Fibroids

It’s not about words this time, so I’m posting on wildcard day. This post is over 3000 words, so skim to the TL;DR at the bottom if you don’t have that kind of time, or don’t like reading biological/health stuff. 

A year ago today, I had a laparoscopic hysterectomy. But I will back up…

PERIOD WEEK:

During “period week” every month from 2010-2015, it was a lot like having a stomach flu. I was running to the restroom constantly. It was as if my system “woke up” during this time and decided it was a fine time to have a liquidation sale: “everything must go.”

I was anemic, bloated, and gassy. I got horrible sleep. I wore the biggest pads, but I was still paranoid about leaks. I slept on a towel just in case.

I was achy. Ordinarily I would just take NSAIDs for 2-3 days and the worst of the pain would be over. If my NSAIDS weren’t working, I’d use a heating pad.

I haven’t worn white pants in 25 years. I haven’t gone swimming much at all. When I was near a pool, it was inevitably “period week.”

THE DISCOVERY:

By 2014, periods lasted longer. NSAIDS weren’t working so well. There would be other aches (not cramps) that, like lightning, came and went. I thought it would stop happening; it didn’t. So I went to my gyno in the Fall of 2014.  I got a ultrasound, and that’s when I learned I had a fibroid. This happens to 30-something women. A lot of them: to the genetically predisposed, to women of color, and to the more voluptuous ladies among us. But I didn’t know about that happening in my family.

I had the option to do nothing about it. I could bear with it, and it *should* stop growing once I was in my 40s.

I opted to have this one pedunculated fibroid (looks like a hornet’s nest dangling from the top of the uterus) removed in January 2015. Then I had a followup scan two months later.

The new ultrasound revealed that there were rapidly growing fibroids that weren’t even detected months before. Apparently, my uterus was a fibroid farm, with different types in different locations. And maybe more were growing on the outside that the ultrasound wand couldn’t possibly detect.

There was a lot of thinking to do.

DECISION FACTORS:

I could keep getting these things cut out every few months, in the hopes of still keeping the “still have kids” window open. Each surgery, if I didn’t have insurance, could cost at least $30k. But to what end? How costly would all those repeated procedures add up to be? If I got the whole thing taken out, this would be over quicker, and less expensively. I just had to let go of the biological offspring option idea.

It would be really hard to get on with our lives if I had to get repeated surgeries several months or years in a row.

For added complications, we’d seen TV ads for lawsuits about fibroid removals that led to cancer. I didn’t want to take the steps to fix the situation, and just make it worse in the process. The more fibroids a woman has, the more I would suspect one of them could be a “rancid tomato” whose contents are capable of spreading cancer around the abdomen. So it seemed even more risky to have repeated morcellation procedures.

We talked to my doctor on two separate occasions before I decided to have the hysterectomy. He/she affirmed that the devices used in those recent lawsuits aren’t in use anymore. My procedure would use a DaVinci.

THE SURGERY:

There’s an animation here. In this procedure, they took the whole uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix out of a very dilated vagina. The vagina was sewn shut at the top. The ovaries are still in place, but they release eggs with nowhere to go. All released eggs are absorbed by the body. The patient does not experience menopause until her ovaries have run out of eggs.

So I had that done a year ago today. I went in very early, so once I proved I could walk around the hall and use the restroom, I was free to go. I was in and out the same day.

THE RECOVERY:

At first I was forbidden from lifting things because it could tear where the vagina was sewn shut, and organs could fall through. Yuck.

I had to walk a lot. I was easily fatigued. But it got better over the course of a couple months. I didn’t have to take a lot of pain pills. I haven’t had complications in followup appointments. I made a point to eat more fiber and stay hydrated so that for any pain meds I did take, constipation would not be an issue. I had read about the procedure and aftermath at Kronda.com, a woman who had been through the same procedure a couple years before me, whose blog I discovered online. [If you know somebody taking painkillers awhile, stool softeners, laxatives, and a bouquet of broccoli or fruit are a nice gesture. You would think the hospital would provide these, but even if they do, they are quite possibly stupid-expensive.

Days after my surgery, I called my family to tell them what happened. They were sad I did it alone without telling them beforehand, but they were glad I was okay now. In talking to my sibling, I learned who else in the family had had fibroids.

My spouse, always a wonderful support, was really good to me. My best friend and family sent flowers, which is always nice.

Months later, I could lift anything I could pre-surgery, and I was back to normal. Actually, probably better than normal given the drama I used to have every 30 days. I don’t miss buying pads or NSAIDs.

