How About This
I'm generally not keen to speak of myself too much, so I decided to simply list the About the Author sections from each of the WordEthic books, and the Cent Deux books. So, here you go. Thanks.
About the Author: Look Ma, Three Hands: And Four Years With No Car
There is a tunnel under one of the main streets. I like riding through it fast and alone. There is room for two bikes to pass, or a bike and a walker, but just enough, and most people seem uncomfortable making room, especially if they have a dog on a leash.
There are actually two parallel tunnels, one for people and one for the creek that runs along the trail. If we get any rain at all, water overflows into the people tunnel. If it rains hard, the tunnel floods. I’ve seen it as high as two feet. I don’t use the tunnel if the water is higher than my pedals, and never right after a big rain. A lot of debris is forced into the tunnel, but I worry about limbs and large rocks. Deep, rushing water hides obstacles, and that’s a bad place to run into something big enough to trip a bike, and a loose walnut is big enough to trip a bike.
I mention the tunnel because there was one much like it in my hometown, although it didn’t have lights and wasn’t tall enough for an adult to stand. My brothers and all our friends and kids we didn’t know played in it all the time. It always had water in it, a broad, thin trickle in summer, an inch deep at other times, and much deeper and faster during rain storms.
Our favorite thing was in winter, when the water would freeze solid, leaving an inch-thick sheet of ice the entire length of the tunnel. We would run on the frozen creek leading into the tunnel, then dive with our sleds, which would skim across the ice so fast on thin metal runners. The only problem was the floor of the tunnel dead-ended with a two-foot drop to the surface of the creek, a pool five or six feet long, about that wide, with water a foot deep most of the year. It was okay if we were having a hard freeze and the ice was thick, but lots of us flew off the edge and crashed right through the ice when it wasn’t quite cold enough. That water was cold, though, and with wet clothes, we usually headed to the house.
We never had the nerve to try our bikes in the tunnel, because it wasn’t quite tall enough, and, of course, there was that killer drop off at the end.
Here’s why I mention it. I think about my hometown tunnel sometimes when I ride through the tunnel on my trail now. It’s been more than 50 years since I played in that tunnel with my brothers and friends. I never thought much about the future, what life would be like for me, for any of us. We were just kids, hanging out, killing time, growing up. It was fun, most days. These were the old days, you know, where kids left the house around 9 in the morning, sometimes came back for lunch, then tried to be back by supper. We all had bikes, and we rode everywhere. Some of the kids had nice bikes, big round frames, wide round tires, but most of us had hand-me-down bikes, no gear shifts, no hand brakes, a lot of banana seats. No one wore helmets or had lights.
If we had baseball practice, or a game, we rode there, two miles. Few of our parents took us places, except for the one or two boys who’s dads wanted to watch them play. I played baseball for 10 years, football for two years, track for two years, swam for two years, and tennis for three years. If my dad watched any of those games, I don’t remember it, and I know my mom didn’t.
We would have been dumbfounded by parents with handheld camcorders and phones with built-in cameras, not just for the technology but for the interest of parents. Few moms and dads were ever around. There aren’t any black and white photos of me in a sports uniform or with a ball glove. We would ride our bikes in groups, picking up kids as we went, then riding back after the game, kids would drop out as we neared their houses.
It was a different time. I remember those days as I ride through the tunnel these days, the games, the kids, the neighborhoods, schools, teachers, coaches, all that stuff. I even remember a few girls, mostly from a distance. For some reason, I thought about Vanessa Bequette yesterday, who played baseball with the neighborhood kids a few times wearing short shorts. Foolish, perhaps, but memorable.
The thoughts that usually come to me now are how fast the time has gone and how poorly I prepared myself for what was to come.
One of my books is about goofing off for four years of high school, My First $360,000 Mistake, but I was unprepared in other ways. I had no domestic skills, no idea how money worked, no idea what I would do.
I’ve made mistakes that might have been avoided had I been better prepared, and some things have happened that I couldn’t have prepared for, but there’s no use letting them beat me up now. I don’t have many regrets, not really. I regret being fearful rather than friendly most of my life, hiding behind shyness when I actually knew I was inferior, undeserving, and inadequate in virtually every situation, except baseball. There were kids who were better than me, maybe, but I was never intimidated by them on the ballfield.
I’ve gotten better with people over the decades. Being a foreign missionary for two years helped. Becoming a good college student helped. Having children helped. Working helped, all those jobs, but especially teaching. I love teaching. Therapy has helped in many ways. I’m less afraid, and I’ve learned to appreciate the successes over the years. Some successes, some failures, just like everyone else.
