Posts from the “words” Category

Pondering Politics, Punctuation and @realDonaldTrump!

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by the brilliant writer Willow Older. It originally appeared on her weekly Newsy newsletter and in the Marin Independent Journal


Dear @realDonaldTrump!

I’m not a millionaire, a businessperson or a politician, but as a professional writer, I’ve got some advice for you! Since you’re super busy these days on Twitter, I hope you won’t mind if I offer a friendly reminder about one of the cardinal rules of writing! Here goes!

An exclamation point is a punctuation mark that a) denotes the end of a sentence and b) expresses excitement or emotion.

Sounds simple, I know!

But hold on, @realDonaldTrump! Your favorite punctuation mark is a little more complicated than that definition suggests! Perhaps more than any other writing device, this one comes with a warning!

I’m serious!

No matter which style guide or grammar book you consult with – I’m sure you keep several of your favorites on hand! – you’ll find notes like this one from author and writing expert Peter Carino! “Some beginners … tend to overuse exclamation points. Where there are too many … they no longer create the emphasis they are designed for.”

That’s right! Turns out when you end every tweet with an exclamation point, you end up sounding like an amped-up toddler whose impulse control has been sabotaged by too many sugary Skittles!



And downright silly!

But @realDonaldTrump, you don’t need to just take my word for it! Here are some thoughts from other writers about the world’s most overused punctuation mark!

This one’s from Howard Mittelmark, author of How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide! “In almost all situations that do not involve immediate physical danger or great surprise, you should think twice before using an exclamation mark. If you have thought twice and the exclamation mark is still there, think about it three times, or however many times it takes until you delete it.”

Here’s one courtesy of grammar guru Oliver Strunk! “Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation. The exclamation mark is to be reserved for use after true exclamations (“What a wonderful show!”) or commands (“Halt!”).”

And here’s a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald! “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

While we’re on the subject, @realDonaldTrump, I hope you won’t mind if I share one more tidbit! Combining your excessive exclamation points with words typed in ALL CAPS does NOT help you MAKE YOUR POINT! In fact, unless you’re a 14-year-old girl gushing about her current crush, it UNDERMINES IT!

To be clear, @realDonaldTrump, I’m not suggesting that elevating your writing style will make me agree with anything you say! But at this point, I can’t get past your DISTRACTING communication style to even focus on what you think! It’s hard – no, it’s impossible! – to seriously consider your ideas and comments when you punctuate every thought with the grammatical equivalent of FIREWORKS ON NEW YEAR’S EVE!

I confess, @realDonaldTrump, your punctuation is EXHAUSTING!

But HOLD ON! Perhaps this is actually great news! Maybe if enough people find your tweets tiring and tiresome, folks will start ignoring them COMPLETELY! If that’s even a remote possibility, I’m going to stop complaining RIGHT NOW about your abuse of exclamation points and CAPS LOCK!

In fact, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, I fully encourage you disregard — or should I say DISAVOW! — all commonly held beliefs on the subject!

Just like you already do with so many things!

So, @realDonaldTrump, time to get back to work!

After all, those TWEETS won’t write THEMSELVES!


Editor’s bonus article: If you’re just as confuzzled as we are by the Twitter-er In Chief’s communication style, here’s a primer on the joys of semi-articulation:


UPGRADE YOUR VOCAB – new words for 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 5.10.49 PM

Bank of mom and dad ~ parental ATM

Locavore ~ one who eats local

Gramps ~ hipper than “grandfather”

These are just a few of the new words that officially entered the Oxford English Dictionary this year.

(The OED is the bible of dictionaries, so when a word finally makes it in, it’s a very big deal. The grammatical gatekeepers at the OED, the last bastion of linguistic propriety, have been dictating our diction since the late 1800s, and they take their responsibility very seriously.)

To be honest, I’m surprised at some of the words that made the cut, and wonder if they slipped in while the editors were busy inking their quills. Governmentalization? Way too syllablized. Lock-upable? Yikes. What other make-upable words are next?

But many others are meaty, satisfying words that I’m happy to see mainstreamed.

Not surprisingly, there’s a slew of tech-related words, like the hybrid phablet. (Bigger than a phone, smaller than a tablet.)

Other words reflect the latest cultural buzz. Haram, meaning “forbidden by Islam,” helps to clarify the conversation about religion, and the title Mx. helps to neutralize the conversation about gender identity. (Incidentally, the singular ‘they’  has now been approved by the Washington Post as ‘the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.’ Remember when we had to use the exclusive ‘he’ all the time, as in “Everyone has to bring his own lunch tomorrow”? Quel drag.)

