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Demystifying graduation correspondence


There are some things you know because you’ve been taught, some things you know through experience, and some things you just sort of figure out through observation and equal portions of common sense and courtesy.

Lately I’ve felt convicted about my attitude towards my fellow human beings. Where I used to try and see the good in people, now I seem to only notice an abundance of rude and self-centered behavior. I mostly blame this phenomenon on my spending an inordinate amount of time in grocery store parking lots, but that’s a whole other post and I digress…

As graduation season comes to a close, it occurs to me that there is an unspoken etiquette one must follow when sending and receiving graduation correspondence–at least that’s been my experience. And because I’ve decided it’s better to shine a light than curse the darkness, I wanted to share with you, dear reader, my wealth of information about graduation season, and perhaps prevent a potentially embarrassing faux pas in the future.

I know. You’re welcome.

The graduation announcement

Dear katdish,

Over the past several weeks, I have received several graduation announcements from distant nieces and nephews, children of women in my Bunko group and the young lady at the end of the block I used to buy Girl Scout cookies from. Since many of the graduation ceremonies are being held on the same day, I can’t possibly attend them all. How can I graciously decline these invitations and how do I determine which ceremony I actually do attend?

Sincerely,

Perplexed in Poughkeepsie

Dear Perplexed,

Relax. A graduation announcement is not an invitation to the actual ceremony, it is merely an invitation to send the graduate a gift, preferably in the form of a check or money order. In the event that you receive an actual invitation, be advised that the graduate or the parent of the graduate considers to a special friend or relation, therefore the gift should be at least thirty dollars. If you were actually expected to attend, you would have already received a phone call confirming your attendance.

The graduation party

If you receive an invitation to a graduation party, congratulations. You are in the inner circle of close family and friends. You probably already know whether your presence is expected. It’s been my experience that if the graduate is young enough to be your son or daughter, you may politely excuse yourself after hors d’oeuvres and/or dinner has been served so that the young folks can crank the music and get their freak on.

Decoding the thank you card

Thank you so much for the gift! It really means a lot to me. I had a very special day.

Sincerely,

John

The above was an actual thank you card I recently received. Unless you bought the graduate a new car or paid for their first year of college tuition, a generic thank you card is perfectly acceptable. In this age of electronic communication, it’s nice to get a hand written thank you note from anyone, let alone an 18 year old whose main source of written communication is texting on their phone. And while I know the same note may have been written to several people, knowing the kid (and his mother), I also know that his appreciation was sincere.

So there you have it. I hope I’ve helped in some small way to demystify the secret language of graduation correspondence.

Any recent graduates in your life?

Any sage advice to pass on that I may have missed?

Why I hate writing, Part 13: katdish, dream crusher

You are not a great writer.

You may be a talented writer. You may a gifted writer. You may be a very good writer.

But trust me when I tell you, you are not a great writer.

And you probably never will be.

I think I’ve shared with you that I’m not a huge fan of writers writing about writing. Although I will readily admit that some people do it incredibly well and there is a wealth of helpful information for fellow writers, for me, it just seems counter intuitive for someone to spend large chunks of their time advising others about their craft rather than actually practicing it. Sort of reminds me of all those no money down real estate seminars they’re always hawking on late night television. If they’re so good at it, why are they wasting their time trying to sell you their secrets? Oh, it’s not that I think writers writing about writing are in any way dubious or trying to sell a bill of goods to unsuspecting wanna be writers, I just think we waste a whole lot of time waxing poetic (read: navel gazing) about writing rather than actually writing. There are obvious exceptions. Writers like King, Pressfield, White, Leonard and a few others have the gravitas and resumes to tell us what constitutes good writing because they’ve put in the hours. They are best selling, critically acclaimed authors, recognized, seasoned authorities in their field. They’ve done the work; bled on the page.

I read a post recently on a popular writing blog. The writer claimed that what sets the great writers apart from the good ones wasn’t skill or talent, but proper writing habits–a claim I vehemently disagree with. What separates great writing from good writing has EVERYTHING to do with skill and talent, and to suggest that all any person needs to be a great writer is proper habits belittles the craft.