That’s part of why I ride. It’s enjoyable, it’s satisfying, it’s challenging, and it’s good exercise. I miss very few days riding because it is part of my therapy. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder seven years ago, after decades of not knowing what was wrong. I still struggle, but I’ve learned that if I eat well, if I sleep well, and if I exercise at least an hour a day, I do better. Of those three, exercise is the one I can control consistently. Riding also is good for my physical health. My legs are strong, my lungs are strong, and my heart is strong, which is good considering how often it is broken still.
Riding is my social life, especially during this pandemic where I don’t leave the apartment to work or do the things I normally do. I enjoy the solitude of riding, sometimes, but I often thrill with the anticipation of running into one or two of my trail buddies along the way. If I can find a reason to speak to a stranger, I like doing that, too.
I find peace when I ride, whether I’m absorbed in an audiobook, singing along with something on Spotify, or just listening to the tires hum. I love the ride, rain or shine, dark or light, fast or slow.
My plan is to keep riding. I’ll ride until my knees give out or until I just can’t keep my balance. Whatever happens, whenever that happens, I’ll treasure my years of living car-lessly. It will be disappointing to watch my fabulous farmer’s tan fade, but at least I’ll always have all these great socks.
Finally, if you think of me at all, perhaps you could also think of me as a bike writer. Ha. Bike writer. I’ve always wanted to say that.
Anyway, thanks for coming along for the ride. If we pass one day on the trail, give me a wave.
About the Author: My First $360,000 Mistake
Here’s a story about a woman, a writing teacher, who also happened to be a world-class knitter. We’ll call her Darlene. Darlene was at her favorite yarn store, discussing a project with the store owner. Darlene mentioned that she taught at the local college.
A stranger standing at the counter next to Darlene stopped her. “Did you say you teach at the college?” she asked. “Yes,” Darlene answered in surprise. The woman pointed in her face. “Stay right there,” the woman said, then she ran out the door.
A moment later, she was back, waving a piece of paper, which she slapped down on the counter. “Read that,” she demanded.
Darlene picked up the paper, which turned out to be a copy of an e-mail a young man had sent to the woman, applying for a job as a welder. Note that: a job as a welder. On the paper, the woman had circled in red a dozen errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
“I would never, ever, hire anyone who can’t write any better than that,” the woman shouted, wagging a finger in Darlene’s face again, “and you ought to be ashamed of yourself for letting him graduate.”
Darlene had no choice but to agree. “I am ashamed,” she said. “You are exactly right.”
Now, this young man may have been the best welder in the long history of welding, but he couldn’t even get an interview for the job because he obviously had not learned to write, which is bad, but he was just as obviously too lazy to hide it by proofreading his work, and lazy is worse. He either didn’t know or he didn’t care, and either one cost him any chance at the job.
I know a master mechanic who spends much of his work week writing and speaking to his customers, his staff, and to his bosses. I know a man who lost a big sale because of sloppy typos in his presentation paperwork. I know a woman who has written half a dozen interesting books but her sales are limited because her editors don’t correct the many, many mistakes she makes in spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
The WordEthic motto is based on a long-held belief: you’re only as good as your words. Of course, that means keeping your word, acting with integrity, but it also means to consider carefully what you write and what you say, to use the right word at the right time. Words matter. Words have meanings. We should get the words right, and then proofread over and over before anyone else sees them.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “It takes less time to do a thing right than it does to explain why you did it wrong.” Here’s an example:
Years ago, I always meant to remove a certain word from my spell checker, just in case, but in those days it took two men and a boy just to find the dictionary embedded in the software, so I waited until after this happened.
My first day as news director for a local college, my boss, the Director of Public Relations—you can already see where this is going—took me around to the media outlets for introductions.
At the newspaper office, she showed me a bulletin board—a wall of shame—covered with horrible news releases received from guys like me, badly written, funny typos, and glaring inaccuracies. My boss, by words and glares of her own, impressed on me the importance of never, never, never seeing our letterhead on that wall.
I’m generally pretty careful, but she frightened me into being extra careful. I checked and double-checked everything, until one day, a year or so later, when we were really busy, and I let something go out—some blurb about some insignificant thing—without double checking.
The release was fine, but I signed it under my bosses’ name, Director of Pubic Relations.
Again, Julie, let me apologize….