Lord of the Rings fans might recognize waybread, “…a sustaining food made for eating before or during a long journey, typically in the form of flat bread or wafers.” The perfect snack during a jaunt through Middle Earth, or perhaps even during a Downton Abbey binge. A decent supply of waybread could carry you through all six seasons without so much as a visit to the loo.

And some of the words just plain sound cool, like the way trussler rolls off the tongue. Example: Marco is a trussler—he doesn’t let anybody give him shit. (FYI, this is not the official OED example, which is probably more: “Lord Grantham is quite a trussler; he finds it rather distasteful when his butler refuses to fetch adequate butter for the crumpets.”

If you like your crumpets a bit less buttered, ghetto upgrade your street cred with some new words from Urban Dictionary. (Parental discretion, however, is advised)

Phantom vibe is when you could swear you felt your phone go off in your pocket, but then upon checking, you discover your phone wasn’t even in your pocket. Example: That’s weird, I just got some Phantom vibes…but my phablet is in the car.

(Not to be confused with abc, ‘accidental booty call’, when your backside dials someone without your knowledge.)

What are your favorite new words for 2k16?

STORYCORPS helping us muster the guts to talk about what really matters

Screen shot 2015-05-04 at 11.42.59 AMI’m a little worried about the future.

To be specific, I’m a little worried about technology.

Forgive me for indulging in a moment of cultural angst, but I’m fairly freaked out by the notion that the more we plug in to our screens and devices, the less we’ll tune in to our relationships, sense of empathy, and higher consciousness. The more we are distracted by virtual reality, the less we will engage in, well….real reality.

So I’m always thrilled to discover ways that technology is actually helping people feel connected, respected, and understood – it gives me hope for the future.

StoryCorps  is one such bit of hope.

When I first heard about StoryCorps, it reminded me of The Moth. “True stories told live” is the Moth motto – and boy, do they deliver. The Moth reminds us how powerful the simple act of telling your story, and listening to others tell theirs, can be.

Just like The Moth, StoryCorps reveres the story, but then adds an element of interaction. StoryCorps invites people all over the country to grab a friend, loved one, or unsuspecting stranger and interview them. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews from more than 80,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The StoryCorps mission is to “…spark a global movement to record and preserve meaningful conversations….that result in an ever-growing archive of the collective wisdom of humanity.” (For a moving overview by its founder, Dave Isay, and a sampling of choice interviews, watch this StoryCorps TED talk.)

Typical StoryCorps interview questions can be more straightforward, like Can you tell me the story of your first kiss? or What’s the worst thing you ever did as a kid? But they can also be as delving and complex as How has your life been different than you imagined? or If you were to die suddenly this evening, what would you regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet? and Tell me about the first time you saw me.

Whoa. Pretty deep stuff, certainly not fluff. It ain’t easy being intimate, and each StoryCorps interview is an act of courage that elicits raw honesty and beauty.

How often do we do this in real life – share deep, meaningful stories with each other? Talk about Things That Matter? Ask our friends, our family, or perfect strangers “Who are you? What have you learned in this life? How do you want to be remembered?”

Well, here’s your opportunity. Take a break from social media and turn your phone into an instant mobile interview device by downloading the StoryCorps app. Throw caution to the wind, put your fears into your back pocket for the moment, and get out there. Share an interview with your Mom, your best friend, your son, your hairdresser, or even the guy who mows your lawn every week.

Because the potential payoff is infinite. StoryCorps interviews give everyone at the table permission to go beneath the surface. And you might be amazed at how little you really know about the person you thought you knew the best in the world. And how much closer you can feel after coaxing to the surface their previously hidden depths.

Both parties, and everyone that hears your interview will be forever changed – whether slightly or monumentally – for the better.

Your words will ripple out to the universe (or at least as far as the Library of Congress), reminding us all:

I mean something, I have something to share, I exist.



MAKING SPACE FOR CREATIVITY in the age of overload

Hiromu Kira "The Thinker"

Hiromu Kira “The Thinker”

When I first started writing, I quickly noticed that my best material didn’t happen while I was at the keyboard.

The best stuff usually came to me while I was otherwise occupied with everyday tasks, often appearing mysteriously as if conjured from the ether or channeled from an alternate reality.

