Do people still diagram sentences? Is writing still important in business?   These thoughts came to mind after a colleague asked about a client’s ad copy. She read a sentence to me, and I listened.
“Does that sound correct?” she asked.
“Depends,” I answered. “Is the word singular possessive or plural possessive?”
She showed me the ad copy on her screen. The sentence went something like this:
The insurer provides health care for the company’s and employee’s best interest.
The conversation went on for a bit on the topic of whether or not the client intended that the word “employee’s” be singular possessive. It made sense to us that a company would be singular. But would a company have a single employee? A quick survey of other colleagues revealed that they didn’t know what we were talking about. In fairness to the other colleagues, it was a very busy day at the office and they may have politely feigned ignorance as to return to their tasks.
The challenge of the ad copy provoked other thoughts on the necessity of good writing skills in a business and professional setting. Think before you write. Write well and your thoughts will effectively communicate your message.
Do you write every day? Not typing or texting, but composing ideas and narratives and lines of poetry?
Earlier this month, I sat in a coffeehouse for almost an hour — during a late lunch break — and all I was able to produce was a 15-line sketch. A rough sketch, but the general motif and elements of the composition were represented.
The challenge of writing everyday is particularly rough when involved in knowledge work all day long. In my case, the mind is revved to creatively solve problems at the office and with internal and external clients. And for an hour in the afternoon, the part of the brain required to compose a few lines of poetry is so exhausted that the task is herculean.
Still. The discipline of exercise is part of the process. Keep training. Keep writing. Drink more coffee.
From the living room window, I see the full moon rising through the twinkling reflection of Christmas lights. At a glance, the moon might be mistaken for a street lamp. The play of lights off the window and through it remind me of something I read earlier this week: “Keep the ripple going.” There is a short story I wrote that I have been sitting on for nearly a decade. An edited version of it was published in an indie newspaper. Since it is Christmas and a full moon, it seems time to release the unedited/extended version of the text tonight before the clouds roll in and hide the moon. Hope you enjoy the short story. Merry Christmas!
A Christmas story: Our home is waiting for us
by Matthew Mulder
Westville Pub was busier than I thought for a Christmas Eve. It looked like we were not the only ones escaping the chilly, damp Appalachian December night. My small family arrived a little after eight in the evening to enjoy an energetic performance by Gypsy Bandwagon. There was only one booth available near the back that we quickly populated. The bar maid took my order for a pint of ale, chips and salsa and ginger ale.
Gypsy Bandwagon, self-described as genre-challenged, played lively Irish and Scottish jigs and reels, a bit of Bluegrass, classical piano solos and traditional gypsy pieces. Lead guitarist and vocalist shared singing chores with his wife, an accomplished violinist and keyboardist. The drummer,Uncle Biscuit, complemented his wife, a multi-instrumentalist, who played everything from the violin to the bass guitar. The band put on a free concert for the holiday crowd and brought gifts to give away to people in the Pub. With festive flare they gave away wrapped gifts if you owned a dog or claimed to be a Chicago Cubs fan or if you liked the last number they performed you got a free Gypsy Bandwagon CD.
Many traditional Christmas favorites filled their set list that pleased the crowd. A 16th century carol haunted me. I don’t even remember the name of it, but I imagined a New England tavern must have sounded much like that over two hundred years ago. I wondered about the first Christmas celebration.
Rome December 25, 336 was the first recorded celebration of Christmas. Was there egg nog? Probably not. St. Francis of Assisi assembled one of the first Nativity scenes in Greccio, Italy on December 25, 1223. The well-known Christmas carol “Silent Night” was performed for the first time at the Church of Saint Nikolaus in Oberndorff, Austria on Christmas day in 1818. What will Christmas celebrations will be like in ten years? Or 100 years?
Thinking back to how I was reared up by my parents, I suspect the notion of attending a gig in a pub with kids on Christmas Eve must seem odd—if not a bit disturbing. My oldest loved the whole experience. I am not sure if it was the ginger ale or the nachos or the bouncing on the booth seat to the music or the fact that he was up past his bed time. He seemed glad to be there. His baby brother fell asleep.
Uncle Biscuit came back and said hello during a quick intermission. He and his wife are good friends and he is a local cartoonist and illustrator. It was getting late. After wishing him and his wife a Merry Christmas, we left.
It had begun to rain outside as the family gathered into the car. We drove home with the windshield lightly swishing away the rain droplets. When we arrived home my son said, “Our home is waiting for us.” I like that expression—home is waiting for us. The smell of fresh-cut poplar was sweet in the damp night air as we entered our waiting home.
