Archive for the 'writing' Category

06
Feb
13

Spring is Here in the UK!

We have had a dreary winter so far.  After Christmas I felt like I was living in Finland but without the snow plows.  The rain makes life damp here and you feel it in your mattress when you go to bed at night.  But, somehow, Spring is here!  Well, virtually anyway. I am a lonely instructional designer who is holed up in my bedroom-office.  I am trying to get our business going since that is about the only way you can get work now in the UK–you got to do you own thing.  But of course, I’m in a Catch-22–no work–no money–no money–no business.  But then came iSpring to give me the leg up that I need.

You see, I am developing a new type of language learning concept — for Hebrew.  Since I am still learning Hebrew myself, and I’m doing the graphics, and I’m doing the IT, my mind is juggling quite a lot.

Once I got some prototype modules done for beta-testing, I needed a platform.  Who would host a powerpoint presentation and keep all my little animations and click when you’re done pages, and my sounds, and still give me quality.  And, who could keep it private for me?  For free.  Like I said, Spring came.  iSpring.

Not only that, when I had some technical difficulties, some one actually wrote right back THE VERY SAME DAY!  Yes, I said some one, meaning a real person like Helen.  A real personality.  No automatic email.

This is all for free.  Thank you, iSpring, for shedding a little bit of sunshine on the rainy UK.

02
Aug
10

The Results of No Internet for a Month

I moved just a block away, but being in India, it took a month to get my internet connected again because I was in a postal Bermuda triangle.  The internet providers couldn’t agree in what sector I belonged.  It was a very interesting time for me, and afterward I considered having a Shabbat from the internet.

Being an ex-pat in India, the internet fills a special need for me–it helps me feel connected with my friends who have the same background as I do, the same memories. They take me back to my hometown without me having to mess with airport security in smelly bare feet after being ordered to take off my potentially lethal shoes.

Since I am not fluent in the local language here, I am isolated to an extent in my “real world.” Playing cultural bumper cars all day long, every day, gets tiring, confusing. Coming on to Facebook, iming, twittering, and getting emails from 10k miles away kept me centered. And then I was cut off and had to join the real world here–a National Geographic documentary that doesn’t stop and has no commercials. And this is what I learned:

1. Because I had more free time in the real world, my house was cleaner, more organized. I noticed dirt and clutter that my cyber eyes were blind to before.

2. I developed a hunger for human companionship, making me more patient listening to garbled English and more out-going in practicing what I knew of the local language. I took more time with people–just sitting around drinking tea. I couldn’t flip the web pages now. I had to stay on the same channel in the real world.

3. I cooked more interesting foods like hummus and sharma.

4. I re-decorated part of my house using clay pots I found at local markets I didn’t know existed.

5. I almost got back into drawing and painting again.

6. I started doing yoga again, and my backache from too much time at the computer was gone.

7. I spent more time with my dog, running around and playing, training him out of bad habits.

After a few days, I didn’t miss having the internet as much as I thought. I almost didn’t want the engineer to come and hook me up again. Did I really spend so many hours in that darkened dusty room?  Was I a mole?

And then, when I finally did get hooked up, I found a lot of my “friends” didn’t really notice. There wasn’t the avalanche of emails that I thought that I would be buried under. There were no desperate messages on Facebook. I was a tree that fell in the cyber forest and nobody heard.

And now, since I got an overseas contract to do some writing–I will be forced to connect my life with the internet as never before. I tried so hard to just teach English here and be with animate humans, but the pay is lower than my chances of getting the Pultizer Prize. Again, I am part of the Borg.

Since I am eccentric, only on the internet can I find people who think as I do. How many people do you know are interested in Canine Homeopathy, the Torah from a Christian perspective (especially if you live where I live), and watching Grey’s Anatomy in French (it’s too boring in English now) ?

However, the internet, just like the net that the fishermen use on the beach that I can see outside my window (not XP), it can be cut easily. Come on. You know that the day is coming where we better know how to live without the internet–when we have black-outs due to terrorism or stupid corporate cuts that lead to under-skilled engineers and poor infra-structure. The Y2K phobia might have got the actual date wrong, but we better be taking lessons from the Amish.