My fibroids could have been so much worse. I feel lucky to have the doctor I did, and to have sought the procedure when I did. Some are not as lucky.

THE AFTERMATH:

NEW PHASE, NEW HAIR: I’ve given up coloring my hair dark chocolate once a month and that’s saved cash, time, a messy sink, and the packaging trash. With this procedure and turning 40 soon, it just felt right. I think it will be much easier to maintain as we travel more.

I grew my roots out from July until December. Then I got a pixie haircut so I would look nice (okay, nicer) in holiday family photos. Who’s that in the short salt and pepper hair and glasses? Oh, right.

After a year of growing it out, my hair is salt and pepper gray with several white streaks around my face. I’m not a master with wax and product. I haven’t mastered a faux hawk or gel-based pompadours. I haven’t updated online avatars just yet.

I just might buy white pants and a swimsuit.

THE BIGGER PICTURE:

Since the procedure, I have thinking of all the other ways this has been a positive change and happened for the best.

Since I’m not anemic, I can get back to donating blood on a regular basis. I have a desirable donor type. It’s a good thing that I’m comfortable with needles. [I don’t know how someone could be lifelong hypothyroid and not comfortable with needles. I get blood drawn pretty much every GP visit.]

Seeing tampon, birth control, pads, and cramp meds on TV is strange: wow, that doesn’t apply to me anymore. 

HYSTERECTOMY ON TV: Sister Evangelina on Call the Midwife had this procedure (albeit more difficult and with a longer convalescence in the 1950s; they made a bigger cut into a woman’s abs back then.) Like a lot of Evangelina-isms, her observation was priceless: “No need for any great fanfare. It’s just an old pocket in some apron that I’ll never use.” 

THE MEDIA & SOCIAL SCENE: IS IT JUST ME? Evangelina was a nun, though, living in a home with nuns of all ages, and working with young midwives, in a tight knit small town called Poplar, in postwar England in the 1950s.

In the real world, in the 2010s, in the US, it’s not easy to find same-age peers who’ve gone through a hysterectomy, except online. So many women around me have babies and kids, and they identify and hang out with other American women with babies and kids.

Hollywood women between 30-50 are having kids left and right, all over the globe. So let’s just say this procedure is alienating in that regard. Am I one of the guys now? Is it time to join the Red Hat Ladies? Another group?

Fibroids and hysterectomies don’t usually make it to (non-PBS) primetime TV, the web, or the news. Most likely there isn’t going to be a The Real Hysterectomy Honeys of Homosassa, or Barren in Bismarck, or other drama series anytime soon.

So I and other women who’ve been through this have to hunt down common ground on message boards, websites, and blogs. Because it’s the internet, we have to type in the just the right subject keywords to find information on the subject. It doesn’t just appear in our inboxes, or get delivered by a godmother, or stork. I just learned this year that July is Fibroids Awareness month.

This sucks because it’s not just me, or any other woman that had this procedure, or will have this procedure in the future. But it can definitely feel like “just you” when your culture that doesn’t acknowledge hard things, or disorders, nearly as much as it does life’s “happy” milestones. Or it acknowledges women’s issues mostly in March (women’s history month), or pink-laden October. Medical challenges don’t happen during a convenient PR month, though, they happen all the time.

Sometimes daytime TV touches on women’s issues. But how many women are home during the day, and even if they are home, are watching daytime TV like previous generation did with their afternoon stories?

It’s the avoidance and refusal to talk about hard things in primetime that are less than perfect/ideal that’s a problem. When you get bad news about your body that you didn’t see coming, it’s like being hit by the proverbial bus. When you don’t hear about it happening to anyone else, I reiterate, it’s alienating.

My motivation for this post was to talk about hard things, and encourage other people to talk about hard things with their younger family members. A lot of people go through life with the attitude bad things can’t happen to him/her, until those things happen.

If you are a young woman and want to have kids someday, your aunt blogger here hopes you discuss fertility, fibroids, thyroid problems, and breast and any reproductive organ cancers that run in the family with your parents, just so you know what you’re potentially dealing with. If you can afford a genetic test, it probably can’t hurt to get one. If you are adopted, I hope your biological parents had some documentation about family history to share with you because you deserved to know. If they didn’t, a genetic test is the next best thing.

