of? Are you willing to take them? Be prepared to recite the words of Robert Frost, who “took the road less traveled by” and said, “that has made all the difference.” It can make the difference on your journey, too.
  • Stop looking for signs already; trust the road – it will take you to your destination as long as you do not second guess it and turn back too soon. Quit prematurely and you’ll have to start over.

That’s not so different from how any of us lead our lives. Select a path and follow it. At some point you must be willing to adventure away from the interstate and trust the road. Keep going.

Of course, trusting the road is not without hazards.

You must not only be able to select diverse routes suited to reaching your destination and trust the road — you must also be prepared to encounter the greatest Texas Hill Country road hazard of all: the white-tailed deer.

Initiatives – like infrared vision, deer crossing signs, and herd reduction — have been developed to keep drivers safe from random deer. Here’s a fact: expect adversity — you WILL have a DVC (deer vehicle collision). No one is safe from adversity.

Experts tell us we must follow these steps in avoiding deer:

  • Deer are herd animals. If you see one deer run across the road in front of you, there are certainly more, and they will run in front of you, too. In life, trouble travels in a pack as well.
  • Wear your seat belt. You never know what will happen, and a seat belt will protect you from injury. In life, be prepared for anything.
  • Hit the deer. Yes, it’s horrible. It’s a Bambi. But swerving may cause you to hit something or someone else, causing far more damage. In life, face hardship head on.
  • Don’t touch the deer after you hit it. I it’s not dead, it certainly will injure you. In life, don’t love on hardship like a tar baby; let it go.
  • Report the crash to the local law agency. In life, get support from family, friends, outside resources.

The rule still applies: Trust the road, but watch for deer. In fact it’s a valuable meme for more than just Wimberley or the Texas Hill Country.

You see, life really is a journey rather than a destination. Tolkien knew all along that not all who wander are lost, and truly, roads go ever, ever on, over rock and under tree .…”

Commit to taking the journey, going ever, ever on, aware that another path may be necessary. That journey may take you straight into the path of adversity, and you must be prepared.

There is not always an obvious or easy route. Trust the road, and watch for deer.

The Underwire Paradox: Why We Put Up with What We Hate

It’s the Underwire Paradox.

Women have had a love-hate relationship with underwires since their first arrival under the scene in the 1890s. Designed to shape, lift and support, they also bind, constrict and pinch. Relationships, careers and even the habits we develop can seem the same way.

It’s that painful feeling, right here. Not a bite, not a pinch, but still enough to make you pause and say what is that?

The Challenge

If you’ve ever worn a bra with an underwire, you know this feeling, and some women have gone so far as to never go near an underwire again. Other women tolerate the discomfort until the underwire situation has advanced to a critical stage: chafing and poking until it hurts.

How does that even happen?

Underwire fans and haters alike know that eventually the underwire bra you love today will turn on you tomorrow. Your support undergarment relationship will be over, but you quite literally felt it coming.

The Paradox

The paradox is that you can’t imagine being without your underwire bra, even though you know it will become uncomfortable. It may even hurt.

Then, like many relationships, the newness begins to wear off. In the case of the underwire bra, the wire begins to chafe and rub, just a little. You first adjust the girls and then the bra. Soon the seam that contains the wire begins to fray, and one thread loosens.

You know what’s happening, but it’s just one thread, for heaven’s sake, not the whole seam. And yes, the fabric is worn, but you can tend to it later. You allow the situation to continue. More fraying, more adjusting, more poking, more delaying.

How bad can it be, anyway?

It’s obvious that the situation is discomforting, and yet you permit it to continue, and in doing so, become an enabler, as it were, to a chafing underwire.

When is enough, enough?

Our Tolerance Levels

Your tolerance for underwire chafing is similar to the tolerance for other disagreeable situations in your life. You allow the discomfort to chafe a little more each day. It’s not too bad at first, something you can live with. A slight adjustment takes care of the difficulty; you go on, even though the chafing becomes more pronounced.

Soon, though you have to make more frequent adjustments, until you are finally worn and changed from all the rearranging, and sometimes you develop emotional and even physical scars. Who you are and how you wish to appear becomes significantly altered because you allowed the situation to change you

The real danger is that you may allow yourself to be changed into someone you did not wish to become.

The underwire requires a decision. You either allow the underwire to continue its torture or you stop it. Taking action is the only way to stop the destruction, either through repair or replacement.

You can – and must — avoid death by underwire.

Fixing the Problem

Relationships, careers, and even bad habits can also benefit from repair or replacement.

When things aren’t right, you want to fix them, adjust, rearrange, make repairs, and return to what was before. There are times that the thread cannot be reattached, the wire is too bent, and the fabric is too frayed from keeping the underwire from poking its victim.

Women (and men) who tolerate bad relationships “because maybe the other person will change” are living the Underwire Paradox. We continue in pain because it’s not so bad right now. It could get better, you tell yourself.