PS  Thanks to Alvin Saldanha for his inspiration.

25
Jan
10

Charades or How I Got My Job in Air France

The year is 1986. I had been just about surviving in Paris for the last few years. I held the receiver as close to the tape recorder as possible to catch the Parisian-style French pouring out of my innocent, hapless telephone: the Air France personnel secretary was flooding me with directions to her office at Charles de Gaulle Airport. I had an interview on Friday, 9:00 a.m.–that much I understood. Somehow, the bureaucracy of Air France had actually not only received my application but even understood what I wrote and deemed it not only proper French, (with the help of three French friends), but decided that I was worth interviewing. Air France– not USAir, Allegany Airlines, or Amtrack–wanted to interview the girl who got a “D” in French at Ridgely Junior High School. It was a good thing that airlines do not demand to see your scholastic records.

Rewinding and playing the directions over and over again, I felt like a French underground cryptographer, writing down stray words that I caught. I finally figured out where I was supposed to go: into the catacombs of one of the largest airports in the world, into the bowels of a great monster where all shapes and sizes of the human race gather to be shipped around the world. It made me remember the first time I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport; it was my first time in an airplane, and my first trip overseas. I was twenty-four years old with frosted hair, too much baby fat, and too much joie de vivre to blend in with a French crowd. I sallied forth from the plane and decided to say “Bonjour” to the first French person I saw (which happened to be a rather serious French customs officer). Before then, French had been only a play language between us francophiles. Now, my French was an authentic language for the first time, but the customs officer totally ignored me like I was air. Nevertheless, somebody who is 24 and a world traveler doesn’t care.

That was ten years ago. I’m no longer the “American in Paris,” anymore. Living in England, Holland, and now France has given me more respect for the European mind. Being married to Englishman has taught me to be little calmer. But living in Paris for over a year and a half has not taught me what I wanted to know about Paris. More than just a language barrier, a glass wall surrounds me wherever I go in this city. These people breathe different air than I do. I’m going through life with subtitles.

When we had only been in Paris for a short time, I had to make a telephone call. We didn’t have a phone yet. When you are new to a country, there are a lot of things that you don’t have yet. I went to the local Post Office to find a row of telephone booths. I had no sooner put my franc in the coin slot when a stolid middle-aged woman started banging the glass door with her fist. She was incensed, but she was not an exception in my daily life in Paris. You could walk down the street and see men and women in their designer suits screaming at each other, waving their hands in angry Gaelic gestures, complete with fierce facial expressions that Marcel Marceau could use. Over what? Who knows? I learned that this was Paris. Paris was my concierge intently surveying our comings and goings without a smile. Paris was the wrong line at the Post Office to the disgust of some lowly bureaucrat. Paris was the wrong metro stop and being too intimidated to ask for directions. I must be masochistic to actually desire to work at a Paris airport.

In applying for this post as “the one most likely not to succeed,” I followed a lifetime pattern of hard-headedness. Mrs. Warmsley christened me during my stay in Colchester, England a “very determined young lady.” The Yankee doodle dandy, the ugly American, loud, brash, and bold and blunt, I found my way. Only audacity and temerity could make me enroll in a teacher-training course where Mrs. Warmsley instructed teachers of English for foreigners. The unspoken joke in the class was that I was the foreigner. An American teaching English seemed an oxymoron to them. A Cockney-sounding fellow student inquired if Americans actually used the present perfect in our “dialect.” Without a bachelor’s degree, I did not even actually qualify to be in the course. But then, I was American; no one ever told us that we couldn’t do something we wanted.

It was the little red Royal Society of Arts handbook that gave me the crack in the royal armor: one could be accepted if one taught a class under the supervision of the Head of the Department, wrote a paper, and was found a worthy candidate. Then one could apply to take the R.S.A. exam at the end of the course. Mrs. Warmsley who breathed grammar, syntax, and diction was at a loss for words–for about ten seconds–when I reported my findings. In the end, I actually learned how to write British Received Pronunciation in phonetics and passed my R.S.A. written exam and my T.E.S.L. Trinity College Exam. As far as I know, the other students in my class are still doing the same things they were doing before they took the course. But then, they aren’t American, are they?