Broaching the hard things with our moms, the family history of fertility and cancers is something the grown daughter is more likely to bring up to the parent, not the other way around. I didn’t, I should have. The wonky periods. Fibroids. Cysts. PCOS. Infertility. Midlife chin whiskers. Cancers. Thyroid flip outs. Rapidly declining metabolism. Other estrogenic Murphy’s (Murphette’s?) law type stuff. Please talk about it.

Some women don’t get a lot of time to detect these things and get it dealt with. As of this writing, the youngest woman to be diagnosed with breast cancer was 10Linda Creed, lyricist behind Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All, died of breast cancer at 37 after fighting it for years. You might recall that Angelina Jolie had multiple procedures because she learned she carried the genes for reproductive cancers. In prior years, Jolie had lost three women in her family to those cancers, including her mother, who was 57. Was that ever gonna be front and center on E! ? Was that going to come up on the red carpet? Likely no. Jolie wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times. Then it was entertainment news.

When Generation Y (today’s adults), Generation Z (today’s young adults), and the Alpha Generation (today’s little girls) want to be moms, I think they should know some things. For all the cute babies in media that everyone’s having (like its easier than tying a shoe), the truth is fertility has been difficult for a lot of Generation X moms, mom’s siblings, and mom’s friends. It happens to the famous and not famous. It happens to princesses, and royalty is chronically, singularly obsessed with offspring more than the average in-law. How does this aunt blogger know? It’s gleaned from newly released books, interviews about those books, and just digging around on the web. I guess because I don’t have kids I have this kind of time. For some, kids just aren’t happening at all. For some “no kids” was a choice, but for others, it was inconvenient genetics.

It concerns me that once a decade is over, the issues get shelved and not brought up again, as if they won’t be repeated in some fashion if people just don’t bring them up. But they can, they have, and they do. And another generation of moms and non-moms gets hit by the proverbial bus because no one wants to talk about hard things in the family genes, or culturally. It appears like the only time you can bring up something hard is after something happy occurred after it. You know, the ubiquitous athlete mini-biopic type story.

We can’t prevent all hard things from happening, but communication about potential problems makes people better off about their choices, and working with what time is available.

In my view, based on more proactive conversations I could have had in my life, Moms and their grown daughters should discuss fertility and reproductive cancers in their family history sooner than later.

Thanks for reading.

TL; DR: Though usually benign, fibroids hurt, can be debilitating, and they can mess up fertility for 30-something women. I had several fibroids when they were discovered, and the best option to me was a hysterectomy, so I got one. Everyone’s decision is different.

Sources and Other References:

Kronda.com (especially if you are going to have a hysterectomy procedure)

Fertility for Colored Girls: July is Uterine Fibroid Awareness Month

Fibroid Relief.org

Barrier to Motherhood: Raising Awareness of the Fibroids Crisis

May 18 is Fibroid Awareness Day (I had no idea before writing this post)

HysterSisters

Call the Midwife

thenotmom.com (I am intrigued about this site and only heard about it 7/11/16)

Jennifer Aniston’s op-ed for Huffington Post, July 12, 2016

 NEW! Refinery29 Slideshow: Childfree celebrities 

Easy

Easy is often used in tandem with convenient.

Easy implies simplicity.

And if something isn’t hard, why not do it?

Aren’t we fools for not doing what comes easiest?

Actually, no, but it can seem that way at first.

Why not throw trash out the window of a moving vehicle? 

Why not eat drive thru or prepackaged food every day and night? 

Why not put off necessary responsibilities things when you’re not in the mood to do them?

Why not take the people in our lives for granted? 

Why learn new skills when your job pays pretty good and you never liked school before?

Why start working on a project early?

Why not stay in bed instead of going to work or school?

Why speak up when I might endure ridicule, embarrassment, or backlash? Who is even listening? What is the point?

Why not avoid confrontation?

All of the above “whys” are easy choices to make in the moment. But they’re not wise.

Easy isn’t censored, though it is, literally, a four-letter word. But like expletives (four letter words) that are censored, it should give us pause. Easy isn’t innocent or harmless. It’s effects are just slow to show themselves.

Taking the easy route is a shortcut to a pointless, wasted life.

Ask Yourself About…Failure

I’m seeing reports of the Carolina Panthers quarterback not talking much, or very well, about his team’s Superbowl 50 defeat. I don’t follow football closely enough to notice a pattern in this player’s reactions to losing. He’s in his mid-20s. Maybe he doesn’t have that much experience losing. Maybe the team felt invincible after a strong season.

Anything a person doesn’t do often is likely to be something he (or she) won’t do well. Put another way, if you don’t do it much, don’t expect much when you have to do it.