My “letter from the editor” would pretty much write itself during my walk home from work. The outline for my next article would take shape while I was in the shower. A kick-ass blog title would pop into my head as I scrubbed the dinner dishes.

The trick was to give myself enough time for these mind-less moments, to mind less what I was thinking, give free reign to my thoughts, give freely to association and stream of consciousness. (I think I just did some of that right there.)

I still come up with my most fruitful ideas and juiciest turns of phrase while I’m doing things other than actually working.

But why?

I wanted to know – what is this thing called ‘creative space’?

Of course, the moment I set this question to brewing, I also set in motion a kind of Kevin Bacon effect. Six degrees of variation on the theme “claiming space in a world of chronic busy-ness” are suddenly everywhere I turn.

I can’t flip on the radio, open a magazine, or check my inbox without hearing about the benefits of taking regular technology vacations. The FOMO (Yes, Folks, that’s Fear Of Missing Out – so pervasive there’s an acronym for it) that drives us to constantly mainline our social media. The decline of adaptability and creativity in our collectively overscheduled kids. Obviously these issues are seriously stirring the pop culture pot.

Then Johanna Beyer of On Your Path Consulting miraculously drops a video in my lap – Tiffany Shlain’s “A Case For Dreaming” – and voila, my aha moment leading to this post.

But this cascade of connected ideas would never have begun if I hadn’t carved out a “creative space” corner in my mind in the first place.

In her illuminating (and just really cool) video, Shlain explains why. She calls it the “Default Mode Network” – a network of neurons that we can only access when we’re on autopilot (i.e., walking, doing chores, daydreaming). In this mode, we suddenly “see connections where we didn’t see connections before.”

Shlain’s video presents the case for dreaming while providing plenty of thought-nuggets to chew on and explore further. I could tell you more, but really you should just take the six minutes and see it for yourself. I promise you’ll never again feel guilty about taking a brain break.

So now I hope you reclassify dreaming and mind-less-ness as critical parts of the creative process. Be generous with your vacations  – technological and otherwise. Sit still. Stop. Notice. Smell. Taste. Feel. Listen.

Let your mind wander. It knows what it’s doing, even if it appears suspiciously to be shirking its duties. In reality, it’s forging paths and making connections and busting its buttocks to create something new, something that didn’t exist a nanosecond ago.

Plus, think of the extra brownie points you’ll get for doing the dishes tonight.






A MEMOIR of WAR and REMEMBRANCE the perfect summer read


Last summer, lazing about on the beach kept me from keeping to my rigorous (ok, monthly) blogging schedule.

This year, I have a much more legitimate excuse.

It is the remarkable life story of Annabel Liu.

Annabel is a wonderful writer whose second memoir, Under the Towering Tree, is currently being subjected to my editorial review before it hits the “shelves” of Amazon. Trouble is, with this memoir Annabel has so totally drawn me in to her incredible life story, I’m having a hard time keeping my objective editor’s hat on.

Annabel Liu is a former journalist and an acclaimed writer whose first memoir was published in 2012.

My Years as Chang Tsen: Two Wars, One Childhood is a “…haunting memoir of the most tumultuous time of her life, her childhood in war-torn China… a rare and riveting first-person account of a child caught in two consecutive major wars that killed a total of 22.5 million Chinese: the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War.”

In both memoirs, Annabel consciously avoids embellishing the events of her life. And that’s just as it should be – her un-retouched life story is dramatic enough.

Annabel has a journalist’s keen eye for detail and storytelling. She reveals her family – and herself – stroke by stroke, much as a painter fills a canvas. Through these family stories, we also learn about pre- and post-Communist Chinese culture and the rich historical backdrop that affected each family in very different ways.

You can grab a sample of Chang Tsen here  and then add it to your summer reading list.

I won’t give away any details here, but I will tell you that Under the Towering Tree is the often heartbreaking and always profound story of an extended family and its patriarch – a charismatic and tyrannical head-of-the-house father – as seen through the eyes of his eldest daughter.

Under the Towering Tree is slated to hit Amazon by the end of the year. I’ll keep you posted!

What are some of your favorite summer reads?

GRAMMAR TIP – It’s vs. Its




Ok, folks.

It’s time to have a chat about IT’S and ITS.

And the difference between them.

Because if I had a nickel for every time someone used “it’s” when they were supposed to use “its” I’d have…well, a lot of nickels.


IT’S is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.”

It’s so hard to know how to spell things sometimes.

It’s been a long time since I rode a bike.

