Tag Archives: writing

Writing on Monday Mornings Is a Challenge

 

Here we go again. It’s Monday morning. Mondays come after Sundays, and, like most pastors, I tend to be toast on Monday mornings. Brain dead but breathing.

It’s not the best day to write, but the deadline for this column is noon on Mondays. Someday, when pigs fly and twits quit tweeting, I’ll embrace some discipline and manage to write days before the deadline. But I like to think that I write best with adrenaline pumping and coffee fueling neurological fission.

If I wait until Monday morning, adrenaline and coffee are both available at the house. So I pull on sweats, sit in the recliner, tap away at the keyboard, listen to the clock chiming in the background. At this moment, I’ve got a full hour and 35 minutes to get this written and off to the various venues. I’m ahead of the game.

This morning’s session is a tad unusual; I’m icing a knee as I write. I value our relationship and appreciate the trust you place in me each week as you read these words, so I’ll tell you the truth about the injury (which, thanks for asking, is very minor).

I twisted the knee just a little as I jumped a bit too quickly out of a hovering helicopter. We were doing a little early heli-skiing in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, and I knew I was a bit hasty out the door; I didn’t hit the deck or face plant into powder, but I did feel a pop/jolt and then some nagging tightness in that right knee all the way down the “waaaa-y past double black diamond” mountain face. What a rush!

Okay. Not really. I just didn’t want to alarm you.

The fact is that I surprised an intruder in our house one late night last week. I’d gotten out of bed to get a drink of water, strapped my Walther PPK 9mm onto my calf as usual, and headed for the kitchen. As I came through the door into the living room, I saw the huge, masked hulking figure as he opened the refrigerator door, his dark grim visage briefly outlined in the 20-volt appliance light reflecting off a milk jug (whole, not, heaven forbid, 2% or skim).

Instinctively, I knew the miscreant was reaching for leftover smoked ribs. Oddly enough, I had an absolutely clear view of the 44-magnum revolver he suddenly raised. Time froze; my training kicked in. In two seconds that seemed like eternity, I threw myself to the ground, rolled, came up firing. I shot the gun out of his hand and double-tapped him, not in the head and heart since I’m a pastor and merciful, but in both knees so that following a period of repentance and physical therapy, he would live and be loath to pilfer barbecue ever again—or, at least, a good deal slower if he succumbed to temptation.

Not buying it, are you?

Okay, I should’ve used knee pads one day last week when I was kneeling on the garage floor to pray. Uh, actually, to cut sheet rock. Just a little bruising or bursitis, I think.

I don’t know what your Monday mornings are like. Mine are much like I just described, sans helicopter and 9mm. Most Monday mornings, I do try to write a little about faith. Yes, with adrenaline. And coffee. Rarely, ice.

But always with a prayer that God will give us the faith to live the week with strength and hope, mercy and joy. Oh, and also truthfulness.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Tweet From the Apostle Paul: #WhateverIsAdmirable

 

If, like most folks, you deal with email and its accompanying blessings and cursings, you know that the first step after you open your inbox is to obliterate 90% of it by clearing out a ton of junk and deleting a few nefarious attempts to set a hook in you through phishing.

I’d love to change email addresses to try to buy 30 seconds worth of a cleaner inbox, but my trusty ol’ address is emblazoned on everything from a few thousand music albums to business cards to newsletters to coffee cups to . . . (An AOL address was really cool when I got mine. Cool marches on.) I’ve actually got several addresses, but all get a preponderance of junk and none more than my primary address.

Like you, I’ve long ago learned that anything marked “urgent” isn’t. I know that anything from the FBI isn’t. I know that Dame Nastasia Ambrovada living in exile in Nigeria and sadly short of relatives and heirs really does not want to deposit a million dollars in my account.

Most of us are all too accustomed to the daily task of hacking through our inboxes with DELETE key machetes to whack away stacks of dreary deadwood, knowing that a serpent or two lurking therein will need to be deleted and dispatched as well. But sometimes, I’m still surprised.