I thought this was a good time to blog about failure.

Honestly, it’s funny that with athletes, and any high-profile people, the fans expect the famous person (FP) to talk with ease about any and all recent failings: losing a game, losing an award, a string of career fails (lost games, movie flops, cancelled shows), a tough divorce, financial woes, fashion choices, a cancer battle, losing a loved one, a child’s disability or struggles, weight, or aging. it’s all up for grabs. The FP is supposed to be cool, almost nonchalant, as if this is all happening to someone else.

In sports, within hours after failing, the FP supposed to talk easily about that failure. How many ordinary people could assemble perspective and be cool-headed THAT quickly? Reflecting humbly on what he/she could have done better? What the team could have done better? And put all that into “just the right words”? Could you or I do that?

Yes some do it well, especially more seasoned people who have “been there and done that” hundreds of times, but most people?

Most people don’t talk about failure. It’s not a hot topic or a desirable one. I doubt the word failure has ever gone viral, as in, “tonight, everybody share your last screwup on Twitter.” Our culture has PostSecret, an anonymous confessional booth via postcard that’s immensely popular. A lot of these secrets deal with failure issues: failing ourselves, failing others, or both. It seems like, unless you’re an FP, you can’t easily reveal your failures in a public way. You have to “have arrived” first, or achieved something big. Even then, it isn’t without controversy or judgement.

It’s a shame there is so much shame and stigma surrounding failure and talking about it. Failures are as natural as breathing, eating, and peeing. Failures are a part of life. They are part of being human.

Failure and how we handle it is really important life skill. Failure is worthy of focus. Avoiding failure or being afraid of it doesn’t make it go away.

It’s become common in job interviews to talk about failures.

Being blindsided in a job interview by unanticipated, potentially embarrassing questions can have a person sweating bullets. Especially if you, the candidate, never asked yourself these things.

So the next time you have an hour or two, at home, in comfy clothes to think about it, ask yourself:

  • What have been your biggest failures? [This isn’t something to figure out the night before the interview.]
  • Can you talk about your biggest failures, or are they still sore subjects?
    • Can you only talk about them with trusted friends?
    • Could you talk easily with a stranger, someone who’s making an impression of you, as you talk?
    • What if that stranger represents a job at the company of your dreams? [Ideally, we’d be comfortable talking about anything when this much is on the line. Brands and FPs are taking this level risk just about every time they share a message, but I digress.]
  • How long ago did the failure (or failures) happen?
  • What have you learned from that event/those events?
  • Do you still get teary eyed or feel your blood pressure rise when you think about these things?
  • Knowing yourself as long as you have, why is the reaction still so intense?
  • Was it the words used by someone else?
  • Was it being embarrassed? fear of looking dumb? being proud? Feeling duped/played? Getting blindsided?
  • How can you get past these raw feelings in a constructive way? Writing it out? Painting it? Playing an instrument? Writing a narrative about it? Talking to someone not involved, like a counselor?
  • What can you do to get to the point where you can talk about hard things without getting teary eyed, or getting enraged?
  • Do you take failure seriously, like a mark of Cain, as if you’re cursed to never succeed?
  • Do you think you’re capable or worthy of great things? or are repeated failures a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do you need a more positive, keep trying attitude?
  • Even if part of what you learned was some people are jerks and can’t be trusted, that puts all the control in others’ hands.
    • You can’t bash others in an interview, you bruise yourself and your image when you do that. [People may suspect you dealt with a jerk. People may know for a fact the other party is a jerk. But when you are asked about it, if you focus all the blame on them, if you call them names, it makes you look bad.]
    • What are you going to do differently next time?
    • What have you learned from this that changes your approach? How are you wiser?
    • Not being able to talk about our failures and looking cross can look immature. If you don’t have the words, admit you struggle with the words, and do the best you can.

TL; DR: Get comfortable talking about your own failures. Ask yourself hard questions so you’re not blindsided in a job interview or other intense, but important conversation. See the bullets above for prompts.

“Potatoe” Blight, or the Importance of Checking Ourselves

On June 15, 1992, Vice-President Dan Quayle corrected a preteen boy’s spelling of potato on a chalkboard.

The boy had written p-o-t-a-t-o in cursive. Quayle urged him to add an “e”. The boy did as he was told, and Quayle turned and grinned at the camera.

Unfortunately for Quayle, his insistence on adding that “e” was dead wrong. An “e” is only added to potato for its plural form, “potatoes”. He would claim his cue cards were wrong yet he believed them over his own judgement (“?”), but it was far too late for a reprieve. Quayle never lived this or other blunders down, and it all reflected badly on President George H.W. Bush’s presidency.