Christmas morning. My family attended church. Coena Domini, or Eucharist, was celebrated. In a non-denominational church they simply call it “Lord’s Supper.” Supper seems so common for a sacred “feast” on Sunday morning. Well, it was twelve ordinary guys that witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
As the elements of Eucharist were distributed, I thought of Jesus — the babe born in Bethlehem. He reportedly fulfilled more than 300 prophesies. During the morning service I read of ten of those prophesies. I am not a theologian, but I found the fulfilled prophesies amazing. I am not a mathematician either, but the probability factor is equally fascinating. Ann Rice admitted to discovering similar facts while she researched her book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
What I did not find fascinating was the small plastic cup filled with grape juice and a crumb of broken Saltines. Is this not a Blessed Sacrament—as some Christians call it. I had a challenge finding anything sacred about a swallow of grape juice and a scrap of cracker. But these are simple reminders of a greater narrative. Nothing wrong with common things.
Jeremy Huggins posed the question, is there “any reason why I couldn’t go through the Communion line more than once?” Initially I responded: “When was the last time anyone ate a suggestion of bread and a swallow of wine and called it supper?”
I wonder if American Christians embrace an ascetic view of communion because they live an epicurean lifestyle. Should followers of Christ not seek the highest pleasure—desiring God? Let us feast Deo favente (with God’s favor).
By practice, the fellowship I attend also observes the Passover Supper each year as part of Passion Week. The elements of the Seder Dinner (Maror: bitter herbs-horseradish, Karpas: vegetable-parsley, Chazeret: bitter vegetable-lettuce, Charoset: apple, nut, spice and wine mixture, Zeroa: shankbone-kosher lamb and Beitzah: egg) are symbolic and common. Likewise, bread and wine are common food items. Still a supper is a supper, not an appetizer.
For some reason I thought of the pale ale and nachos I had consumed the previous night at Westville Pub. Why is it that ale and nachos are not sacred reminders of the holy truth? Maybe that is a bit sacrilegious to be considered on Christmas—a holiday. “Holiday,” from an Old English word “hligdæg,” means “a religious feast day.” Why a holy day? The Middle English word “holi” has Old High German origins from the word “heilag” meaning “sacred” which has Gothic roots meaning “hallow, sanctified” which further has Latin sources in the word “sanctus.” A day like any other day recognized as sacred, hallowed, sanctified seems out-of-place in American culture.
As I held a swallow of grape juice and a scrap of cracker in my hands that Christmas morning, I remembered the night the Christ was betrayed. He shared his last meal of wine and bread with twelve ordinary, mostly nondescript guys who were being prepared to turn the world upside down. I identified with Jesus the Christ by taking the Eucharist. Am I more holy now than I was before? Does a day change its nature simply because it is recognized as sacred? I will leave those questions to the philosophers and theologians. “Our home is waiting for us,” my eldest child said on Christmas Eve. In more ways than the child realizes, that statement just might explain the reality of Christmas.
Listen to an abridged audio version of this story:
Left of the Lake published “Mortal Coil” in the August issue. It is a short story I wrote. A really short story. And now it is almost September.
A prepublication notice was posted. Then I forgot to mention where you can get a copy of the magazine to read the story.
The publisher mailed a copy. I shared it with friends in writers group.
“This is so neat. Congratulations, Matt,” said one of the writers of the Village Ink Writers Group. After looking through the printed copy she pointed at the author bio photo and asked, “Is that you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That photo was taken a couple years ago… before I moved.”
“You’ve lost weight.”
I laughed. “Poverty has its benefits.”
I failed to consider that friends and fans — who I do not get see me face-to-face every week — may like to read “Mortal Coil.” I will do my best to remedy that.
In the mean time, I continue to collect rejection letters from other publishers regarding other submitted work. Cheers!
Two authors provided me with food for thought during the last week or so. “Courting the Gargoyle”1 by Sheryl Monks explores the dichotomy many writers experience.
“I’ve taken to describing myself as part cheerleader, part gargoyle. The cheerleader, . . . is a powerful avatar, . . . . hopeful, peace-broker . . . . She sees the world democratically; it’s flawed, . . . but it’s not without beauty. . . . the gargoyle is fragile. The gargoyle sets the bar too high, and as a result, the world and the people in it disappoint.”
While you digest that idea, Ann E. Michael confesses that she is too busy to write. Unlike many writers who become jaded and obsessed with lack of discipline and failure, she is hopeful.