This morning, after clearing out the usual mess, I couldn’t help but notice two items. The first, purporting to be from “NFL Cheerleaders,” promised in the subject line that “these cheerleaders will delight your eyes.” “Delight” is not the word I would have used, but I have no doubt that my eyeballs would have been engaged had I chosen to be reeled in by that one. I try to remember that those gals probably have grandpas who’d much prefer that they wear clothes.

Also eye-catching was the exclusive email opportunity to own a bobblehead figurine fashioned after a more or less famous sheriff in Milwaukee. Evidently, the figure is very large by bobblehead norms. And it talks. Since our world is in no short supply of bobbleheads already, and since bobbleheads that talk are never farther away than a button on a TV remote control (C-SPAN is a great place to look if you find yourself in desperate need of a bobblehead), I deleted that offer, too.

Of course, it’s not just email that requires a little literate discernment. Most of us still receive plenty of Spam-equivalent paper via actual mailboxes. What we rarely receive are real letters. Do they still teach letter-writing in school? Lots of folks these days are as likely to write a good letter as they are to pen a treatise discussing alliteration in the Declaration of Independence. If letters, considered antiquated anyway, are far beyond our capability and a 350-word email is unbearably long (and even email is becoming “old school”), and if a twit with no attention span can hardly string together 140 characters cogently and almost never gets closer to opening (or downloading) a book than reading a two-screen text message . . . Well.

But some things don’t change. Whatever we let in our souls via our eyes, and whatever we expound or affirm via our words, written or spoken, says much about the condition of our hearts. By the way, the Apostle Paul recommends some great hashtags in Philippians 4: #WhateverIsTrue, #WhateverIsRight, #WhateverIsNoble, #WhateverIsPure, #WhateverIsPraiseworthy . . .

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“There Is a Season” Even for Using “There Is”

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“For everything there is a season,” writes the wise man in Ecclesiastes 3.

Not only is that very smart fellow pointing us to a profound truth, his English translators are phrasing it beautifully. The vast majority of those folks are smart enough themselves not to mess much with the English construction of this well-known Scripture.

If you’re not an English major, I hereby give you my blessing to tune out. Blessing or not, if you’re not some sort of word person, you’ll soon turn off anyway. But are you aware that the famous words above are breaking (beautifully) an “Editing 101” rule?

Some rules you should never break. Spelling rules, for example. As a short-lived teacher of English 101, I discovered that between 87 and 93 percent of college freshmen (well, a lot of them anyway) are convinced that “alot” is a word. “Allot” is, but “alot” ain’t, and “allot” is not what they mean.

Sure, some rules ought to be broken occasionally. For example, starting a sentence with a preposition really is okay if you’ve got a good reason for it. (But you don’t have a good reason as often as you think.)

As an editor, I quickly learned one of Ten Editorial Commandments. “Thou shalt quickly kill ‘there izzes’ and ‘there arzzes.’” What that means is that when a writer begins a sentence with “There is” or “There are” a good editor will prune those words because they’re almost always deadwood anyway. If you see many of them in a book, article, or manuscript, it’s a dead giveaway that the author went to press without an editor or the writer threw his editor into a deep sleep. Somebody goofed.

“There are many bears who hibernate in January” may be true, but it’s drowsy word-wise. “Many bears hibernate in January” is a tad closer to coming awake.

“There is very little to be gained from using ‘there is.’” Absolutely true. “Very little is gained from using ‘there is,’” is, however, greater gain.

A quick Google search just brought up this “Op-Ed” title: “There Is a Long Campaign to Put the U.S. Economy Back on Track.” What does that mean? Maybe . . . “Putting the U.S. Economy Back on Track Will Require a Long Campaign.” Economists probably won’t notice anyway, but more reconstructive surgery than that will be required before this title dances much. Those dratted “there izzes” and “there arzzes” are guaranteed to hobble decent writing pretty much anytime an editor allows one to sneak in and live.