While being the Vice-President and being on film aren’t everyday for most of us, being in situation where we think we’re right when we’re not is all too common. We bring a unique set of interests, references, and biases to everything we read and we also get more confident with experience. Experience never lets us escape making mistakes or possessing misguided beliefs, it just lets us learn from them if we choose to.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation.

I’ve had someone who didn’t know culinary jargon (or mouth anatomy) correct a term I used in a piece. I had “palate”, they changed it to “palette” and printed it.

*Gasp.* Unfortunately, I had it right the first time. I was talking about the beverage business so the odds of meaning “palate” (part of the mouth) not “palette” (the artist’s paint tool) or even pallet (wooden support frame used in shipping) I thought were pretty clear cut.”?” Oh well. I had to shrug it off and didn’t pick a fight about it. This publication could correct its online version for the error, but the print edition could not. [Did I suggest the correction for online content? Do you even have to ask? ]

And now the other story. When I almost corrected someone and was totally off-base.

I saw “toe the line” in a story I was reading online. Honestly, it looked odd, in the way that words spelled completely correctly sometimes can. I was tempted to chime in, but I paused. I googled it. “Check yourself before you wreck yourself” in proofreading and grammar is never a bad suggestion. Especially on the web, where content has an eternal life, much like embarrassing Veep moments captured on tape.

Sure enough, “toe the line” is correct. It’s a reference to track & field. I can’t say I go around sticking my toe on lines every day. But a runner? A runner has to keep their shoe’s toe on the painted line, remaining perfectly still until the starter pistol goes off. Failing to “toe the line” in running means risking disqualification. Culturally, people who fail to “toe the line” refused to comply with the rules their leadership has created. This often comes up with whistleblowers and those who aren’t “team players”, to use yet another sports term that’s bled over into the business world.

I wondered where I got the “tow” idea. ‘Navy and sailboat-owning household, maybe? In boating and fishing, a “line” is a piece of rope that keeps a boat tethered to the dock, and to “tow” it means to carry or pull it, but by all means don’t drop it or let it go. Sometimes it takes more than one person to hold a line, or lines, to get a boat pulled in to shore and tied to a dock. All this being true, “tow the line” is not a common catchphrase in American English. Over in the UK, I don’t think it is either, but given their long history traversing the world’s oceans, it wouldn’t be out of place if it were. In the UK, “all at sea”, “rolling in the deep”, “lay your ship bare” are just three of many naval catchphrases.

I’m reminded of the American Express ad where the very funny Jerry Seinfeld goes to the UK and his jokes are met with dead silence. He has to get acquainted with how the British speak. Baseball phrases are no good there. He plays some cricket, talks to pub owners, walks Abbey Road. He rewrites all his jokes with British-isms replacing all those Americanisms, and finds success at last.

In conclusion:

  • Every person brings their own experiences to their reading, for better or worse.
  • We’re blind to our own ignorances until they stare us in the face. This is why it’s so crucial to check ourselves.
  • Even when we think we’re right, it’s worth confirming before calling the other person’s mistake out. It will save everyone embarrassment.
  • Be patient with ESL speakers who come from a culture with its own mosaic of language, metaphor and jargon. What’s obvious to the native born American is bewildering to new speakers, and we’d be just as clueless when learning their language. So much is learned growing up in a language and being in a country, just learning the language is half the story.

*=”potatoe blight” is intentionally misspelled as part of the joke.

Things That Reflect Real Southern Charms

As promised, here’s a growing list people and events that, unlike recent reality shows, ‘do the South proud’. Most are new or contemporary, but others are not:

