Fancy Words


I am a logophile. I love words. I thank people who use unusual words in conversation. I give out “best word of the day” awards on Facebook. Sometimes my friends try to amuse me by using unusual words. Or perhaps they are embarrassed when they use them, so cover with a call-out to me, as though to say “I’m just using this fancy-dancy word for Raechel’s benefit. Don’t blame me.”

I had a boss once who would learn a new word and then use it several times in one day, kind of trying it out, I guess. I’m not sure how we figured this out, but we didn’t really like the guy, so we decided to prime him each day with a new word and then count how many times he used it. We chose words randomly from the dictionary, and took turns doing the priming. My word was “propinquity,” which I managed to squeeze into a conversation, without laughing, in the morning. He heard it, and found three more times that we know of to use it himself that day. We stopped after a week because it was too creepy — we hadn’t imagined that we’d be so successful.

A friend was working in Washington, D.C. He and his buds cooked up this idea to plant a new word — a ‘neologism’ — and see whether it would appear in print. They started using ‘deluxe’ the way people used ‘cool’ at that time. Within a month, they were hearing the word everywhere, and within two months read it in a newspaper story quoting someone talking about something — I don’t remember what.

Another time I was working in a cubicle hive in an annex, away from upper management. We did many things to keep ourselves from going crazy, including going from one end of the facility to the other without ever using an aisle or letting our feet touch the ground. Another time we decided to come up with as many words as we could that end in “ation.” We called them out all day long for weeks.

Some words make the hair on my arms stand up. I don’t know what it is exactly. It’s like landing a metaphor. Everyone agrees it’s fabulous, but no one can really say why. ‘Individuation’ falls flat. Sounds too technical, I think. But ‘fisticuffs’ and ‘detritus,’ love those words. My sister Gretchen is a ‘plethora’ fan. I don’t care much for it, but perhaps that’s because I’ve decided she owns it. ‘Erudite’ is good, although I’ve heard it too much for it to raise my arm hair, or what’s left of it. I did once have an argument with a co-worker, who claimed there was no such word.

Throw your favorite word my way. We’ll vote on the best ones.


Who’s to Blame?


What keeps you from changing your life? Psychologists say that it may be your “explanatory style,” i.e., how you account for your present predicament. People who over-generalize by saying “I can’t do anything right,” or “it’s always going to be like this,” or “everything is all screwed up” will likely be paralyzed by learned helplessness and depression. On the other hand, those who tend to see external factors as having produced a specific bad situation are resilient and able to change their situations, taking advantage of opportunities available to them. Seeing your own role in your problems isn’t particularly helpful unless it’s of the “well, I goofed there, guess I won’t do that again” variety.

People who are in the paralyzed state (count me there many days) can be dragged out of it. They need to practice explaining their situations in better ways. Try it. Be very specific when you describe the situation to yourself. Make yourself a list, not a to-do list, but a list of what’s wrong. I’ll start:

1. I have to pay back taxes
2. I need to sell the cafe
3. I have a bunch of stuff that’s making it hard for me to move
4. I have to make a living, too, and don’t seem to have time to get stuff done

Tell yourself how you got here, and don’t blame yourself.
1. The economy tanked & I don’t have the money
2. The city made several decisions that hurt my business and others
3. Family emergencies took me away from my business
4. I’m now by myself, I don’t particularly want a nest, so I don’t need all of this stuff
5. Suddenly I have to take care of my mother
6. I’m over-committed

And now, problem solve. (Don’t include winning the lottery in your solution.) Without baggage. Don’t beat yourself up. If you hear yourself explaining your situation in “hopeless” ways (and this includes blaming your parents for making you an inferior person), cut the conversation short. Psychologists suggest keeping a rubber band on your wrist, and snapping it each time you do this. Then change your explanation to something matter-of-fact and hopeful. Not a Pollyanna-ish “I am a wonderful child of the universe, God will provide, etc.” (another, more interesting version of learned helplessness), but “here’s the problem, let’s figure out the best way to address it.”

OK, so lots of us want “new lives.” Our children are off on their own, our careers are no longer fulfilling or they’ve run their course, it’s time for something new. What are the problems? Make a list, and get started. Clear impediments out of the way, and you’ll find yourself a whole lot closer to seeing what it is you want to do next.

A force to be reckoned with


When I used to put my little daughter on the plane to visit her father each summer, I would whisper “remember, you are a force to be reckoned with.” Her father is wonderful, and I had no fears that she would be mistreated. She was just so young and so frightened. Maybe I was reassuring myself that I would survive her absence. She never reacted to it, but I always said it, even when she was a teenager and breezed onto the plane as an expert world traveler.