“I have not been weeding, as I have not been writing. Other priorities are claiming the be-here-now of my life; but I’m happy to find that the garden, and my writing life, can be sustained through other things and returned to at better times.”2
I confess, I have not weeded the garden either. Yet, providentially, the tomatoes, beans and chard have grown in abundance. I am part gargoyle. The part that never sees the light of social media. I have not written consistently (or as consistently as I planned. . . the gargoyle again.) Midimike commented that there will be time “to write about all those days when you were too busy to write!”3 I am part cheerleader. The brief smile that flickers across the light of social media.
The contest judge is a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago. So, the acceptance of the prose piece submitted seems to have some merit. Or at least that is what I try to convince myself, because all month I have received notification of other submissions that have all been rejected.
Much gratitude goes to the members of the writers group that meets at the Graham Public Library who saw the first handwritten draft of the story. Their support has been amazing. And special thanks to novelist Justin Grimbol, for encouraging me in the craft of fiction.
Who doesn’t like a deal? This weekend only at the Racine & Kenosha Authors Book Fair (Saturday, May 23, 2015, 2-5 p.m., Rhode Center for The Arts), you can purchase copies of my books for special book fair price: four books for $16. Limited quantities are available. So come early. See you there.
A poem for a friend composed on a manual typewriter
At least five years ago, an old beat up manual typewriter provided a platform to compose poetry and other writings.1 It was an effort to return to an intentional practice of crafting poetry and prose without distraction of disruptive media.
For years and years, a notebook, journal or sketchbook was never far from reach. But one night after a long night of poetry and music at Beanstreets followed by an even longer time of coffee and conversation at Old Europe, a friend convinced me to try blogging.
Sample journal page of poetry
The immediate response to blogging was infections.2 Connecting with people all over the country, networking, sharing and being part of an active digital community was exciting. The practice of writing allowed me to hone the craft of creative writing and exposed me to other writers across the country. One of those bloggers actually showed up at a poetry gig I did. She was on a cross-country trip to visit friends and wanted to visit in real life.
Over time, I noticed that my practice of writing notes, daily sketches and other activities had all but disappeared. Relying on keyboards, display screens, hard drives and servers presented became a crutch. My writing drafts and sketches appeared deceptively crisp and final in neatly formatted text documents and web blog interface windows.
So, I pulled the plug. Returned to handwriting and typing as practice.3 Some friends and fellow poets saw a few samples of typewritten work and suggested I post it on my blog. It was a novelty. A curiosity. So, I did.
One of the first photographs of a poem I composed on a typewriter was written for a friend. It was posted about this time of year — in 2011.4 A few days later I followed up with another poem5 that was later read at poetry event.
I do not claim to be the first person to post an image of a poem typed on a manual typewriter. But I noticed a trend in that direction about a year after posting those images of poem sketches.6 Not sure exactly if I started the trend. Probably did not. Maybe other like-minded individuals who sought to return an organic practice of handwriting and typing as a mode of composing their visions and ideas.
Here is to a five year anniversary of analog writing.
 In truth, I composed poems on an electric typewriter prior to that. Did it for decades. Did not own a personal computer until… well, that is another story.
 That was when there were a mere couple million web blogs in the world. Now, there are some platforms, like Tumblr, boasting 100 million blogs. The blogosphere has become quite congested.
 Examples of some the 30 poems in 30 days journal posts with photos: here, here and here.
 April 1, 2011, blog post.
 Poem: “Never Look A Doughnut Dealer in the Eyes”
 Examples include Typewriter Poetry,Remington Typewriter Poetry, and the most popular is Tyler Knott (though his web page has an archive going back to 2003 (which is odd because he uses Tumblr as a platform and Tumblr was launched in early 2007… maybe he migrated his content from some other source to Tumblr… but I digress) the posted images do not begin until 2012 (unless I am mistaken).
The Village Ink Creative Writers Guild has an open house tonight at 6:30 p.m.
What to expect tonight? Expect puppy chow (yes, puppy chow) and cupcakes and maybe peanuts. Expect poetry and prose. Expect good stories by good writers. Expect to have a great time with local writers.
The Village Ink Creative Writers Guild authors plan to share recent works like “Animal Hospital” (children’s literature), “Disturbed” (fiction), “Popular Fiction” (fiction) “Genie-soul” (non-fiction) and selected poetry and prose.
The evening will conclude with a question and answer session for those who have questions about the guild and the craft of writing.
Hope to see you all there!
Graham Public Library, Union Grove, Wisconsin
April 7, 2015, 6:30 pm
FREE to the public. Light refreshments will be served.