  • A Chef’s Life on PBS
  • Chef Vivian Howard (North Carolina)
  • Garden & Gun Magazine
  • Lizz Wright (Georgia)
  • The Lee Bros.
  • Foxfire Magazine (made into a book series)
  • Art Fields in Lake City
  • The Local Palate Magazine
  • Wynton Marsalis (Louisiana)
  • Bonnaroo Music Festival
  • Chef Sean Brock (Charleston)
  • Madeleine Peyroux (Georgia)
  • Leaf Festival (North Carolina)
  • Octavia SpencerFrom a Garden & Gun interview: “It actually makes me smile when people underestimate me because I’m Southern…because I know I am about to blow their minds.” Click the G&G link for the full profile. (Alabama)
  • Tank Jackson Nicholson of Holy City Hogs recently pranking the UK’s Million Dollar Critic.
  • Unity across the Ravenel Bridge on June 22, 2015.
  • Marshall Tucker Band (South Carolina)
  • Walter Edgar (Alabama)
  • Melanie LaBouche (South Carolina)
  • Ben Vereen (Florida)
  • Morgan Freeman (Tennessee)
  • Aziz Ansari (South Carolina)
  • Darrell Hammond (Florida)
  • Former President Jimmy Carter (Georgia)
  • Sweetgrass baskets (Coastal South Carolina and Georgia)
  • Alison Krauss and Union Station (Tennessee)
  • The Spoleto Festival (South Carolina)
  • Viola Davis (South Carolina)
  • Samuel L Jackson (Tennessee)
  • Stephen Colbert (South Carolina)
  • Tom Petty (Florida)
  • Brett Barnard (Georgia)
  • Nat King Cole (Alabama)
  • Frogmore Stew dish
  • Jeff Foxworthy (Georgia)
  • William Faulkner (Mississippi)
  • The Squirrel Nut Zippers (North Carolina)
  • Dinah Washington (Alabama)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (Georgia)
  • Truman Capote (Louisiana)
  • Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS) (North Carolina)
  • Brunswick stew
  • The Indigo Girls (Georgia)
  • Patina Miller (South Carolina)
  • Harper Lee (Mississippi)
  • The B-52s (Georgia)
  • Mark Twain (Missouri)
  • Darius Rucker (South Carolina) and Hootie and the Blowfish (South Carolina)
  • Flannery O’ Connor (Georgia)
  • James Carville (Louisiana)
  • Eudora Welty (Mississippi)
  • REM (Georgia)
  • Ray Charles (Florida)
  • Josephine Baker (Missouri)
  • John Grisham (Arkansas)
  • Medgar Evers (Mississippi)
  • Harry Connick Jr. (Louisiana)
  • Oprah Winfrey (Mississippi)
  • Juliette Gordon Low, creator of Girl Scouts (Georgia)
  • Esau Jenkins (South Carolina)
  • Maya Angelou (Missouri)
  • Lady Antebellum band (members fm. Tennessee, Georgia)
  • Rich in Love, a novel by transplant Bret Lott
  • Edwin McCain (South Carolina)
  • Old Crow Medicine Show (Virginia)
  • Drink Small (South Carolina)
  • Chick Willis (Georgia)
  • WC Handy (Alabama)
  • Rita Coolidge (Tennessee)
  • James Taylor (born in Boston, but raised in North Carolina, penned Carolina in My Mind)
  • Jimmy Buffett (Alabama)
  • Zac Brown Band (Georgia )
  • Shovels & Rope (South Carolina)
  • Dr. John (Louisiana )
  • Shelby Rogers (South Carolina)
  • Charles Kuralt (North Carolina)
  • Justin Wilson (North Carolina)
  • Charlie Rose (North Carolina)
  • Jim Henson (Mississippi)
  • Faith Hill (Mississippi)
  • Lawrence Fishburne (Georgia)
  • Johnny Mercer (Georgia )
  • Bob Ross (Florida)
  • Dixie Carter (Tennessee)
  • Delta Burke (Florida)
  • Johnny Depp (Kentucky)
  • Reese Witherspoon (Tennessee)
  • Naomi Judd (Kentucky)
  • Alan Jackson (Georgia)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis (Louisiana)
  • Wynonna Judd (Kentucky)
  • Annie Potts (Tennessee)
  • Elvis Presley (Kentucky)
  • Marilyn Monroe (Kentucky)
  • Brett Barnard (Georgia)
  • Tommy Thunderfoot (South Carolina)
  • Booker T Washington (Virginia)
  • Ben Folds (North Carolina)
  • Skye Paige (Georgia)
  • Hunter S Thompson  (Kentucky)
  • Wayne Brady (Georgia)
  • Tina Turner (Tennessee)
  • The Avett Bros. (North Carolina)
  • Keith Whitley (Kentucky)
  • Jack McBrayer (Georgia)
  • Zach Galifianakis (North Carolina)

I don’t anticipate this blog post ever being done. There are so many awesome people and creations out there to discover.

Writer for Hire, Freelance Doesn’t Mean Free.

When someone tells you they are a “freelancer”, please don’t assume, or presume that means they work for free.

The word “freelance” stems from soldiers for hire, or “free LANCES”.

