Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vivid Examples of Excellence

"Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence."-George F. Will

In 1989, Michigan point guard, Rumeal Robinson, was fouled at the end of a game against Wisconsin. With no time on the clock and his team down by one point, Robinson proceeded to miss both free throws. There is no worse experience for an athlete than to be put in a position to win the game and to fail. It’s something that is devastating enough that it could ruin a weak-minded individual, but Robinson wasn’t the sort. The story is that he shot 100 extra free throws after every practice from that day forward because if the situation happened again, he didn’t want to fail. Later in the year, in the NCAA championship game in overtime, he drove to the basket in an attempt to make the game-winning shot, but he was fouled. With no time on the clock, and down by one point, Rumeal Robinson calmly sank both free throws to give his team a one-point victory—an NCAA championship.

Several years later, I was coaching a 7th grade girls’ basketball team. We were undefeated, late in the season. I don’t recall if we were behind by one or two points, but one of my starters, a girl by the name of Stephanie Duell, was fouled on the last play of the game. She immediately started crying. She knew if she missed, our undefeated season was over and the emotion of the moment overwhelmed her. She shot the free throws, and, of course, missed. We lost one game that year. That was the only season I coached 7th grade. The next year, I moved up with the team to 8th grade. Stephanie was the hardest working girl on the team. Every time we shot free throws, she made it a competition between me and her. She practiced extra, and she was very good, but wouldn’t you know it, later in the year, against the same team with our same undefeated record on the line, Stephanie was fouled with no time on the clock, our team down by two points. That time there was no tears. She walked straight to the line and sank them both. I couldn’t have been prouder of one of my players than I was right then.

Two years ago, Detroit Catholic Central High School lost in the state wrestling finals to Oxford High. The number one ranked DCC team led going into the last match but lost the state title when Evan Toth was defeated. Two years later, last Saturday, as fate would have it, DCC was pitted against Davison High School, and Davison was leading 26-23 as the last two wrestlers walked onto the mat—one of them was Evan Toth. Based on criteria, if tied at the end of the meet, Davison would win, so Evan Toth couldn’t just win the match, earning his team three points—he needed bonus points. A simple win wouldn’t be good enough, and before he knew it, he was down 9-2 with his state championship dreams fading away once again. But Toth didn’t give up hope. While grappling against a quality wrestler, the clock, and demons from his past, Toth pinned his opponent with just thirty-five seconds remaining, earning six points—enough to give his team the state championship.

All three stories are feel bad stories followed up by feel good stories. All three stories demonstrate how sports can be a vivid example of excellence. Michael Jordan, a man whose name is synonymous with game-winning heroics said the following: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” John Wooden, considered by many as the greatest college basketball coach of all time said, “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.” Abraham Lincoln said, “Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.” Colin R. Davis said, “The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.”

I’ve been blessed as an athlete, a teacher, a parent, a coach, and a sports fan to witness incredible feel-good stories of people who looked into the face of previous discouragement, previous failures, and previous mistakes, and instead of letting those moments defeat them, they rose above them and succeeded. They understood—and sports is usually a vivid example of it—that while others are simply dreaming of success, winners wake-up in the morning and work hard to achieve it. All of the feel-good, come-back stories that I mentioned earlier are examples of people who didn’t let failure get the best of them. They worked hard, prepared themselves well, and ended up succeeding in the very thing for which they failed earlier. Why don’t more people take the lessons from sports and apply them to their lives? Why do independent writers, for instance, write a book that doesn’t sell well and then put in the same effort and do the same things for the next book and expect it to do better? Why wouldn’t an indie writer take LOTS of extra time learning punctuation, capitalization, and grammar rules? Why wouldn’t the writer listen to advice from knowledgeable readers whom they can trust and be willing to make changes to his or her book—maybe even a complete overhaul? Why wouldn’t a writer use a thesaurus, do word searches for repetitious words, and even double and triple-check for spelling and capitalization and punctuation consistencies?

Athletes like Rumeal Robinson, Stephanie Duell, Evan Toth, and Michael Jordan went the extra mile, dedicated the extra effort, and refused to give in to failure. They believed in themselves and realized that in life there are usually numerous failures and mistakes on the road to success. Albert Einstein said, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Earl Nightingale  said, “Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.” Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” And finally, Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Yes, sports serve society by giving vivid examples of excellence—examples that everyone can apply to any area of life. Do you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again? Then it’s time to renew your efforts and enthusiasm because the next great success story might be yours.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Editing Tips

A week or so ago, my dogs were cuddled on the bed with my wife and me while we watched TV and ate ice cream—TV with benefits. Every light in the house was off except the one in the bedroom. Being the gentleman that I am (and feeling an almost impossible-to-be-denied need to roll off the bed and do something productive), I grabbed the ice cream bowls and headed off to rinse them and put them in the dishwasher. Because of the dogs, I closed the door on the way out and headed toward the kitchen, one glass bowl in each hand. The dark, silent hallway and a short jaunt through part of the living room was all that separated me from the kitchen and the awaiting sink—I thought. Unbeknownst to me, a dog gate was propped in the entryway because as people in the Northern United States definitely know, there is often snow on the ground outside…and people with house dogs might know that when the pets go outside to do their business, they come back in as happy, furry snowmen, barely recognizable as canines…and therefore, the gate is to keep the freshly bathed and de-snowballed dogs in the kitchen on the tile until they dry off adequately. Well, the dogs were in the bedroom, so the gate shouldn’t have been wedged in the doorway to the kitchen, but I wouldn’t have known that because the house was void of any light whatsoever.

