Friday, January 12, 2018

Five Minute Friday: SIMPLIFY

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is SIMPLIFY.

In my job as a writing instructor, I often advise students to simplify their sentences.

Sometimes inexperienced writers think that they have to sound formal and sophisticated, so they write sentences like this:

The intimidation felt by the students results in a tendency toward expressing ideas in overly flowery prose.

So I ask them to look at the basic core of the sentence -- its subject and its verb -- and ask themselves, "Who is doing what in this sentence?"

In the sentence above, INTIMIDATION (the subject) RESULTS (the verb) in a tendency toward expressing. Uh ... that's kind of confusing and abstract. Have you ever seen intimidation result in a tendency toward expressing? Kind of hard to visualize, isn't it?

So I suggest that they rewrite the sentence by focusing on who is actually doing something in the sentence. The revision might look like this:

When students lack confidence, they often write in overly flowery prose.

Ah... that's better! Who's doing something? Students. And what are they doing? They're lacking confidence and writing in flowery prose. I can visualize that: an intimidated student sitting hesitantly at her desk, thesaurus at her side, trying to make her writing sound sophisticated.

The second sentence is simpler, clearer, and more direct. The reader doesn't have to wade through a lot of abstract words to find that core idea.

Maybe it might be a good idea, now and then, to step back and ask ourselves what our simplified sentences are. What are our core ideas: the things that, when we get rid of all the extraneous padding, remain true and fundamental to our lives? Here are just a few that come to mind immediately for me:

"God made me and loves me."

"I'm called to be a wife and a mom of two special-needs kids."

"God's mercies are new every morning."

Sounds pretty simple, but maybe it's enough to keep me going for a while.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Five Minute Friday: MOTIVATE

I'm starting 2018 with another Five Minute Friday post: we are given a one-word prompt and write about it for five minutes. This week's word is MOTIVATE.

I  love reading about the Enneagram. It's a kind of psychological/spiritual model based on nine interconnected personality types. I'm currently reading Chris Heuertz's book The Sacred Enneagram; after that I'll read a new book I got recently, Marilyn Vancil's Self to Lose, Self to Find. Both of these books look at the Enneagram from a Christian perspective.(Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile's The Road Back to You is another great resource on the Enneagram, especially for those who aren't familiar with it and want to learn the basics.)

One of the Enneagram's main focal points is the core motivation of each type. I am a Six on the Enneagram; the Six's core motivation is fear or anxiety. When I read descriptions of the Six, I get an uncomfortable, slightly embarrassed feeling: Yes, that's me all right.

I'm the child who was afraid to go outside in case the Apollo spaceship fell on my head. 

I'm the person who reads something in the newspaper about (let's say) bedbugs and thinks, "Oh, no, bedbugs. I wonder if we have bedbugs. OMG, LOOK, A BEDBUG! No, wait, that's a flax seed..."

I'm the person who sees a freezing-rain warning and thinks, "OK, we're going to have freezing rain and the power's going to go off and the sump pump won't work and the basement will flood..."

Someone I follow on Twitter is creating Enneagram mugs, and the mug for type Six says "I'm a 6, and I saw this coming." That rings true to me. Sixes are so good at anticipating the worst. And while the dreaded thing often doesn't happen at all, when it does the Six faces it with calm resolve. There's almost a sense of relief that finally it's happened, just as we knew it would.

I can laugh about it, but being driven by fear can be kind of exhausting. And my little examples don't even come close to the kind of fear some people experience on a daily basis.

God never meant for us to live motivated by fear. According to the Enneagram, the antidote to fear is faith. I need more faith in 2018.

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." - Mark 9:24

Monday, January 01, 2018

Following the path into the New Year

In the late afternoon last Saturday, I decided to go for a walk. Supper plans were under control; Richard and Jonathan had gone for a drive; Allison was doing her own thing at home. I put on my lined pants, doubled up on mittens, and headed out.

We had had about 40cm of snow during the week before and including Christmas, so the snowbanks were piled high. But the sidewalk plows had been out, so most of the major streets seemed to have walkable sidewalks.

It was a nice time of day to walk. Although it was cloudy, darkness hadn't fallen yet, so I didn't feel unsafe; but it was dim enough that the Christmas lights outside and inside various houses were bright and sparkling against the snowy backdrop. I could even see through some windows and observe what people were doing.

As I turned off a main street and started up a side one, I had a strange visual sensation. The flat late-afternoon light made the path up ahead of me look solid white. Because the sun wasn't shining and the streetlights hadn't come on yet, there were no shadows to distinguish plowed banks from the flat path -- it was just a white expanse. I couldn't tell whether the sidewalk was plowed or completely filled with snow. 

There was only one way to find out: keep walking. And a few steps along, I saw the plow had been through. The banks on either side took shape as I got closer to them, and the tread marks from the plow became distinct. What had looked shapeless and indistinct from a distance was in fact clearly marked and plain -- a fact I'd have missed if I'd relied on my eyes alone and assumed, "This sidewalk isn't plowed yet."

Maybe you're not sure about the path you need to walk in 2018. It may look as if no one's gone that way before, and you wonder if you'll be on your own. There may even seem to be no path at all -- just an indistinct expanse without markers or signposts.

But if you just set out and take those first steps, you may find that -- as the Quakers say -- "way will open" in front of you. 

You may discover that a path, whether fresh or well-marked, lies ahead of your feet -- just waiting for you to follow it to whatever adventures the New Year holds.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

image: pixabay