These “free lances” weren’t soldiers named Lance. They had a lance, or a sword, a mace, a gun, or perhaps, all of the above, in their possession. Whichever piece or pieces of weaponry they had at their disposal, they knew how to use it.

Where does the “free” part come in? Each soldier for hire had no biases or loyalty to a crown or other form of government. They would fight on behalf of anyone willing to pay them. For example, Hessians were Germans hired by the British Crown to fight on its behalf in the American Revolution. If you saw The Patriot with Mel Gibson, there were Hessians featured in that movie. [PS: It’s no accident Hessians’ dress resembles the Nutcracker dolls we see every Christmas.]

Fast forward to the present. Many artists and writers are freelance laborers. Often, no one company has enough work to fund these creators full-time. Companies’ project flows for these creators is sporadic. Maybe that’s a good thing for the creative, because having a diverse batch of clients to work means there is less chance for the creator to get bored, stale, or feel stifled.

But creators earn and deserve pay just as much as any regular employee, even if their work has an abstract versus tactile quality. The creator is birthing things from their brain that did not previously exist on an employer’s behalf. If the employer could or wanted to do the creative, they wouldn’t hire someone else to do it. What a creative does is not easy to wing. Why waste time trying when you could just hire someone?

Creators deserve to be justly compensated for their efforts, at an agreed upon amount. Some creators may decline payment, or choose to donate payment. But creators who choose not to be paid are in the minority, they shouldn’t set the tone for their overall industry. Some attorneys do “pro-bono” work, this doesn’t mean they work for free for everyone.

An employer who wants to use a freelance worker’s efforts for years shouldn’t assume buying them dinner one time is  just compensation. If your creator for hire disagrees, they are in a tiny minority.

Making the “exposure in lieu of payment” claim is also weak. The smaller (or newer) a company is, the less it really knows its exposure or what that exposure is worth. Also, the smaller (or newer) it is, the more that amount is at or below zero. The smaller or newer they are, they can’t or won’t afford a marketing firm to find out the exact numbers and values. They also fail to provide the exposure statistics to potential workers that they would ordinarily supply to advertisers in their publications or sponsored events.

In my experience, they don’t throw any event tickets or other networking opportunities to their creators. This is really too bad, and it’s not about the freebies. It’s about big missed opportunities for creators, associates, and potential clients to mingle. To see each other and interact as real-live people, in real time, instead of names, email addresses, gravatars, and twitter handles on a screen.

In closing, I am a writer for hire. I do not work for free. I wish anyone who doesn’t wish to pay their creators the best of luck in receiving amazing results.

Avoid Writing Pitfalls, Tips for DIY Proofreading

We need to take care with our words. People always notice when we do not.

Has it ever taken you hours to write an email or article?

Some of the reasons we are afraid to hit “Send” is our words have so many opportunities to fail in their mission. They could appear:

  • incoherent, ignorant, or both
  • hard to understand
  • inflammatory
  • all of the above

And yet the stress associated with writing the perfect message makes us all wish it were over already. I suspect that fatigue is how mistakes easily slip through.

I am here to help! Each bullet above is covered below, with tips of how to avoid looking foolish, being unclear, or coming across as too aggressively.

INCOHERENT OR IGNORANT:

It is hard for me to read anything online without discovering errors. I cringe when I find errors. The most common ones I see are missing words, confused words, and train of thought collisions.

Missing words: These seem to occur because the writer’s thoughts are doing 65-70mph, while their fingers are doing 35mph on the keyboard.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: Once I have a draft created, I take the time to read over the words slowly, mouthing each word as I read it. The process forces me to stop reading when the word is not there. For instance, “The sentence sounded terrible because a was missing.” Or, one of my favorite jokes, “this sentence no verb.” When the word is missing, put it in. “The sentence sound terrible because a word was missing.” There.

Confused words: The writer typed “in” when they meant “is”. They typed “secret” when they meant “secure”. One that made me laugh out loud was “unpresidented” instead of “unprecedented”.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: First I create a draft. Then I take the time to read over it slowly, mouthing each word as I read it. I am forced to stop reading when the wrong word is there. If I have a hunch, but I am not sure if it’s a good one, or I am doubting the spelling, I Google it or consult Dictionary.com. Google’s search field asks “Cannot find <your query>. Did you mean ____?” And Dictionary.com will ask me to confirm the word if it cannot find it in its records. Usually, yes, their suggestion is what I meant.