Complacency

A workplace with opposing philosophical values is the same thing.

Even though systems/the environment/your colleagues aren’t what you thought they might be, it’s not so bad that you can’t handle it.

You can tolerate a little poking and chafing; that’s what grown ups do.

Eventually you develop the scar tissue that keeps it from hurting so much. Putting up with inconvenient truth and obvious values differences are slowly changing you.

The water that carved the Grand Canyon created a landscape of beauty. The wind that wears down the mountaintop leaves nothing behind. You find yourself being worn down rather than transformed.

Bad habits begin innocently enough.

Just one drink, one cigarette, one day without exercise, letting an abusive situation continue one more time  . . . these conditions may not seem so bad at first. As habits and acceptance become de rigueur, you begin to experience a little poking here and there until finally the underwire digs into flesh. You ignore it and go on.

“It’s only a flesh wound,” you say.

It is then you choose to remain an enabler and live as a victim.

“I’d like to quit, but . . . ” and “I would leave if only . . . ” is how you trick yourself into one more day, and then another. You become so used to the situation that you no longer see it for what it is. You put up with whatever situation you find yourself in. You fill up with the kind of negative energy that either angers you or victimizes you until you decide to move on.

Often those who make a change and move on look back at their situations and wonder why they put up with it for so long.

It was the Underwire Paradox.

It was the inability to recognize the situation for what it was and do something about it immediately – either repair it or replace it.

Commitment

No one has to live under constant chafing.

Friends, coworkers, and especially coaches can help us discover what’s fraying. They encourage us to take action. By removing what no longer serves, you may discover that your positive energy gives you freedom in achieving your goals.

Check your underwire often.

Refuse to operate in victim mode.

When it’s time to let go, it’s time to let go. Taking care of yourself is what separates you from others still trapped by the Underwire Paradox.

How to Present Yourself Unprofessionally in Business Email

Writing a business email?

Why bother with writing convention and trying to convince your readers that you are a literate communicator when you really never learned the soft skills of communication anyway? Or maybe you learned them but don’t feel like using them. For the sake of your own convenience, you are happy enough to type whatever, however you want, slopping through the writing, thinking, “Well, I’ll just add let me know if you need clarification at the end of your message. If they get it, good. If not, they can ask.”

Your email makes an impression as soon as the recipient opens it up. If the reader even gets to the end, further clarification should not be necessary if you communicated well enough in the first place.

Here are five disrespectful strategies guaranteed to alienate your audience and diminish your communication capacity – and respect — as a business professional.

1.  Write in all caps.

IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT YOUR NAILS ARE TOO LONG, YOUR CARPAL TUNNEL IS ACTING UP AGAIN, YOUR SHIFT KEY IS STUCK, IT’S QUICKER. Writing in all caps is yelling. Always. It’s also lazy, rude, difficult to read and disrespectful. Buy voice-activated software, get an ergonomic keyboard, find your nail clippers.

2.  Use text language in a professional email.

OMG, plz 4get 2 use txting language n email, LOL.

You are not twelve years old; you are a professional. I will not take your email seriously, but I will laugh at it. And then I will delete it.

3.  Put emoticons in a professional email.

Again, be the professional, not the twelve year old. Adults have an average vocabulary of 20,000 words. It’s not too much to insist that you use some of them instead of tiny smileys and frownies. If all else fails, try the dictionary and thesaurus.

4.  Put apostrophes next to every “s” at the end of the word.

Plurals need only an “s;” possessives need the apostrophe before the “s.”

Unless the rabbits (plural) own something, leave out the apostrophe. Leave it out in 1980s, CDs, DVDs, too.

5.  Keep’em confused: mix up homonyms.

Its/it’s, they’re/their/there, hear/here . . . you get the picture. You were also supposed to learn this in school. You definitely need to get it right at work.

These are my pet peeves in professional writing. There is a time and place for CAPS as emphasis, playing with texting language, and inserting emoticons; play with language, stretch the rules and see what bounces back to you. But play in your personal writing, in your own social media, in poetry and fiction writing. Don’t present yourself as a representative of your company if you can’t communicate like a professional.

I stand firm about apostrophes and homonyms in any writing.

The Broad Nib Creek Name

With a good pen, anything is possible. From barrel to nib, this fundamental tool expresses creative voice. Balanced and tuned, the nib of a pen writes responsively, pointing to possibility. It yields to pressure both gentle and firm, and the ink that flows from it appears on a page in a variety of ways.

Broad Nib Creek, named after the pen’s most important feature, is the source from which ideas flow. With running water that slips over rocks, ripples and eddies that collect in pools deep and shallow, the creek resonates with creativity. Although it’s an imaginary creek, it’s very real as the headwater of ideas. Broad Nib Creek is the kind of place that is connected, vibrant, and illuminating. Think of Broad Nib Creek as that place to go to for fullness, energy, inspiration, and rejuvenation.