Yesterday we texted a conversation (we do this for fun now & again, have since she was a teenager and it was the only way we could talk without arguing, even when we were a room away from each other). I was telling her a bit about the challenges I’m having with my mother, and she sent me this message “Remember, Mom, you are a force to be reckoned with.” Sweet to hear in so many ways …

“Those” mothers


I do some grant work for an organization that serves kids. There’s money for programs that involve parents, so I asked, “What do you have going on with parents? Is there anything you would like to do that we could write a grant for?” The person I asked has been working on the front lines of this organization for nearly 10 years. Maybe she’s burnt out, maybe she’s suffering from “learned helplessness,” maybe she has really low expectations. She responded, “Oh, we’ve tried that; none of these parents care. They won’t show up, and if they do show up, they’ll be wasted.”

What I observed kind of confirmed her view. I saw two different mothers come in one week, both staggering. One was haggard; looked like a methamphetamine addict. Ordinarily I bristle at this “parents don’t care” thing, because it’s often an excuse for someone else to fail with the kids — teachers, for example. On the other hand, I thought, well … maybe it’s true. Maybe things are so grim here that parents really don’t care about their kids.

Last week I arrived early at the Club for a meeting, and no one was there to let me in. It’s attached to an elementary school, so while I waited I sat in my car and watched the kids arrive. Parents with kids in tow, on foot or in various old clunkers (cardboard replacement doors, things like that). Kids hopped out of cars with their book bags, clean styled hair, clean clothes, quieter and more serious than suburban kids, but as cared for.

Three mothers arrived in their cars.

Mother one stepped out of her car in 7″ stilettos (how could she walk in those at 7:45 am?) and a yellow bejewelled knit top and capri pants. Hair and makeup done. Her son walked with her toward the door, said something to his mother, and then they stopped. He lifted his foot and she took off his sandle, shook sand, dirt, rocks, something out. Then she spent a couple of minutes checking out the bottom of his foot and brushing it off. Stooping down in those stilettos. Sandle back on, then she opened the door for him and he bounced in.

Mother two stepped out in 6″ wooden wedges. I really don’t get it. I had to wear tennis shoes with my business pants suit to drive to the place. Another glam outfit, and two kids hopped out looking great and business-like with their book bags. She walked her kids into the school and stayed inside with them until the bell rang.

Mother three pulled up, and her kids unloaded themselves. She didn’t get out herself, so I don’t know what her shoes looked like, but she looked pretty together, and her kids were dressed well and prepared. She waited until they entered the school, then drove over the grass to get around another car that had arrived, and drove away.

I’m sure that some kids arrived in yesterday’s clothing, straggling in by themselves without book bags, but I didn’t see them. And I’m sure there are parents who don’t care or can’t get themselves together enough to care. But what I saw was women who may not have cared much for their ankles, but cared a lot for their children.

So here’s to mothers, rich and poor, working and not, smart and not-so-smart, married and single. It is mothers, not money, that makes the world go round.



Sometimes I wonder whether literacy is really important, or going to be important in the future. It seems beyond important to me, but maybe that’s because reading is something I am so good at. If the world changes, will I be utterly useless? Well, of course I will, because I am soon to be one of the aged, and by definition of no further use. I hear that twenty-somethings don’t talk much, and don’t write at all, even at work. They text. And truth be told, reading and writing are only very recently part of the broad human experience, so it’s hard to argue that they’re essential.

Today I was writing a grant for “youth literacy.” Just $3000, so I was knocking it off I thought in a half hour or so. Dollar General, founded by a man who was illiterate most of his life, was the grant maker, and I had to fill out an online form. I proposed a Story Corner, where adults could read aloud to 6-8 year-olds struggling with reading. The last section, except for the Patriot Act attestations (no, the money will not support terrorism), was for the budget, and I had my 6 items ready: a part-time staffer to read, bookcases, books, a carpet, cushions for the kids to sit on, posters. I was surprised to see only three budget categories available in the form: computers, computer software, and instructional materials. ?? Computers? Software? For literacy?

So I called the number that appeared on the website. I paraphrase: “Call us at nnn-nnn-nnnn. We love to hear from grant seekers, and welcome your questions.” I reached an answering machine that suggested I check the website if I had questions. I left a message, and no, it wasn’t “is it true I can use this literacy grant to pay for computer games, but not books?” I probably won’t hear back.

Then I thought why not? I’ll go back to the website and see whether there’s a way to ask my questions there. There was, and I sent “I have expenses that don’t fit into these categories. Does that mean that those items may not be paid out of the grant?” I was polite. Half an hour later, not bad, considering they’d told me I would hear within 1 business day, I received an email. It seems that their technical staff can’t answer substantive questions, only technical ones, things like “is there some way for me to print my application,” which I figured out on my own — click on the print button. See what reading does for you?

Stymied, I switched to Target and requested $2000 for the project. I am not LMAO. CU L8TR.

Boring, boring, boring


OK, I’m back to writing (4th draft) that big federal grant I’m working on. And I apologize for subjecting everyone to the long grant post, so boring even I can’t read it again. I get involved in something, hate having to do it, have to give it away so I don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s a rotten habit, but I hope you will all simply shrug and say “there she goes again.” Feel free to skip over the rants.

I did consider simply deleting it today and pretending I never posted it. You can do that with a blog, you know. “What post about grant seekers? I don’t remember anything like that. You must have dreamed it.” But then, that wouldn’t exactly be in the true spirit of blogging, would it? We’re supposed to be letting it all hang out, good, bad, stupid, smart, funny, boring.