Before I go any further, I will tell you that I don’t consider myself a great writer. I don’t even consider myself a good one. Heck, I barely rise to the level of mediocre except on my very best days, and even that’s a stretch, because I believe the word great when attributed to the craft of writing should be reserved for a very select group–a group I don’t even dare to aspire to be apart of.

I have no problem with someone claiming, for instance, that what sets a good sandwich apart from a great sandwich is fresh baked bread rather than store bought, because it’s just a sandwich, for crying out loud!

But if you were to ask me to provide a list of great writers, it would contain names like Hemingway, Poe, Tolstoy, O’Connor, Steinbeck, Dickens, Irving, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Dante, Homer…

So unless you can read Anna Karina and declare Tolstoy a hack, you could rewrite A Christmas Carol with a better ending, you could edit Dante’s nine levels of hell down to six and make them more compelling and terrifying, you are NOT a great writer, and by my definition, you never will be.

And before you accuse me of getting hung up on semantics, remind me that there are varying degrees of greatness and I’m being overly legalistic about the word “great”, consider the true greats that have blazed the trail before you, and remember that the proper use and placement of words is part of what good writing is all about in the first place.

So yes–always strive for greatness, but be humble enough to accept the fact you’ll probably never attain it. That’s okay, being a good writer is a noble and worthy aspiration not to be undertaken lightly.

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind or heart. You can come to the act with your fist clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe.”

~Stephen King, On Writing

Gut check: forgiveness

image courtesy of photobucket.com

Back in April of this year I attended Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. I wrote about it here and here, but for those of you who don’t know, Exponential is the largest gathering of church planters in the world. To try and absorb everything I heard at that conference would be akin to taking a sip of water from a fire hydrant going full blast. Sometimes I took notes furiously, other times I simply tried to listen and glean what I could apply to my life.

But you know, there are times when a person speaks a truth into your life that’s so powerful you feel compelled to share it. This person was Jo Saxton. She didn’t say it to me personally. She said it via jumbo-tron in a room of over 2,000 people. The words were not her own. They were words she paid forward from another speaker she heard at a leadership conference.

“The way to know you had fully forgiven someone was that you no longer felt they owed you anything.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, that statement is profound. Often the trajectories of our lives are determined less by the trials and victories therein and more how we choose to react to them. Can we ever truly forgive as we have been forgiven? With no strings attached?

If the above statement struck a chord with you, I invite you to read the article it was taken from in its entirety. It will probably take you less than 2 minutes from start to finish, but if you’re struggling to truly forgive, those two minutes may put you on a path you’ve been longing to travel: Stories of Sifted: Jo Saxton

Clap out

We line both sides of the hallway: parents, teachers, administrators and students ranging from pre-school to 4th grade. Many have signs, some carry pom-poms made in their classrooms specifically for this event. It’s a big deal, this annual tradition at the elementary school. I attended my first one four years ago.

Today will be my last.

The first song signifying this momentous occasion begins blaring from the school PA system: “We are the Champions”.

Then the applause carries down the hallway like the wave at a baseball game.

It’s the last day of school, and the last day of elementary school for the fifth graders who parade down the hall as we all applaud and high five them. It’s a very small version of what it must be like to be in a ticker tape parade.

It matters not if the kid was an honor roll student or barely passing. Whether they were popular or an outcast. Most walked proudly on their own two feet, still others were pushed in wheel chairs or even carried by teachers.

Each and every one of them was cheered on equally and enthusiastically.

Each and every one of them was a champion today.

I hope they carry this day with them always.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day specifically set aside as a national holiday to pay tribute to the men and women of the military who lost their lives in the service of our country. I won’t bother to ramble on about all the things it shouldn’t be and is, because I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.

