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WORD FOR WORD

February 1, 2007

September 5, 2006 was a gloriously sunny, exceedingly warm day.  Sally, our American Fox Hound and I had been outside in the morning—Sally on one end of the leash, I on the other.  I went about my daily work and about 4:45 that afternoon, Sally took a look out the window and saw our Mennonite neighbor’s chickens in “her” yard. 

She threw her head back in true hound-dog style and let out a rolling, deep-throated barking binge.  Hindsight is always, as they say, 20-20 and in looking back, that barking binge should have sent off alarm bells the size of Cleveland.  However, it did not. 

“Sally,” says I.  “Let’s go outside and see what’s happening.” 

Okay.  A 55 lb. American Fox Hound on one end of the non-retractable leash.  A 115 lb. 5’3”, 55 year old woman on the other.  Within three seconds of opening the screen door, Sally was hurdling, full throttle, to the south end of our property.  The loop of the leash grabbed my wrist.  I was face-flat on the ground (the Mennonites probably thought I’d imbibed) and felt what the medical community doesn’t refer to as internal separation.  My right arm no longer felt as if it were part of my body. 

After I had her inside, I dropped in a chair and sat there, shaking.  My arm hurt already and I knew the worst hadn’t even begun yet.  I was right.  That started several hours later.  As I now look at the receipt from the drug store dated 9/5/2006, I see liniment that goes on icy and begins to heat up almost immediately, a “bean bag” microwaveable wrap that gets hotter than the liniment and a bottle of Motrin.  To move my arm took a Herculean effort, to apply deodorant was excruciating, to shift from 4th to 5th gear in my little Saturn took back-up from my left hand guiding my right arm. 

Three days later I had to be in Pittsburgh and I passed one of those walk-in beauty salon chains where a hair cut is actually within the realm of affordability.  “Pamper yourself, girl,” the voice nagged.  “You’ve been through the wringer.” 

So, in I walk and an early 20s-something in a dark blue uniform introduces herself as Jennifer.   

“Jennifer,” says I.  “I need a haircut.  Just take off an inch and I definitely want to keep hair on my neck.  Just follow the basic contour of my cut and take off an inch.” 

I’m one of those people who love having her hair fussed with, so I closed my eyes and put myself in Jennifer’s capable hands.  The snip of the scissors and the feel of the comb as she fluffed out my hair while taking that inch off soothed and relaxed.  Even my arm didn’t throb for a few precious minutes. 

Snip. Snip.  Comb.  Comb.  Buzz.  Buzz. 

The buzz buzzing had been going on for about 90 seconds when a creepy realization washed over me.  Buzz buzz?  I’d never heard that hair-styling song before except when I was young and hung around my mother’s beauty shop during the era of duck tails and shaved necks. 

“Take a look,” says she.  But somehow I knew without looking. 

I don’t know what part of “just take off an inch and keep the hair in my neckline” Jennifer didn’t understand, but the style she’d given me looked to all intents and purposes as if I’d collaborated with the enemy in one of those old World War II films.  (The irony here is I would receive more compliments—four to be exact—on this haircut than any other.  All from women whose haircuts mirrored my own). 

I had very little hair and my arm was now a bright bruised blue as I stared in the mirror.  Life had taken a nasty turn in the span of a few days.  And why had these things happened?  Four little words explained it all. 

I hadn’t paid attention. 

Sally was being a hound dog and doing what hound dogs do.  When she started barking inside, she “had her blood up”—a phrase I’d heard many times in reference to dogs, sports competitors and Parkway drivers (it’s a ‘Burg thing).  While I’d had a vague notion what it meant, now that I’d experienced the consequences of the phrase, I had a deeper understanding and a new respect for it. 

Jennifer was talking about her mother, her schooling, her boyfriend, her apartment as she chattered mindlessly the entire time she lopped off my hair.  If she heard my instructions, she instantly forgot them or ignored them or whatever...again, however, as she passed the point of no return, had I paid attention, I could have stopped her.  She lost a tip and garnered my promise to never return, but I had to live with the butchered mess for months.   

Months of looking bad and feeling bad because I looked bad and my arm ached. 

Paying attention takes effort.  It takes organization and concentration, but it is a trait that successful people nurture and never forget to do.  If you’re health-smart, you pay attention by eating right, exercising, not smoking.  If you’re financially smart, you invest, keep up with money trends and don’t impulse buy. 

And if you’re writer-smart, what do you do?   You meet deadlines, return phone calls, answer emails.  You study publications before you send out your work, so you don’t submit a Biblical quiz to Sports Illustrated or a How to Attract your Mate article to Highlights for Children.   

When you write and submit greeting cards, you pay attention to guidelines, market lists and needs lists.  You find out whether a company publishes rhymed, metered verse, funny stuff or soft, contemporary prose.  You don’t submit St. Patrick Day verses if the only seasonal the company publishes is Christmas.  And if the company only produces sticky notes, buttons and bumper stickers, you don’t send greeting card copy. 

Had I paid attention that first week of September, I’d have saved myself a lot of grief.   Whether in your personal or professional life, never underestimate the power of simply paying attention.

And that’s my Word For Word. 

We’re turning the corner on winter, although looking out my third-story window office at the moment really doesn’t confirm that fact.  However, if February’s upon us, can March be far behind?  March always blows hot and cold, but even if the thermometer doesn’t show it, it is, after all, the month Spring officially begins. 

April can be the cruelest month, I suppose, but April also brings the One-Day Writer’s Conference held in Mercer County.  I’ll be conducting a workshop on Writing Quizzes—my quizzes have appeared in many publications including Biography Magazine (A&E Television Network), Pennsylvania Magazine and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  In addition, I had a monthly quiz in Ohio Magazine and a weekly one in the McKnight Journal that covered the northern section of Pittsburgh.  I teach quiz writing online and its short, snappy, fun format is a natural spin-off from writing greeting card verses.  This year the Conference is Saturday, April 28th and I’ll provide a direct link in an upcoming Word for Word. 

Three weeks before that, on April 7th, I’ll be interviewed on KOPT-AM out of Eugene OR for Women Under The Influence of Laughter.  Once again, the unique nature of greeting card writing as a home-based business has intrigued the host of the program, Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant, and hopefully will also resonate with many of her listeners.  I receive a substantial amount of book orders from Oregon, so I’m excited to be doing the show. 

After a short break, we’re back at it with the website, adding new affiliates, new features and soon the announcement regarding the greeting card verse contest.  It promises to be a fun one and I hope many of you who regularly read this column will decide to submit entries.  More on that in a few weeks. 

I continue receiving many emails from would-be card writers and also those who have gone on to make first, second, third and upward sales to various companies.  One former student wrote to let me know she supplied all 45 verses for a new line of cards soon to debut on the market.  Can’t tell you more than that, but once it’s released, we’ll share the good news.  There’s nothing more fulfilling than having an entire line all to yourself! 

Stay focused, write up a storm and remember, pay attention. 

Hasta entonces, 

Sandra

 
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