10 Things Grant Seekers Should Know


I have the benefit of a few months’ worth of experience now as a grant writer, so I feel qualified to spout off on the topic. I was inspired to do this today because I decided to see whether there were any professional organizations for grant writers. One thing led to another, as often happens with Google. I found myself reading a blog post with many comments from grant writers about whether certification should be required. One guy said “it’s more art than science,” which is of course what every professional resisting standards or evaluation of any kind says, and it set me off. It’s “art,” all right. And we all know that the purpose of jargon is to keep it that way, and befuddle potential clients.

Well, I’m not an expert of course, but I’m going to spill the beans. It’s nothing special! It’s hard, but it’s just like a bunch of other things. I’ll share what I think are the basic skills required for the job some other time, but for now, just advice for people who want to get grants.

1. Good luck getting a grant for your for-profit business. It doesn’t matter how wonderful you or your idea is, most grants are intended to further a public or charitable purpose, not your personal business. There are some, of course — loans, tax breaks, and grants to encourage the development of certain industries (wind turbine manufacture, for example), and some private foundations that want to help you — if you are disadvantaged in some way — start businesses. Have a good business plan and demonstrate that you are the BEST of the pack, most likely to succeed. Then you will have a shot.

2. There’s “lots of free money out there.” Well, yes and no. There is money available. There’s also a lot of competition for the money. You will need to stand out.

3. Grant-makers are looking to further THEIR missions, not YOURS. Be careful whom you ask for money. You need a near-perfect match to the grant-maker’s mission. It doesn’t matter how worthy your project or cause. If it isn’t something that will further the grant-maker’s mission, it ends up in the circular file. You will have wasted your time, and annoyed what might have been a source of funding for a different project.

4. State the Problem. You will need to articulate clearly what the problem is that you are trying to solve. You probably don’t think about things in that way right now if you are a non-profit. You take the “problem” for granted. You won’t like being pinned down with specifics, but you will have to. And you’ll need to do it with statistics and research, because numbers sell. Just like writing a college English paper. It gets harder …

5. Define programs, that is, bundles of objectives and activities with budgets and timelines that address the problem you just defined. Most nonprofits don’t think in terms of “programs.” Can’t do it? Maybe you’re just doing things that seem important to you each day, and you really don’t have good programs. Grant-makers don’t fund nice people who do wonderful things each day; they fund organizations that can accomplish specific things in a specific period of time.

6. You need a logic model that links your mission to the problem to your goals to your objectives (what you want to accomplish this year, or over the next couple of years) to your programs. For example, if someone says “how is this program going to help you solve this problem,” you should have an easy answer. A diagram on one page is frequently helpful — the problem connected by arrows to your programs, each of which has objectives, etc. More and more often now, you will need to be able to demonstrate that your programs do in fact address the problem, that they are effective, so …

7. You need data. We restored 1 building, preserved 14 volumes of township records, and had 7 speakers on different topics under our public education program. We implemented an environmental curriculum in 3 local middle schools and trained 16 teachers to teach it. We provided mentoring services for 85 at-risk youth, who improved their language GPAs by 0.8 points, and math GPAs by 0.5 points. You need to have a plan for tracking your own accomplishments in a systematic way.

8. Grants are awarded based on your capabilities, not your need. Remember, the grant-maker isn’t looking to help YOU, he’s looking to help your constituents. If you offer job training to unemployed folks, then the grant-maker will give you money if he thinks you’re the best organization to do that, and will help the most people. Every organization needs money. If you’re having a particularly difficult time getting it, maybe you don’t enjoy community support. Maybe you don’t manage your money well. Maybe you’re misspending it. In short, YOUR need will raise more red flags than sympathy. Focus instead on selling yourself as the best, most likely to succeed, at what you intend to do. Sell your past successes. Sell your ability to plan and think through issues by putting together a dynamite proposal. Sell your ability to collaborate effectively with other organizations and to muster community resources to your cause.

9. Get your organizational ducks in a row. You will need audited financial statements; a current board of directors list; your 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS; program plans and budgets; your current operating budget; letters of support from community members and organizations that support your programs; a concise written history of your organization; resumes for key employees and board members; short descriptions of all recent programs or projects and their outcomes; and a really good English-paper type writeup of the problems you are addressing, to demonstrate your expertise and thoroughness. If you have all of this together, grant writing will be a breeze.

10. Cool stuff on the Internet Yes, there is a lot of innovation going on. Ben & Jerry’s, where you fill out a short application pitching your idea, submit it online, then mail a 1-page letter, and a group of employees, not a Board of Directors, meets monthly to make decisions. Chase Giving, where people vote on a website for the best projects, and 10 are funded. It probably pays to have someone create a cool movie about you and post it on YouTube. Then you Facebook and Twitter the heck out of it, marketing your organization on the Internet. Make sure your website is good — bad website means floundering organization. Things like that. It really does come down to marketing.