I will share that yes, we did barbecue today as I’m sure many Americans did. I went to the grocery store Monday afternoon to pick up a couple of items needed for said barbecue. There was a National Guard reservist shopping there with his wife–maybe getting ready for their own barbecue. I don’t often see active military in my neighborhood, so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to thank him for his service to our country. I’m not sure what I expected his response to be, but I was caught off guard by his seemingly equal measure of surprise and what seemed to be mild embarrassment to be shaking hands with a complete stranger and saying “You’re welcome” in the frozen foods section of Kroger.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by his reaction.

Pride and pageantry is best left to the politicians and the media.

Honor is often such a quiet thing.

Happy Memorial Day.

Jumping the shark

From Wikipedia:

Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery. The phrase is also used to refer to a particular scene, episode or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.

The phrase jump the shark comes from a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of the American TV series Happy Days titled “Hollywood: Part 3,” written by Fred Fox, Jr.[4], and aired on September 20, 1977. In the episode, the central characters visit Los Angeles, where a water-skiing Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a confined shark, answering a challenge to demonstrate his bravery. For a show that in its early seasons depicted universally relatable experiences against a backdrop of 1950s nostalgia, this marked an audacious, cartoonish turn towards attention-seeking gimmickry and continued the faddish lionization of an increasingly superhuman Fonzie. The series continued for nearly five years after that, with a number of changes in cast and situations. However, it is commonly believed that the show, out of ideas and even trapped in its own success (largely due to the disproportionate popularity of the “Fonzie” character and the show’s (executives’) intense desire to continue “milking” that), began a downhill slide, becoming a caricature of itself often filled with little more than its popular catch phrases and character mannerisms.

The idiom has been used to describe a wide range of situations, ranging from the state of advertising in the digital video recorder era, views on rural education policy, the anomalous pursuit of a company acquisition and Facebook’s efforts to “modernize its home page … with empty bells and whistles — take, timeline and subscribers, for example” before an anticipated 2012 IPO.

Or perhaps it could be used to describe trying too hard to make something perfect–fretting over some tiny little detail like a couple of stray paint specs in a mural that no one else but you would notice, scratching them off the wall, leaving two giant scratch marks in the wall, trying to fix what you should have left well enough alone, and then having to come up with yet another element in an already full mural to cover up your nit pickiness.

I thought the shark I had painted which still needed to be fixed to my satisfaction would be the element which would cause me to jump the shark–which would have made the title to this post more fitting, but despite my original disdain for the shark I painted,

fixing it wasn’t nearly the headache I thought it would be.

Ironically, the element which was surprisingly one of the quickest and easiest to paint, the turtle, was what gave me fits towards the end of the job. Actually, not so much the turtle, but two tiny specs of yellow paint I had dripped when painting the yellow angel fish above him.

Here’s the turtle with the yellow specs above him, which, for the life of me, I can’t see in this picture.

But just like the pearls on the mermaid that probably would have been okay if I had left them as they were, I could see them up close. Unlike the pearls on the mermaid, my attempt to make things better only made things much, much worse…

Note the white spots courtesy of me gouging the wall with my fingernail.

Several attempts to glaze over the spots just made a mess of things, which is why I decided that the turtle needed to be blowing some bubbles.

Even though I was able to fix what I should have left alone in the first place, when I look at that wall, my eye is immediately drawn to that place on the wall where the water is just a little bit darker because of my feudal attempts to fix my mistake. A constant reminder that fussing over tiny details instead of looking at the big picture can often lead to jumping the shark.

Many thanks to my neighbor Louie for lending me his wide angle camera lens. I gotta get me one of those!

How not to be a jerk in a parking lot

Maybe it’s just me, but lately I’ve noticed that many people aren’t as courteous as they used to be. I’ve spent the majority of my life in Texas, and it really is true what the lyrics to London Homesick Blues says, the home of the armadillo has the friendliest people and the prettiest women you’ve ever seen. Of course, I may be slightly biased.