I walked merrily on my way until the gate hit me just above the thighs. I flipped forward onto my waist, two glass bowls stretched out in front of me for their protection as I balanced myself on a thin wooden frame, looking remarkably—I’m sure—like Superman posed in flight. It was quite an athletic feat, but it was one in which the inanimate gate wasn’t impressed. Seemingly, the gate was only concerned about its own preservation, and it determined all by itself that it wasn’t made to hold the weight of a grown man—it was made to keep fourteen-pound puppies in the kitchen. It started to slip, but what was I to do? I couldn’t see a thing, and I had a glass bowl in each hand that would surely shatter on the tile floor over which I was hovering. All I could do was wait for the inevitable, and sure enough, the gate collapsed to the floor with a nervous homeowner splayed on top. I did my best abdominal banana pose and plopped to the floor, bowls stretched before me for safety. The gate crashed and I dropped to the tile unharmed, but most importantly, the bowls lived to tell their version of the story as well. Afterward, a crease of light appeared as my wife stuck her head out of the bedroom. “Are you all right?” she asked. Two dogs charged out the door, raced down the hall, trampled over my back, and started licking the bowls in my outstretched hands. I couldn’t help but wonder if they had planned the whole thing themselves.
The story is true, but the application has yet to be made. I am an author, but I’m also an English teacher who moonlights as an editor. I vowed to use this blog to occasionally give editing tips, which is what I’m just about to do. Examples are highlighted above.

1. Toward vs. towards (afterward vs. afterwards, etc.):  I did a whole blog about this, but I want to say again that “toward” is still considered the proper usage. All sorts of experts agree with my former statement. It appears, however, that outside of North America, “towards” and “afterwards” are much more commonly used and accepted. I don’t use “towards” because so many sites warn me that using it is likely to offend educated people while “toward” offends no one.

2. All right vs. alright: I did a blog about this too, but I want to say again that if you would do readings on the internet, you will see that no one thinks “all right” is a misspelling and lots of people think “alright” is spelled incorrectly. You will see that people claim that the “alright” spelling is becoming acceptable, but you’ll see over and over again that educated, intelligent people widely, crazily claim that the only correct spelling is “all right.” No one says “all right” is wrong. The majority say the other spelling is incorrect.

3. Hyphens: Hyphens always join words together to make one word. Fractions, compound numbers, and compound words (like mother-in-law) use hyphens to make more than one word into a single word. Where people seem to fall short in their understanding of this concept is when they take two separate adjectives and combine them to form a single description. “Fourteen-pound puppies” is an example. They aren’t “fourteen puppies” or “pound puppies.” Fourteen and pound form a single description…a single adjective…a single word. Therefore, they are hyphenated.

4. Coordinate adjectives: This is where you would use two or more adjectives in succession to describe the same word. You would place commas between these words if the words coordinate (work together equally). This is how I explain it to my eighth-graders. If you can put the word and between the adjectives and it sounds natural, you need a comma. “Furry, happy snowmen” was used above. I can say the snowmen were furry and happy. They were happy and furry snowmen. That sounds natural, as does “the hallway was dark and silent.” When I said “my best abdominal banana pose,” for instance, they didn’t coordinate because the pose is not my and best and abdominal and banana. The pose is not banana and abdominal or abdominal and best. That does not sound natural.

5. Punctuating dialogue: I actually have a prior blog post about this too, but some of the concepts need to be reviewed. First of all, put commas, periods, question marks, etc. before the quotation marks. There is a very, very infrequent exception, but it is rare. Example #1: “I’ll do it,” said Jimmy. There is a comma after “it”—not a period—because the sentence doesn’t end until “Jimmy.” The comma is written before the quotation marks as all punctuation (except a rare question mark exception) always is. The word “said” is not capitalized.  Example #2: “I’ll do it.” He nodded in affirmation. In this example, there is a period after “it” because that is the end of a sentence. “He nodded in affirmation” is another new, complete sentence. It is not a dialogue tag because “nodded” is not how a person can speak. Example #3: “Are you all right?” she asked. This example has a question mark and a period. The quote needs to be punctuated properly, hence the question mark, but it is not the end of the sentence. The dialogue tag ends the sentence, so there is no capital letter on “she” and there is a period at the end.

6. I vs. me:  This is a lot more complicated topic than I have time to cover thoroughly, so let me just say that “I” is always used as a subject and “me” is always used as an object. “With my wife and me” is a prepositional phrase with both “wife” and “me” as the objects of the preposition. If you eliminated “wife and” from the equation, the phrase would be “with me,” and that would sound right to everyone. It is also between you and me (I hear this as you and I very, very often).

So here I am at the end, and I still don’t know what I should call this blog post. Laughter and Language Lessons? Casual Stoll in the Dark? Ice Cream and Near Catastrophe? Gates and Grammar? Fourteen-Pound Puppies Pouncing? My Best Superman Banana Pose? I’m open for suggestions.