Two nights ago, I posted a photo on Facebook with this caption: “One thing about being hit by a car while riding your bike is that from then on, any day in which you are not hit by a car has to be considered a pretty good day.” But look at the photo. Do you see the typo? My friends on Facebook certainly did.
Last night, I found something I wrote 15 years ago about wanting to marry Meg Ryan. It’s a pretty good piece, insightful about marriage and relatively humorous, I dare say, but somehow I used the word obtuse when I meant to say abstruse. Can you believe that? It’s no wonder Meg Ryan didn’t want me.
William Zinsser, author of the fabulous book On Writing Well, said, “The English language is rich in strong and supple words. Take the time to root around and find the ones you want.” Just make sure the one you pick means what you think it means.
In college, I turned in a paper that used the word indite. The teacher, my favorite teacher, crossed it out and wrote indict, thinking it was a spelling error. I hesitantly approached her after class to explain that to indite meant to point out or to write something down, which is what I intended, not to indict, which means to bring formal charges for a crime or some other offense. She graciously thanked me for telling her, and for teaching her. That’s just one reason she was my favorite teacher.
This is my thirteenth published book, ten I’ve written and three I’ve edited. Not one of them has been free of errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar when published, which discourages me. I write, edit, and proofread carefully. I use all the tricks writers and editors use, reading out loud, reading backwards, one word at a time, reading on paper rather than just on the screen. I leave it alone then come back to it in a few days. I run the files through my Voice Dream app that reads the words back to me so I find errors by listening. I create MOBI files to read on three different Kindle models. But still, mistakes are missed.
When an e-book first appears on Amazon, it is standard practice to copy the URL and paste that into the book as a link to the Amazon page, then republish the updated file. I do that but take an extra day or two to read the entire book again, highlighting in orange any errors that still exist. I make those corrections before I republish.
Even after that, the first published update of Quotidian, the Llama, Volume 1 contained 26 errors and another 10 words or phrases that I replaced with more accurate or descriptive words. That’s more than one mistake for every 10 pages, after weeks of editing. That’s discouraging, but that’s just how it works. As Zinsser said, “Rewriting is the essence of writing.”
Maybe that’s part of the beauty of language, at least in English, all those options, and part of the majesty of writing, using the right word. I used to joke that writing was easy, just 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks—the trick was to get them all in the right order. But writing is more than that.
As a writing tutor at college, I offered a quotation for one of our handouts: “The right word in the right place is better than sex.” My instructor blushed a little and laughed a little, but she told me to change it. What finally passed the censors was, “The right word in the right place is better than a first kiss.” I think that’s true.
At least I used to think that’s true. I’ve had a first kiss since then that challenges the validity of the statement, but that’s another story, still being written, and not yet available on Kindle.
About the Author: UNTIL: Or why spend 10,000 hours with a comatose man
My mom and dad dated at an early age. Dad is Gary Gratton, born in Ironton, Minnesota, in 1933. Mom is Joanna Jackson, born in a small Missouri town called Corridon, in 1936.
According to my mom, she first met my dad in May 1950, one month before she turned 15. Dad was about to turn 17 in July. She was babysitting her younger brothers and sisters while her parents were out dancing. My mom was always afraid alone at night, so all the doors were locked.
She heard a commotion at her bedroom window, and her older brother, Dale, came crawling through, followed closely by my dad, who kept saying, “how old is your sister, how old is your sister?” “A roomful” of other kids came crawling through the window, according to Mom.
Although the little Jacksons were in bed, the big kids broke out the record player and danced. Dad asked mom out on a date for the next night. My mom hesitated because, she said, she wasn’t all that impressed.
My dad and mom’s brother, Dale, had met up because Dad was new in town, his dad having just been transferred from Minnesota, and in small towns then either you were friends or you fought. There wasn’t much of an in-between.
Mom agreed to the date, finally, a visit to the Catholic girl’s school for a May Pole dance. Mom was going to walk to town to meet him, but Dad came early in a car, then they picked up another couple. After the dance, they ended up at the lookout tower outside of Ironton called Tip Top, and then, Mom said, “I started to like him.”
To hear my dad tell it, they met at the roadside park south of town. The teenagers, having nothing else to do in the small town, would drive to the park, put the cars facing the picnic tables, turn on their headlights, turn on the car radios to the same station, then dance on the tables in the glare of the headlights. Mom said it was fun and romantic. As their courtship progressed, Dad spent some of the time back in Minnesota. He and his brother, Gerald, used to hitchhike back and forth, and they both told some interesting stories.