And while I still think people are generally friendly when they’re face to face, something strange comes over people when they get behind the wheel of a car. It’s as if being surrounded by metal and glass gives you permission to release your inner jerk. Few places highlight this phenomenon better than a public parking lot–more specifically, a grocery or super box store parking lot. So as a public service, I have compiled a handy checklist in order that you might determine whether you’re being a jerk in a parking lot. I know–you’re welcome.

You might be (and by “might” I mean you most probably are) a jerk if:

  • Despite the fact that every tenth parking space in the grocery store parking lot has been replaced by a shopping cart corral, you leave your cart in the closest free space available, quite often precariously close to someone else’s car. Could you BE any lazier or inconsiderate?
  • You remove your groceries from the shopping cart but not the trash you’ve accumulated from free sampling food in the store. That’s disgusting.
  • You take up two parking spaces in the hopes that no one will ding up your fancy car. Which incidentally, makes people want to take a key to the paint job or at the very least put a booger on your door handle. (Or so I’ve heard.)
  • You are the proprietor of a business who puts flyers on people’s windshield. Not only will I never, ever darken the door of your business, but you’ve also denied my the pleasure of balling up your flyer and throwing it on the ground, which is what I really want to do, but I’m not a litterbug.
  • You remove flyers from your windshield and throw them on the ground.
  • You park in the handicapped parking space when you’re not handicapped. And yes, I’m talking to you, Guy who borrowed his grandmother’s handicapped parking permit hang tag.
  • You notice that the lot is full and people are waiting on parking spaces, and yet rather than quickly exiting the space you’re occupying, you choose to change the radio, check your lipstick, email, twitter and Words with Friends games.
  • You leave your young child unattended in the car while you run in to pick up “just a few items”. Not only is this jerky, but it’s illegal in many states.
  • You sit in your jacked-up hoopty, windows down and stereo blasting as the bass loosens the fillings in my teeth. We get it–your stereo is loud and you’re a player. Nobody cares, Homey.

These are but a few incidents I’ve observed while in parking lots. Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to parking lot etiquette or lack thereof?

Editor’s Note: I’m pretty sure this will be the first in a series, because life gives us endless opportunities to act like jerks, no?

And speaking of not being a jerk, as fate would have it, my friend Janet Oberholtzer wrote a post entitled How not to be a jerk when someone’s life changes which offers some real, practical suggestions on how to be kind and not say the wrong thing when someone you know has experienced loss. It’s surprising how many of the things you think you’re supposed to say aren’t at all helpful. You should check it out.

Moving past your fear


It’s graduation season again. It seems like every year we get at least one of two graduation invitations–mostly from kids we know from church, but this year we received invites from some very special kids, special to me, that is. Because these kids grew up right before my eyes. I swear it was only last week they were graduating kindergarten, and now here they are about to enter college. Even though they’re not my own, I’m so proud of them all, and their graduations remind me how little time I have left before my own kids will be sending out those invitations.

But that’s not the only graduation invitation we received. We also have a good friend graduating from law school. After three years of juggling a blended family with four kids (the fourth being born a little over a year ago), heading up the children’s ministry at our church, AND going to law school, she now has a law degree and a bright future ahead of her.

High school graduation gifts are as easy as writing a check, and that’s exactly what I’ll give to the high school graduates. But what do you give someone graduating from law school? A nice pen set? That would be good, I love a good pen set, but that’s so typical. In the end, I decided to combine two things I love: painting and a good quote:

In case you can’t read my scripty writing, here’s the quote again:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
~Marianne Williamson

I love that quote, and not just for the graduate. It’s for you, too.

Instead of thinking of a thousand reasons and excuses why you’ll never be the person you’d always dreamed you’d be, instead of insisting that you could never be good enough to do that thing that makes you feel truly alive, instead of asking yourself, “Who am I to think I could ever reach the stars?”, ask yourself, “Who am I NOT to?”

It’s your life. Live it or live in it.

Congratulations, Kerri. You’re amazing.

Expecting more than what meets the eye

Mwha ha ha!