After conquering the English, I felt prepared for the famous French xenophobia. The French are not personal in their prejudice. They don’t like any foreigners. As a fading empire, all they have to hang on to is their language and their culture, both of which are quickly losing ground to MTV. In Paris, I probably experienced a little of what all immigrants go through. I had flashes of was like to be a Negro in America during the 50’s. What it must fee like to be hard of hearing, having to make people repeat themselves. Many times, I was cut adrift in the waves of spontaneous French conversation. In America, I can hold my own with sharp wit, easily adjusting to different strata of society. In Paris, I was dull-witted, child-like, and worse, stupid to an impatient, intolerant audience. In America, I am fairly sophisticated; in Paris, I am a tourist characature: not enough make-up, hair too long, and still too fat, (even though in America, my friends, by this time, thought I was anorexic). Is this an Air France ground hostess? Is my “can do” transatlantic attitude as naive as the French would have me believe? Could I really fool anyone? Put on an act? Could I pretend I didn’t come from Timonium, Maryland, where people eat crabs with wooden hammers and sticky fingers? Am I going for a job, or a part in a new movie, “Gidget goes to Gaul?”

But Air France did have one person that was not dripping with Channel No. 5, black eye liner, and a scowl. Her name was Nutan Bhinda, another Parisian immigrant who was one of those cosmopolitan people who don’t really belong to one country. She was born in India, brought up in England, spoke Italian and French flawlessly and she was my friend. She was also gorgeous. As we would go to lunch, Parisian men would trip over themselves looking at her on Avenue Montaigne. She had a mane of blue-black hair that rested thickly around her shoulders. With classic features and café‚ au lait skin, brown eyes that melted into black, she was a tropical delight.

One day at lunch, she mentioned to me that Air France was looking for a liaison agent to take care of American clients. I had not come all the way to Paris to spend my days arranging the travel for American tourists. The city was starting to have its influence on me. I did not want to hold their hands when the big, bad French people were nasty. I fought too long to learn how to cope. But Nutan insisted that I apply for the job. Maybe because I had learned how to cope that I should consider it.

Nutan not only helped me with the lengthy application form, where I used my teacher-style rounded writing, (the French employ experts to analyze handwriting) but she also coached me for the interview process. Apparently, the French–especially Air France, due to the stressful nature of the work–base much of their hiring on psychological tests, where the applicant draws pictures. They determine what personality is suited for the demands of the job. Nutan gave me a well-thumbed book, passed on to her by other Air France personnel, which showed how to beat the tests. Just for fun, I took some of the tests and found out that I was “withdrawn, melancholic, easily irritated.” I would have never landed the job, but then, how do most French people pass? They buy this book.

After studying the right way to draw a tree, and how to answer other vital questions, Nutan trained me for the interview itself. I was not to play with my fingers or move my hands, which I always do as an Italian-American. My fingers are my accompaniment to all discourse. Being the nervous type, I pick my cuticles, a 20th century phenomenon, I’m sure, when I am thinking or obsessing,(this word has recently bumped into the verb form–typical of the American dialect). I had to learn how not to talk with my hands, now with well-manicured digits. I tried to pretend that my hands were cemented together on my lap in order to give the impression that I was relaxed and unruffled.

No part in a play would be complete without a good wardrobe mistress. As a leftover from the 70’s comfort look. If you can’t sit on the floor with what you are wearing, then what are you wearing it for? You wear the clothes, don’t let the clothes wear you. This motto was an excuse not to spend an inordinate amount of time primping. Unlike most women, I hate to take the time to study if my shoes are the exact shade of my dress. I only care if clothes give me a feeling of freedom for my thoughts: flowing skirts, long enough so I don’t have to wear nylons; shoes that I can run in to catch the metro ahead of the crowd; lipstick that doesn’t look like I ate too many cherries; and hair that I can put my fingers through when I’m pensive or bored, (another thing Nutan told me is verboten, playing with your hair at the interview: cemented palms, that’s what I’ll have). I abhor hair that looks like a wig, or a helmet, that took more time to sculpt than The Thinker.

