Friday, February 27, 2009

The new “Ahh” / Umm

Several years ago I belonged to a Toastmasters group, which for those who don’t know is a group of people coming together every few weeks to assist and support each other in the craft of public speaking. It also served to help desensitize being in uncomfortable settings. I was in a job search to become an executive director of a non-profit organization and while I had done some speaking and presentations, I was on the shy side and needed a boost in that area.

I belonged for about a year and had to drop out when the demands of my new job (as executive director and CEO of a good sized non profit), and the commute and new kids left little time.

At each meeting people delivered speeches or presentations that they had prepared and the group critiqued and gave suggestions feedback about what went very well and on how the speech or delivery could be improved. While I am still very much on the shy side (to the surprise of some people who have heard me speak publicly or work with me professionally), belonging to this group was a great experience that has paid off significantly over the years.

A position designated for each meeting was the “ah counter”. Someone designated to listen carefully with pen in hand and track the number of times “Ah” or “Um” were used during the speech. The objective was to train you to either take a legitimate pause or work on transitions in the speech so that you weren’t relying on these common devices, as they take away from the message you are delivering.

Though years have gone by this exercise of having someone count my “ah”s and “um”s and me bring the counter a few times, this lesson has stayed with me and I am very conscious of using these transition crutches and also notice it when others speak. I am sure I still use them occasionally but significantly less than if I wasn’t attuned.

You now are perhaps asking, what is the new “ahh” that I have titled this? It is the word “so”.

Now that I have pointed it out pay attention to the number of times that people will use this word as sort of a hanger at the end of the sentence until they think of what else they want to say. Sometimes the word is appropriate but sometimes it just verbally hangs there in space at the end of a sentence or becomes the lead off of the sentence when it doesn’t need to be or the sentence is solid enough to stand by itself.

So……….[gotcha] a personal goal of mine is to reduce my own use of this word as a transition or hanger and intro and to let what I have to say either stand on its own or end on its own. Before editing this I found that I used this a couple more times, not counting the one in this paragraph, and either deleted them or rephrased until it sounded better to me. Want to join my cause? We can be known as “so" counters.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

As I sit here the wind howls; the clouds race across the sky like skaters on a pond; the big pine trees make a rushing noise. The moon has been bright in the sky but tonight it competes with the clouds being pushed around by the winds.

The position of our house is at the edge of valley, the ridge line I often write about. The wind travels up and down this valley as it is a natural trough to follow. The edge is mostly flat and sloping gradually down towards the river valley below, miles and miles of open pasture land the the flat terrain of the river for miles more. On the other side of the valley the ridge line is mostly bare of leaves giving little resistance to the wind. Tonight it has also brought squalls of snow moving almost side to side and swirling around the trees and lamp post and rocks and polishing the icy coating that is left on the yard from the melt of the day.

I have come to love the sound of the wind in the night as they travel past. Sounding slightly hollow as it loops around the house. I can tell what windows aren't fully latched by the sound of the wind as it whistle a special pitch. The back yard is lined with thick pines so while it rushes in, it has to find another way out, usually up and over the tops of the trees

In the summer the soothing constant breeze. In the winter it has a bite but year round it seems to have personality. In my minds eye it is much like a mammoth ghost. Dashing to and fro, swirling around houses and getting lost in the thick pine trees but them popping out again further down. Flying above the valley up along the river to Mount Greylock in the far north, joining its fellow winds and the racing back down to the south. In the morning it is all clear. The leftovers of falling branches and twigs mark that it was here but the wind is usually long gone to other parts.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Beneath my occasional cynicism and getting trapped in the past, I am a relatively optimistic person. While it may sometimes me a while, I usually try to find the good in most experiences or look for the "lesson" when thing go wrong or are unpleasant. Naive? Perhaps a little sometimes, but is being hopeful always naive?

I am a realist that still thinks of possibilities. There may be only one winner of a lottery ticket, why couldn't it be me as well as someone else. Tenacity has always been a strength and there are always multiple ways to an end.

I find people wearing who are constantly negative,who always find the tear in the silver lining or see that one cloud in the sky as the rain shower headed directly for them. While I will try to turn them around to see the brighter more positive side of things, I have to admit that there are times that I just tune them out.

I find kids by nature to be a pretty hopeful and optimistic crowd. I get concerned when I have heard my own kids express dismay about how missed up things are and about their unspoken concerns about their futures and the life and world they will face as adult. As parents we try to keep our kids looking at the possibilities of life and not get stuck behind the idea of limitations as insurmountable, for obstacles will present themselves soon enough.

A couple of weeks ago during the inauguration my seventeen year old reminded me that for almost half his life George W. Bush has been president and the political environment that surrounded Bush has been just about all that he remembers from his adolescent years. Hearing this and yes appreciating how enormously significant eight years is in the life of someone young, I had a totally new appreciation for the excitement and hope that had sprung alive with our new president. No wonder there is more cynicism when that is what you hear day in and day out from your leaders.

I remember talking with my youngest (15) during the primaries and asking her opinion of whether it would be more significant to have a first woman president or a first African-American president. She said that she had though about that for a while and she thought that while both were very significant, it would be a much greater stretch for this country to accept an African-American than a woman as president. Interesting I thought, and true in many ways and how wonderfully interesting and so significant it was that we were even having this discussion.

Even during dark times the flame of hope if still there, waiting for the fuel and gentle breeze to rekindle its flame until it burns brightly again.