The moon’s breast

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Photo by flickr user Jim  Liestman. Appearing via cc: license. All rights revert to originator.



My brother’s garden

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Sunburned by a stream

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Eating beignets at Café du Monde without regret at having saved none for you

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Look under the chair for a cigarette I dropped
Hit my head on the edge of the table
Jump up and down on a tiny volume of Spenser
The coffee is thick and black as sepia
tasting like treebark
even through the unaccustomed tablespoons full of white sugar
This patio full of lawn furniture bravely rebelling against
salt air and fat tourist asses
I watch them all walking by on Decatur Street
hands filled with bags
convention buttons
and prophecies picked up cheap from some
two bit Madame So-And-So
I push an entire brick of soft greasy sugarbread
into my mouth
and take a smarting swallow of dredge mud

I don’t really live here
I say to them
But the crucial difference is that if I were you
I’d have used cream
and noted that it did not sit well atop the hot dog
unwitting bought from Ignatius on the far side of Jackson Square

No, I don’t live here
I live in a far away land full of frightened armadillos
                        (There are armdaillos to be had here as well
                        The Southern variety do not carry so much leprosy)
I fight for parking spaces during football games
just as you do in Green Bay
Children in tow unashamedly sporting pudgy bellies
in half shirts like a testimony to the final days of Summer
You are the one who carries a tiny television into the stands
afraid to open your eyes to the wide screen behemoth
stretched before you
a mass of pink marks on the unhealthy pallor of concrete

The crucial difference is that I am not you
I am waiting for someone here where
the only thing remarkable about you
is an out of state plate
and a void on your arm where she might have been

Published in The Midland Review No. 7, Spring 1991.

Reasons to Hire a Writer #2: A Writer Remembers

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"The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water." -Ernest Hemingway Photo by flickr user Denny Nkemontoh, under CC license.
“The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”
-Ernest Hemingway

Emerson said ” ‘Tis the good reader that makes the good book.” Two readers pick up the same volume. One reads words, receives a story, and is entertained. The other –a writer– also reads the words, but in the context of the thousands of other books s/he has read. In his mind each setting, each character, each way of writing is filed in a mental list, becoming in essence a living database of style and context.

The writer also receives a story, but the writer knows stories. The story, is it wordy? Does it say enough? Is it full of gaps: barriers to comprehension? Does it inform and impress enough to be authoritative; to have what some call ‘the ring of truth?’

The writer is also entertained, but as this is his trade and he is a list-making analyzer, his standards will be high. In business and technical writing we replace ‘entertain’ with ‘inform,’ but just as the words used in fiction and business are identical the analytical tools of the writer transform seamlessly to commercial communications.

The writer you hire has a mind just like yours. Whereas yours might be swarming with lines of unwritten code or crowded with market & performance data in aid of your strategic and operational decision-making, the writer’s mind is stacked deep with context, driven by a mania for clarity, and made to adapt.

This last provides perhaps the most value in the business world. A writer is a reader, and by nature an editor. S/he is by training and instinct accustomed to holding hundreds of conceptual lines in mind at once. As Hemingway observed early in his career writing for Cooperative Commonwealth (a former weekly business magazine in Chicago), when presented with business tasks the writer simply makes room in his mind for work and art together. In this s/he is supremely adaptive both to circumstances and information, an inherent skill that translates perfectly into a MARCOM gatekeeper and editor, a social media manager, or communications project manager.

The writer brings a wealth of cultural perspective to discussions about strategy and deep knowledge to conversations about messaging in the act of putting his considerable talents at the disposal of his employer. No matter the message, no matter the audience, a writer has the tools organizations need to bridge critical gaps in messaging, strategy, and talent.

Reasons to Hire a Writer #1: Everything you say says something about you

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This image gained a measure of local social media attention on Reddit et al..  A misspelled entrance sign is a small matter yes, but it is an equally small matter to know the correct spelling of a word you intend to use. Every similar error instills an undesirable compound impression in the minds of viewers: your brand + careless errors. Would those viewers –potential consumers all– be wrong to wonder what other careless errors your business might commit, inadvertently or otherwise?

Any position that produces copy can and should be staffed by someone with demonstrable if rudimentary knowledge of the languages used. The more nuanced the copy, the more skilled a writer is called for. The promotional sign shop at Budweiser might consider running prepress copy through MARCOM a needless waste of time, but MARCOM –whose job it is to represent the brand with clarity and practiced enthusiasm– might consider errors like this a frustrating step backward.

The writer you hire for your sign shop might not represent himself as a writer at all. Favor the well-spoken applicant: the applicant who chooses his words carefully. HR plays a key role in finding such workers, but so too must managers instruct HR to scan applicants for verbal acuity. If the sole qualification is willingness to work for $11.50 an hour, the following is the inevitable result.

Credit: Redditor /u/FreakyNomics

A small matter yes, but equally small to do correctly. Now consider the impact of an equally simple spelling error in a quarterly letter to investors from your CFO, or in a technical document describing your company’s core technology. The effect is to rob the reader of confidence in your company at the precise moment you seek to instill confidence. Like this beer garden sign that email is one of hundreds the company produces –one small instance– but because humans have long memories the association with a certain amenability to error will persist. Hiring a writer, or at least a worker who’s good with words, nips all these potentially negative outcomes in the bud.

Matthew 6

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the-first-sermon-at-the-deer-park-450x312Imagine the effect this passage had on a young idealist. I internalized this passage as a backbone: an irreproachable ideal for my moral self. Apologies for an overlong quote:

Matthew 6

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Just as a Buddhist who commits murder self-disqualifies by failing to observe the most fundamental tenets of his belief system, so too does the Gospel afford Christians and lay people alike strict, identifiable guidelines against which their behavior may –indeed must– be judged. Re-read this passage with respect to your own life or the lives of people you know. How many by their own behavior self-reduce  to the ‘professed’ existence of talk-talking walk-non-walkers?

Passages such as Matthew 6 and the Noble Eightfold Path offer adherents fundamental guidelines for the conduct of their daily affairs. As a Buddhist raised in the Protestant Christian tradition I find the traces of my youthful adoption of the precepts of Matthew 6 still in practice alongside my modern observation of the Noble Eightfold Path and the offerings of the Tao Te Ching. This cohabitation of dogmas is expressly permitted by the Buddhist sangha to the extent observation of Buddhist thinking (remember: Buddhism is not a religion) does not throw one into conflict with one’s professed religious beliefs.

Matthew 6 recounts only a part of the Sermon on the Mount, itself as foundational a narrative to Christian practice as the Deer Park Sermon is for followers of the Buddhist way. Matthew 6 was a personal gateway for a young idealist: confirmation that it was right to be good, that it was ok not to care about things and money and attention, that the object and source of one’s piety were always only everywhere he was, that attachment is suffering. Perhaps most importantly it confirms the probity of solitary contemplation: explains that in such meditation lies the source of God’s reward. It was in a very tangible sense the Apostle Matthew who lay the foundation for my practice today.

The time I spend with the Tao reveals that things have rectitude as they are; that all around us extend fractals of observational detail, each a new wisdom to apprehend. The knowledge one gains sitting still is its own reward; is indeed infused with the divine.