Train of thought collisions: The writer was fixing their sentence or changing their wording, but they got distracted. They never came back to their half-fixed fragments. No one else caught it either, and the story was submitted that way.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: if I am correcting a hard copy, I use a highlighter or post-it tab tape to mark my place. I also use check marks to indicate the change was made, 100% fixed. If I am proofreading onscreen, I find highlighting or changing the text color where I stopped let’s me know where to start. I change the color back to black, and keeping working.

HARD TO UNDERSTAND OR FOLLOW (A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE POINT):

Sometimes communication’s failure is not typos, but an overall failure to get to the point. In that vein, I remember two terms from Toastmasters: the double-clutch and the false start.

  • double-clutch is repeating the same words, like a car trying, but failing to start up.
  • false start is starting to speak, but then awkwardly pausing, changing my mind about where I was going with that. Or maybe thinking aloud about what I want to say, or randomly speaking out of nervousness and not getting anywhere.

These errors are not just found in public speaking. It is possible to fumble like this in writing as well. For example, writing a quick note and including too much small talk after a basic greeting. People stop reading if an email rambles, is stream of consciousness, or provides information overkill. If too much information is provided, how will the recipient know what’s really the highest priority right now? They will not, and they will not keep trying to figure it out either.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: The longer I have known someone, or the more comfortable I am communicating with them, the easier it is to babble. As Blaise Pascal said, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Pascal was writing in longhand. Today we do have time to go back and make it shorter without scribbling words out. If I reread a message before sending and see a lot of babble, I delete the babble. I replace it with “hey we have catching up to do” or “I have a lot to share since we saw each other last”. I ask if I can catch up over a meal, a beverage, a phone call, or a Skype call. Hopefully they say yes. If they say no, I say thanks, have a great week, and move on.

INFLAMMATORY:

I saved what I think is the hardest for last. I see myself as a serious, focused worker in an office environment, a no-nonsense personality. For years I felt it saved everyone’s time to just be direct. But for some people, direct can be offensive. How do I know this? I have seen it.

Tone of voice, volume of voice, poise, and eye contact are just four of the factors interpersonal communications have that texting and email do not. These factors have a bigger impact on what we have to say than any of us might realize. Our appearance, our disposition, and our extroversion/introversion, and how much we resemble the person we are talking to, all play a role in our communications.

When you or I only receive others’ words and mannerisms, it is hard to imagine what it is like for them to receive ours.

With just text to read, words come across with more intensity. Is it because the words are doing all the work? Maybe. Is it because the person I have a problem with has a personality I do not gel with already? Yes, that is possible. In a work situation, people are very stressed about their jobs. They are a little more sensitive to criticism than they might be about other parts of their life.

CATCH IT & CORRECT IT: In a conflict, I think it helps to write out what we would really want to say in Notepad or a text program that has no send button, then close the window (X) without saving it. If I am asked to save, I click “no thanks” or “cancel”. The negative feelings got out, but no one got burned.

I would offer to handle this situation in an in-person meeting or phone call with a supervisor or mediator-type party. Even if you are, like me, introverted, and in-person is not your most comfortable communication style.

If an in-person meeting is not an option, then I would write out the situation as gently as I can, and say as little as possible. Approach it like a mystery, not an open and shut case. I would not use ALL CAPS. Then I would save the draft, and turn off, or at least darken my screen. If I feared prying eyes, it would be prudent to lock my computer.

Then I would step away for a minute. Take the stairs. Walk outside. Think of something positive to distance myself from the situation. Spouse. Family. Children. Beloved pets. Friends who like me for who I am. The fact I can apply for other work.

Then I would come back, take a deep breath, and try to read the message as if I were receiving it from someone else. As if I am the unsuspecting offender instead of the one being offended. How would I receive the words on the screen? What rewording is necessary? What if this was all unintentional, or based on a misunderstanding? How would I choose my words if that was the case? I make the changes I feel are necessary. I reread the whole thing one last time. Then hit send.

It is worth being delicate and careful with confrontations, especially in the workplace. From what I have seen, if the accuser is quick to get angry or point fingers, they will branded a bully on some level. It does not matter how accurate he or she may be about what happened, who did it, or why it happened. As Maya Angelou noted, People tend to forget what we said, but not how we made them feel. They may even forget what happened, but they still don’t forget their feelings.

In closing, we need to take care with our words; people always notice when we do not. I hope this post has helped remedy DIY Proofreading and Awkward Written Language Situations. If you have more editing or proofreading than you have time for, do not hesitate to contact me.

Did I forget an error you see all the time? What are the errors see online when you are trying to read?