This image is all in the past for me. Instead, I had to learn, not only to put on lipstick with a tiny brush that I once used to use for miniature painting, but to draw a line all around my lips to give “definition.” I was thankful that I took Drawing 101, 102 at Towson State College. How others manage, I can’t imagine. Worst of all, I had to get that dreaded suit out of the cleaners. The one with the straight skirt. The one in which I walk like a Chinese girl who has had her feet bound. The one with a straight jacket, tailored to keep me from talking with my hands and waving my arms in punctuation. That one. The high heels, well, I knew they had to come out of hiding. Taller than most French women in stocking feet, I now looked like an Amazon warrior, prepared to lead the battle, except that I had almost forgotten how to keep my balance in heels.

The sun didn’t forget to rise on Friday. The mirror reminded me that I was 35 years old, almost too old to even apply for the job. The final interview was not at the airport after all, but at some office in the 16th arrondissement. As I entered the building, crowds of Parisian beauties had already filled the hall. They were slim as pencils, petite, simply tastefully dressed in magazine fashions that I only flipped through at the hairdresser’s. Someone called my Anglo-Saxon name, which I almost didn’t recognize because of the heavy French accent.

Once in the office, I faced three executive women, seated behind a long table. If the purpose was meant to intimidate, it was effective. They stared at me as if I were a strange, anatomical specimen for one of their research papers. The white-haired lady, with the petite, round face, was the psychiatrist. The personnel director was nondescript and made no impression on my memory, as is the wont of bureaucratic workers. The other lady wore her hair severely pulled from her face, showing off sharp features, made more pronounced with the indignity of age. She wore the typical uniform of the Parisian matron: Channel suit with gold buttons, lots of jewelry, scarf deftly tied as only a French woman can do with panache, and perfect make-up that masked her peasant ancestry.

After formal introductions where you “present” one another to one another, and other phatic pleasantries, the psychiatrist immediately asked why my hair was different than my photo which I had submitted. She interrogated me as to my ability to coiffure my own hair. I suppose this is a very important skill to have mastered if I am to get the job–not to do hair–but not to be intimidated. After answering, to head off the obvious question, I immediately thanked them for their patience with my French. As I rightly predicted, they seized upon this like a good piece of gossip and asked me how I would cope with the French passengers. Of course I gave the party line: I said that the French were a very friendly and understanding people and that in time I would improve. Neither one of us believed the statement but I passed the PR test.

Towards the end of this long, pedantic interview, the psychiatrist spotted on my application that I had performed and taught seminars on mime. Then she made a most unusual request for which Nutan did not prepare me: she asked me in very polite French, if I would mind performing for the panel. Understanding not just the French, but the implied command, I accepted. Off came the straight jacket and the high heels, but the straight skirt would limit movement from the waist down. My coiffure, secured only by a few bobby pins and a breath of hair spray, was precariously in danger of falling on my face, a mimic’s canvas for expression. Gratefully, I remembered a simple maneuver of pretending to be blocked by an invisible wall. Putting my palms straight up, perpendicular to the ceiling, (I’m glad I didn’t cement them to my lap after all), and keeping them rock still, I pushed my shoulders back and forth, to give the impression that I was, indeed, pressing against a wall. After a few minutes of pushing different sides of the walls which had me boxed in, and grimacing frustration that there was no way out, I produced a key from my pocket and unlocked one of the walls which now became a door. I had a big smile on my face and wiped the sweat off of my brow in relief. I then bowed to my audience who, like all French audiences for mime, clapped with glee. No one likes mime like the French. It turns them into little children watching Punch and Judy at the Tuilleries Park. Even the nondescript lady smiled broadly through her make-up. Two weeks later, in some obscure recess of the catacombs in Charles de Gaulle, I found myself being fitted for my navy blue Air France uniforms by another Air France employee, handbag and shoes to match.

10
Oct
09

Does getting a toe wired mean better internet?