A good way to test whether or not you need an apostrophe is if you can replace it’s with “it is” or “it has.”

It is so hard to know how to spell things sometimes.

It has been a long time since I rode a bike.


ITS is a possessive pronoun meaning “belonging to it.”

The dog buried its bone in the yard.


One of the main reasons we get confused with these two 3-letter words is we tend to associate possessives with apostrophes.

That is Bobby’s baseball bat.

The family’s trip to Disneyland was fun.

So, by gummit, when we’re talking our dog’s bone, we so badly want to add an apostrophe.

But please resist the urge.

Because IT’S just not right.

love ’em or leave ’em

De La Soul "Me, Myself and I"

My formal training is as a linguist, not an English teacher, so I know that language is a fluid thing. What is considered incorrect can become correct through a critical mass of mainstream usage. But there are just certain “wrongs” that I’d hate to see gain enough traction to become “right”.

Are you guilty of using any of these? Do you think we should love ‘em (accept these transgressions and let them creep into our textbooks) or leaveem?

Me Myself and I

I myself have long been fuzzy on the proper use of the word “myself.”

It’s pretty straightforward as a reflexive pronoun: I’m going to write myself a note so I don’t forget.

And it’s also not rocket science deciding when to use it for emphasis: I myself have trouble remembering the rule.

The confusion seems to set in when we have a compound subject – when “I” am joined by someone else. Tell me if you think the following two sentences are correct:

John and myself will be with you in a minute.

The waiter brought some bread for Jane and myself.

You hesitated there for a second, didn’t you? Both sound slightly kosher, right? That’s because myself is creeping into the mainstream – more and more people are choosing to love it.

But for now, both are still considered ungrammatical. When in doubt, remember that “lose the second subject” test you learned in fifth grade.

John and myself will be with you in a minute.

If you drop “John,” you’re left with Myself will be with you in a minute.

I will be with you in a minute sounds much better, so John and I will be with you in a minute would make your fifth grade teacher proud.

And for another trip down memory lane, kick it old skool to De La Soul’s Me Myself and I.

What do you think about the over-usage of “myself”? Love it or leave it?



MOTHER-DAUGHTER BONDING – Start a Sharing Journal

MODAThe mother-daughter bond is unique, complex and ever-changing. For your relationship to truly blossom, it’s important to set aside time to hang out with no interruptions or expectations. Find ways to connect and “go deep” so you always know how, even during tough times. Sometimes the most profound conversations happen organically when you’re doing something else.

A mother-daughter journal is a great way to share experiences, uncover hidden dreams, and swap thoughts. It’s also the perfect forum for tricky conversations – like the birds and the bees or really messy bedrooms – because it allows time to stay cool and respond honestly. Pass your journal back and forth and fill it with the things that make you laugh, that freak you out, and that blow your mind. It’s a memoir of who you are – separately and together – that you’ll keep forever.

Here’s how to get started:


mother-daughter word bubbles journal

mother-daughter word bubbles journal

Get a good book There are many mother-daughter journals published with pre-set prompts and topics at Café Press or on Amazon. If you’re the creative type, buy a nice blank book and create your journal as you go. Add photos, ticket stubs, inspiring quotes or sketches.


Lay a few ground rules and stick by them Have a set time that you’ll write – every Saturday, the first day of the month, whatever works for you. And just like Vegas, what happens on the page stays on the page! No topic should be taboo, but give each other the option to “pass.”.


Slant positive Life isn’t always rosy, and your journal will reflect the speed bumps and shadows as well as the joys and beauty. But glassresist the urge to use it as a place to lecture or complain. Be honest when exploring a tough topic, but always think before putting pen to paper.


Brainstorm topics and questions. Let your themes flow naturally with the events of your lives.

  • Our changing bodies, puberty to menopause
  • Friendships
  • Boys, boys and…oh yeah, more boys
  • Expressing your personal style
  • What you want to be when you grow up, and why
  • Why we always fight about (insert problem here), and how we can negotiate better?
  • If you had 24 hours with no responsibilities and endless funds, what would you do?
  • Inner and outer beauty
  • Top five favorite songs/books/movies

Share your mother-daughter tips! What do you do to have fun together and stay connected?

(this post soon to appear on Edelbio Skin Care)


love ‘em or leave ‘em

My formal training is as a linguist, not an English teacher, so I know that language is a fluid thing. What is considered incorrect can become correct through a critical mass of mainstream usage. But there are just certain “wrongs” that I’d hate to see gain enough traction to become “right”.