Except . . . when the rule is turned on its head and needs to be.

Mahatma Gandhi: “Where there is love there is life.” And right there are two great uses of “there is.”

Yes, indeed, in God’s good time, “for everything there is a season.”

There really is.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“How Little We Know” Is Well Worth Knowing

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Not long ago, one of my favorite columnists, George Will, wrote a column about his favorite columnist, William Zinsser.

Zinsser died last year at the age of 92, an amazingly accomplished writer, editor, and teacher. He was literally the man who wrote the book on writing well. On Writing Well has sold over 1.5 million copies.

If Will liked Zinsser, I figured I would, too. But I was sure of it after I read Zinsser’s essay on “postmodernism” (in a fine collection of his essays entitled The Writer Who Stayed). He titles it, “Goodbye and Don’t Come Back.”

Among my wide variety of valued friends are some who like to hang out, drink coffee, and discuss such topics as “postmodernism.” I suspect that most of the friends in that group are, like me, blessed to also have a good many friends who don’t know postmodernism from post nasal drip. If you talk about such topics too much, they’ll yawn, excuse themselves, and go mow their lawns or balance their checkbooks, thus accomplishing something of more lasting value than most folks who sit around discussing postmodernism.

Zinsser could tell you about postmodernism. He ran in circles where they’ve been talking about it for forty years. But he tired of all the prattling, probably partly because he spent his life teaching folks to write well, and that means learning to recognize slippery words and vapid thinking.

Zinsser says he looked for a definition of “postmodernism,” but the definition was more slippery than the concept. When the definition-writer used the word “problematization,” Zinsser cringed and tuned out.

He also experienced problematization with the term itself. (I couldn’t resist.) He felt sure the “moment” for post-modernism was long over, but he didn’t remember “anyone telling it to go away.” And he asked, risking annoying people who put up with slimy words, how can you ever put it out the door? If “modern” is past, how long is “post”-modern supposed to last? “The word floats in a vast sea of postness.”

Zinsser reckons that post-modernism was born in 1970. It died, he says, on the morning of September 11, 2001.

“At heart,” he writes, “‘postmodernism’ was unkind. But nobody really cared because everyone was so clever. Everyone who mattered knew everything. Then came 9/11 and nobody knew anything.”

Postmodernism aside, I like Zinsser’s writing. The best way to learn to write well is by reading folks who do.

Now, after some more coffee, I need to go mow the yard. But before I do, I might just mention that it’s worthwhile to keep a good eye open to try to understand something about the “times and the seasons” of our world and discern what is real, what is a passing fad, and what is something in between.

But to do that well means keeping both eyes focused on the One in whom there is “no shadow due to change,” who holds time itself in His hand, and who can handle all of our “times.” Compared to Him, nobody knows anything. And how little we know is well worth knowing. Always and even post-always.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“You Can’t Just Turn on Creativity Like a Faucet”

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“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood,” said Bill Watterson who drew the great Calvin and Hobbes comic strip for ten years. And he went on, “What mood is that? Last minute panic.” My kind of guy.

Near as I can figure, I’ve been writing this weak column weekly since July 1993. Over 20 years. Twenty years of very regular deadlines. And around 1000 columns. Since its beginning, it has morphed also into an e-mail column, a newspaper web column, and a blog. (When I started, a blog was an intestinal blockage.)

To the cries and moans of scads of fans, Watterson ended his column after 10 years. He wanted Calvin and Hobbes to go out while he was still at the top of his game and had fresh things to say.

Neither of those valid concerns has stopped me yet. (Writers who run out of things to say need to remember that reading comes before writing and has a great deal to do with thinking new thoughts. To have anything worth saying, it’s important to read things worth reading.)

Watterson is a very private guy, so I doubt he’d join a club for procrastinators. But if somebody will form one, I promise to join once I get around to it.

“Last minute panic.” That’s exactly the mood in which I write most of my stuff. Columns, sermons, lists of other stuff to put off doing, etc. A deadline is about the only spark that will ignite any weak flame I possess.