I was chasing and playing with my dog in the living room.   Now I walk like a duck, always have.  The doctor told me that my mother should have had given me a special brace or something when I was a baby.  So anyway, as I age, my right leg wanders out more, so my little toe caught on the cane sofa.  I felt shooting pain and looked down:  my little toe was at right angle with my foot.  This was not good.

So I had to do what I hate most: go to an Indian hospital.  Thank God we have friends there–the doctor on duty at the ER (they call it Casualty) used to come to our house.  Dr Sheeja is one of those rare Indian professionals who has a sense of humour so she got a good laugh in before she called in the orthopedic guy.  He took one look at it and said that I would need surgery.  “You’re kidding!”  He wasn’t.
Thank God this accident happened early and I didn’t have breakfast.  They could operate at noon.  Oh, and local anesthetic won’t be good enough.   Shoot.  I point out to the anesthetist that he wants to give me the same exact gas that killed Michael Jackson.  Someone gave my husband a menu card with  prices of rooms:  you could have the basic ward for so many rupees–all the way up to the deluxe single room with AC.  Yes, I had the deluxe.  My husband asked me if I really needed the delux, and I promptly gave him the Sicilan “the look” that could have easily put him in traction.  I remember that he’s been pretty amazing throughout this whole thing, taking care of the web of paperwork.

So I’m wheeled up in a rickety wheelchair by a village guy who never got his license.  I have nothing to protect my foot as I go through the hospital, and on the elevator, I’m the star attraction of the freak show–yes, right here ladies and gentlemen, we have the white lady with the pinky toe that goes sideways.  (I wonder what Indians call their pinky toe–a brownie toe?)  I wonder what physical therapy they give for the pinky toe.

Some nurse about 12 years old comes in the room to start my IV.  It must have been the second one she has ever done.  At least she is nice and doesn’t have that glazed look of indifference that so many can have.
After she leaves I realize I have to go to the bathroom.  I grab my bag and head to the bathroom, walking on my heel on my right foot.  I go to wash my hands–no soap.
They give me a hospital gown with Velcro that no longer works.  I learn to keep the two sides together as I wiggle on the gerney to go to the OR.  They cover my foot with a blanket.  I move the blanket off.  I’m almost too tall for the gurney and someone will bump into my foot if they don’t see it.
Then I’m on the operating table where there are no place for my arms.  They pull out two panels, and I’m in the position of the cross.  I’m counting backwards and the next thing I know is that some idiot with a mask is trying to wake me up from the most beautiful sleep.  In my drunken stupor, I ask him when will I dance again.  Maybe I think I’m am Michael Jackson.

I didn’t want to stay at the hospital, so I practiced yoga breathing to wake myself up.  Now I’m wired.  All went well, but the doctor doesn’t really discharge me and we have to wait until 7pm until we can leave.  My throat feels like the I 95 interstate highway during a drought in August.  The nurse says no water, but I sneak sips when no one is  looking.  She takes out my IV and blood spurts all over the place.  The guy with the wheelchair moves into EMT action and takes care of the problem.  Soon I’m all taped up. I survived; actually, this hospital is pretty good.  There’s lots of people around who are really suffering.  I got off easy.

I’m given no cast, no protection.  I find that my husband’s crocs work perfectly as protection.  Shep is wondering why I can’t run around with him.  I think he purposely caused this accident so I couldn’t go to work and would be with him.

19
Mar
09

Twitter is blind, deaf, and could be dumb

charles-dickens2The latest meme passing through the internet has to do with a young graduate calling herself Ciscofatty was unhappy about getting a job with Cisco.  It has been documented in this blog.  What the commenters couldn’t understand was why someone known who was qualified to be hired by Cisco would be silly enough to twitter her anxieties about the job.  The commenters did not take into account human nautre.

  • People have a compulsion to unburden themselves in communication.
  • They get into the habit of using a one mode of communication and forget to compartmentalize.
  • Many people don’t have strong real-life social groups.
  • Even if they do, what friend is available to listen to you all day long?

FUSION: The internet has brought a fusion between what we say and what we write.  Never before has there been so much semi-permanent documentation for millions of conversations.  Your friend could keep a file of all your chats.  Emails were the first of this fusion.  Now using email seems as bothersome as writing a letter with a quill pen.