Are you guilty of using any of these? Do you think we should love ‘em (accept these transgressions and let them creep into our textbooks) or leaveem?

 There’s Trouble in Them Thar Words

In the English language, many words with different meanings and spellings can prove vexing because they are pronounced the exact same way.

Case in point: the homonymous trio there/their/they’re.

See if you can spot the errors in the sentence that follows.

There are many people who think their smart, but often they’re spelling is suspect.

You guessed it. There are many people who think they’re smart, but often their spelling is suspect.

Some people truly do not grasp the difference in meaning between these three words. However, more often they just don’t take the time – in our culture of hyper speed –  to figure out the correct usage. Esp in txts. Or if you allow auto fill free rein. Even as I write this post, my auto fill is short-circuiting over our vexing trio.

When writing in your daily life, whether crafting presentations or shooting quick emails, you might have a feeling that you’re choosing the rightish word. But it always pays to be sure – your credibility could be at stake.

It doesn’t have to be that tricky. Let me show you…

  • They’re is the most straightforward, but seems to cause the most confusion. It is simply a contraction of they + are. Did you see Mike’s shoes? They’re so cool.
  • Their indicates the third person plural possessive adjective. You use it to indicate something belongs to them. The students brought their lunches to school every day.
  • Everything else falls under the there umbrella. It can be an adverb (She sat there for two hours.), a pronoun (There is no reason to get frustrated with all of these words.), an adjective (That car there sure is a beaut.), a noun (You can’t get there from here.) or an interjection (There! I finally figured it out!)

If that’s too much information to muck around with, I offer you a handy mnemonic haiku.

Their belongs to them

They’re is just short for they are

Otherwise, it’s there.

There – is that clear?


THE POWER OF STORY – The MOTH on Martha’s Vineyard

I’ve never thought much about storytelling. I can spin a decent yarn on paper, but don’t ask me to tell a story in person. I fluster and flummox, incapable of delivering the basic facts or (god forbid) a punch line. I’ve never considered my life in terms of stories – just clumps of events, thoughts, compulsions, relationships and biological necessities.

All of that changed last month when I discovered the subtly subversive subculture of The Moth. The Moth is an “acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Since its launch in 1997, the Moth has presented thousands of stories, told live and without notes, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide.”

I happened to be on Martha’s Vineyard when The Moth came to town a few weeks ago. The live storytelling event was held in a small chapel. I had no idea what to expect when I went in, but I was surprised and changed when I came out.

That evening, I heard stories from six decidedly different people, from the “fame-ish” former children’s TV star struggling with his true identity to the eighty-year-old murder-mystery author relearning how to love.

Each story was limited to 10 minutes, but the clock was the farthest thing from my mind. Time and space fell away and nothing existed but me and the storyteller. I could not tear away my eyes and ears. I didn’t even want to sneeze or scratch for fear of missing something.

Suddenly I felt deeply connected to these people that I had “nothing” in common with.  The illusion of separation evaporated. The assumption of difference disappeared. And we were all just a bunch of people in a room with stories to hear and stories to tell. The details of these stories may be unique, but the themes are universal.

The next day I signed up for a week-long The Moth for Writers workshop that was offered as part of the roving Moth event. Once again, I didn’t really know what to expect, I just felt an overwhelming compulsion to participate. There were eight writers in the group from various literary disciplines and persuasions.

Over the course of the week, it became apparent that we were all feeling the same way: freaked out to high-heaven, but determined to push our envelopes and mine our internal story-laden caverns.

I was under the impression that we’d have an opportunity to present our stories at the end of the week, not an obligation. I assumed my story wouldn’t be worth telling. But as time passed I realized that I owed it – out loud – to myself, to the others in the group, and to whoever might be listening.

On the last day of the workshop, we all got up and told our stories. In front of a microphone. On a stage with nice lighting. Not for pretense or fanfare, but to elevate our sense of doing something meaningful. And for just a moment, we let everyone in the room behind the curtain.

We told of first communions and unrequited love. Childhood shame and family drama. Excruciating loss and staggering growth. Stories of realization, integration and transformation. Pretty big stuff for a little five-minute story.

Since then, I’ve tried to listen to one Moth story every day. It’s like a daily prescription for perspective and hope. A handy reminder of our shared humanity.

Catch The Moth Story Hour on Public Radio, download the podcasts, or find live events in your area. You might even surprise yourself by submitting your own story for consideration…