I don’t understand why. My friend is the sportswriter for our newspaper. It’s pretty much required that sports events have to happen before he writes about them. I’m under no such constraint.

Theoretically, I could write a month or a year ahead of time. My brother has been at this a lot longer than I have, and I’ve even heard him talk about writing extra columns during one Christmas to be ready for the next. I find that sort of discipline as appalling as it is mystifying.

Of my 1000 columns, I’m betting 10 may have been written a week early. Well, with this one, make that 11. And you see how worthless it is. I rest my case.

I despise deadlines, but I’ve gotta have them. The Monday deadline for my column drives me nuts. Like most pastors, I’m brain-dead on Monday mornings. I’ve said everything I know, and a little more, on most Sundays. But we’re not the New York Times, and we don’t get to pick our printing “slot,” so Monday morning often finds me in sweat pants and a t-shirt, with an IV drip of coffee, staring at a blank computer screen.

Yes, dear reader, but this is Tuesday as I write, and this column is almost two weeks early. What discipline!

Not really. My truck battery is dead (my fault). I’m stranded at home while it charges. I’ve already taken out the trash. Filled up the hummingbird feeders. Watered the plants. Seriously thought about writing next week’s column. But to put that off, I wrote this one instead. It’s too long. I’ll edit it later.

“When the time had fully come,” at just the right time, God sent his Son. I’m glad he didn’t put it off.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“The Most Expensive Hyphen in History”

“The Most Expensive Hyphen in History.”

That was the title I ran across in a Google search as I was editing and designing a recent issue of The Christian Appeal, the monthly devotional magazine my brother and I edit.

The “hyphen” in question was actually an “overbar” (“hyphen” to most of  us) that a programmer failed to properly copy into “coded computer instructions” in the “data editing program” that allowed faulty guidance instructions to be sent to . . . guess what? A space probe! None other than NASA’s Mariner 1.

Launched in 1962, Mariner 1 was supposed to head for Venus for America’s first planetary “fly by.” Unfortunately for the 18.2 million dollar (1962 dollars!) spacecraft, the missing hyphen caused such serious guidance problems that the spacecraft had to be destroyed just 294.5 seconds into the flight. (Mariner 2 would later do the job right.)

The whole hyphen incident seems to have taken on something of “urban legend” status, clouding fact and fiction. But Mariner 1 did indeed become expensive toast, and, though the reality may well be more complicated, a single hyphen has often received the blame.

So, you see, the moral of the story is clearly that, while computer programmers are a dime a gigabyte, what the world really needs are more conscientious English majors with a flare for proofreeding. (Make that “a flair for proofreading,” lest this column go off-course and crash into innocent bystanders.)

I hate proofreading, but what I hate worse is wading through slop published by careless proofreaders. Our little magazine gets proofread at least four times before it hits print. I dare anyone to find a cleaner publication (in any sense). But it still drives me crazy when I’m reading through an issue later and am hit in the face by an extra space that managed to creep in and hitch a ride to publication between two words that needed only one space.

Grammar is another issue, and one that recently almost caused a rift in the family. (You need to understand that my family plays Scrabble as blood sport.) My younger brother Jim wrote the sentence. Editor Me passed it on. Older brother Editor Gene flagged it to be fixed. Here’s the original: “I’ve become acutely aware of the chaos so many ‘loose ends’ tends to create.” The question: “tends” or “tend”? It’s a subject-verb agreement issue. Brother Jim thinks “chaos” is doing the tending. Brother Gene thinks the “loose ends” tend. I just tend to be confused, but I bowed to seniority and went with “tend.” I just hope the issue doesn’t go off course and blow up if that’s wrong.

Mistakes do creep in, don’t they? In print. And, heaven knows, in life. Thank God that he didn’t forget to cross the most important T. We call it the Cross. The gift of God’s Son. Truly amazing GRACE. And, yes, that’s supposed to be all caps. (But Gene says italics would’ve been better.)

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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