COLD FUSION: The telephone was one of the first electronic devices that let us talk without seeing each other.  But at least we could hear our friend’s tone of voice, notice the pauses and the ahhh’s and ummm’s.  But with this fusion commication, we are using informal conversational language but without seeing our friend.  When we used to write formally, we reflected on the choice of our words.  We knew we would not be present to defend or define what we wrote.  We don’t have time to reflect and consider in this fusion of writing words that were only spoken before.

WATCHING: When we talk face to face, half of what we are communicating is coming from our face.  Almost the rest of what we communicate comes from our body language or the umm’s and ahhh’s.  Only 7% of what we communicate comes from our words.

LISTENING: In a face to face conversation, we get feedback immediately.  If we have been misunderstood, then we can repair the situation before our friend holds that misunderstanding too long.  We can adjust what we were going to say when we hear their voice.

When we twitter, chat, use sms, or use email for a conversation, we are blind.  We cannot see our friend as we give our words.  We can’t hear their voice.  What we say could be inappropriate and we wouldn’t have a clue.

10
Mar
09

Write an Essay Right Now

laying-tracts1

We have experienced a fusion in our written and oral communication.  At some points, we lose the best of both worlds.  Writing an essay almost seems archaic.  But for those who would like to try  (essayer in French) this post is about some of the mechanics on writing an essay when in a hurry–which tends to happen rather too frequently in business communication.

Write an Essay Right Now

You’re jazzed! You’ve already thought of a thesis or main point that interests you and yet specific enough to be covered in the scope of an essay.  In your research, you’ve discovered points of evidence to back up your thesis.  You can quote from well-respected experts and have the documentation. You’ve used all this date in a rough outline or blueprint of your essay.  You’re at the milestone in the project where  you it’s time to invite someone to go with you:  your reader.

You’re already had your specific type of reader in mind so far, but to compel the reader to follow you, you may want to use a hook or lead in the first paragraph to draw and keep the reader’s attention.  You can use a paradoxical or shocking statement, a question, quotation, relevant story, joke, or anecdote.  Your thesis is your specific main point that will control the rest of your essay.  It’s your contract with your readers.  They will trust you to guide them into this new subject or new way of thinking about this subject.  By giving the reader a map of your main points, the reader will trust you to follow. These main points can support your thesis in three ways: chronological, logical, or descriptive.  Keep the trail blazing for the reader by laying down tracks of a connecting sentence from one paragraph to the other.

In this paragraph, write a topic sentence that supports the first point that you showed in your essay map in the first paragraph.  Everything else that you write about in this paragraph supports this first point.  This point may gives evidence that backs up your thesis.    Have each sentence connect with the next one. Have the last sentence connect with the next topic sentence.

Put in a topic sentence that explains the second point. Make sure that every example you use supports this point.  That may mean you have good examples but they don’t support this point: so you can’t use them in this paragraph.  That would mislead your reader.

Instead, lead  your reader by using the same key words.  For instance, if you have been talking about the readers, then don’t use another term such as the target audience.  If we are talking about connecting sentences, we don’t suddenly refer to the same concept as transitional sentences. Continue with the same theme by using certain words or phrases throughout your paragraphs.

Remember, not every paragraph has to have one of your main points supporting your thesis.   For instance, an extra paragraph can explain a detailed example. Extra paragraphs in your essay still need a topic sentence that should support the main point.

Also remember that you don’t have to start every paragraph with the topic sentence.  You could have a connecting sentence and supporting sentences and have your topic sentence as a surprise ending.  This connecting sentence connects the previous paragraph with your new paragraph.  You have to decide where you need connecting sentences and words.  This connecting principle is especially true if your reader is not familiar with your subject.

In your concluding paragraph, you will still need a topic sentence.  This paragraph can take on different characteristics.  You can compare the importance of your thesis subject in a broader application.  You can mention the implications of your thesis in the future.  You might want to use a witticism or story that emphasizes or sums up your points and thesis.  But whatever you decide to do, it may be a good idea to refer to these guidelines as the contract you made with your reader on this adventure.