In case anyone is wondering, yes, I’m still painting. I’m hoping to be done by this week, but who knows? My time management skills are, as my mother would say, “the sucks”, and I never know how long any one element of a mural is going to take to finish until I actually finish it.

Take Zombie Mermaid for example. She’s no longer a zombie, but she always will be in the the above photograph. It’s a fairly simple design, but she’s got a lot of layers. In this first picture, she’s got some details added to the base design: the hair and the fins are given some dimension with a few well placed brush strokes.

More layers after that. I’ve added ribbons and pearls, started on the eyes, nose and lips and added shading to her skin.

There’s still much to be done, but as I stood back and looked from a distance, I liked the progress. I especially like how the pearls were looking.

From a couple of feet away, I thought they looked great just like they were, and for about half a minute or so, I considered leaving them. Because frankly, painting each pearl one by one is pretty dang time consuming. But then I got up close again.

And up close, they look pretty crappy.

How many people will see that mermaid, then decide to get close enough to see those pearls up close? Probably very few. Chances are, no one would ever notice that what they see from two or more feet away isn’t what it appears to be upon close inspection.

But I would know.

Despite what everyone else may see as acceptable and even beautiful from far away, the creator has an intimate view of her creation and knows the flaws others might never notice.

And when the creator knows a flaw can be worked on and made better, she goes about doing just that. Because a flaw that can’t be seen from a distance doesn’t make it any less a flaw to her.

Of course, walls don’t have free will, aren’t willfully disobedient and don’t talk back.

They’re much easier to deal with than we are.

Next up, I have to work on the many imperfections of my shark. Which may look okay from a distance, but up close it’s total crap…

***

This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: More, hosted by the lovely and talented Peter Pollock. For more on more (ha!) please visit him at PeterPollock.com.

Putting off pruning

image courtesy of bing.com images

Anyone living in South Texas or similar tropical climates is probably familiar with sago palms. I’ve read that they are considered slow growers, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. After we built our house, a landscaper suggested we plant a young sago palm in the flower bed  between the front porch and the walkway leading to the driveway. Within 3 or 4 years, it was so massive it was taking over the bed. We decided to move it to the backyard just outside my son’s window. It survived the transplant well and has been thriving there ever since with the help of a little annual pruning of the bottom fronds. Pruning is not absolutely necessary, but because sagos are toxic to pets and we have a small dog, I like to keep the fronds far off the ground. Ultimately, I would like the palm to look more like a tree than how it appears in the above picture. Something very much like this:

image courtesy of bing.com images

My reasons are twofold. First, prefer the look of a tree to the large fern-like expanse of the first example, and having the fronds high off the ground prevents my dog from wandering underneath the palm out of my view and eating any part of the plant. The process is simple. You need only gloves, long sleeves and long pants, some sort of eye protection and a pair of pruning shears–preferably ones with long handles. The frond’s needles are very thick and sharp. You could literally put an eye out. The palm is nowhere near tree-like yet, but I’ve made progress over the past couple of years:

I’ve noticed that the palm has been looking a little ragged lately and that it was probably past due for its annual pruning.

Not only that, but apparently, it’s given birth.

After initial inspection, I was psyched to get some pruning done. Heck, I might even take off four of five layers of fronds and cut off whatever that giant loofa sponge looking thing is in the middle.

I never said I was an educated gardner. Or any kind of gardner, for that matter.

I just wanted to cut away the ugly.

Give the plant a fresh look.

No harm, no foul, win/win.

Except upon closer inspection, I realized that this plant that I walk by every day, this plant that I mostly ignore until I chose to notice it had become home to some new residents.

A family of mockingbirds have built a nest and hopefully will soon set up residence just outside my back door. So I’ll have to look at that ugly plant for a little while longer.

Because it’s all well and good to want to cut away the ugly and the useless;

to give ourselves a fresh look and a new start,

but we need to think long and hard about doing so when it comes at a high cost to others.

Besides, like Atticus Finch said. It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, so I suppose tearing up their home is akin to that sin.

“…because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncrib, they don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.”

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