Their parents didn’t know of the blossoming romance—she was just 15, after all. One night, they were at one of the small cafes in Arcadia and Mom’s dad walked in, surprised to see his daughter there with a guy he didn’t know. “What are you doing here?” is rarely a good question from your dad.
Mom described herself as a cheap date, as she was always too nervous to eat or drink much. Fortunately, both families began to like the other child, and were supportive of their relationship.
They were married in September 1952, at the local Lutheran church, where my dad and his family were members. They lived in Minnesota at the time. Mom said she loved being in Minnesota because she was treated so well by my dad’s family, and because at her house, being the oldest girl, she was responsible for all the cooking and cleaning while her mother worked. She said being in Minnesota was like a long vacation.
Just like their marriage turned out to be….
About the Author: The VICE Quad Volume 2: Values, Integrity, Character, Ethics
Money is the obvious benefit to getting rid of my car. I sold it, found a great deal on a fabulous bike, then put the remaining cash in the bank. My annual outlay for insurance went from $600 to $0. I went from $1,300 a year for gasoline to $0, and from $26 to $0 for license plates. It was an older car, and some maintenance and repairs were coming up, so someone else agreed to spend the $1,400 for new tires, alignment, brakes, and some other repair. Instead of paying $140 to park for my summer job then walk five minutes to get to work, I pay $0 and park my bike right in the building. Savings for the year: $3,466. Maintenance on bike: $151 for 3 tubes, 2 tires, 1 set of brakes, and a pump.
Less obvious are the fringe benefits. I’m happier and healthier. I worry so much less about money. I don’t worry about the car being stolen or broken into or suffering hail damage or starting on cold mornings. I never scrape ice off the windshield or sit there shivering until the defroster kicks in. I never have to remember where I park at the mall, or at least I wouldn’t if I went to the mall. I don’t worry about finding a place to park on campus because I ride right down the ramp to the office and leave the bike there.
It never crosses my mind to leave early to beat the crowd. I worry far less about traffic than when I’m driving, and hardly ever have to yell at moron drivers. I spend far less time at traffic lights.
My legs are like rocks, my lungs are in great shape, and my heart is strong considering how many times it’s been broken. Plus, I have the greatest farmer’s tan ever. I can’t remember the last time I drove for fun, but I ride my bike an extra 20 miles almost every day, just because I like it so much. Riding in the rain, especially at night, is like kayaking the rapids.
There are a couple of downsides. I do worry some about the bike being stolen, but Walmart and the doctor’s office are the only times it is exposed. Otherwise, I’m on it or it is parked in my kitchen or where I work.
Then there is the whole helmet hair issue.
The biggest downside is having to check the weather app so often. Hot and cold don’t matter much. If it is hot, I try to arrive in time to towel off or change clothes. Cold just means I wear an extra shirt against the wind, because once I start peddling, I heat right up. I wear gloves if it is below 35 and a thin ski mask if it is below 30. If there is ice at night, I walk.
Rain is the only real weather problem, but usually I can plan for it. I have to arrive in time to towel off or change clothes, depending on how wet it is. If it is a real cloudburst, I walk because cars can’t see me in heavy rain, so I take the sidewalk with a big golf umbrella. It reminds me of my time in England. But any day it is too wet to ride, I walk for an hour, anyway, so that isn’t a problem. For the year, I guess I walked the four miles to and from work 10 times, and I was caught in the rain unexpectedly just twice.
Twice a friend gave me a ride to get flats fixed. My daughter gave me a couple of rides to work, and loaned me her car for an afternoon so I could do some interviews. Other than that, I’ve gotten where I needed to go on my own two wheels.
About the Author: The VICE Quad Volume 1: Values, Integrity, Character, Ethics
Some of these ideas were part of a business blog I used to write. I got a comment, perhaps a veiled condemnation, from one devoted reader:
Do you really believe all that you write on your blog? Or are you just trying to keep up with production, so snag a good idea when it comes? Just curious how accurate of a refection I’m getting of you as a person. 70 percent? 52 percent? 98 percent?
Like most of my readers, this one was pretty perceptive. I was committed to writing five 200-word posts per day, six days per week, and I admit a few of them may have been filler. Interesting and generally useful, of course, but filler. I read a lot of books on my topic and kept a lot of notes, and would sometimes simply copy a significant paragraph word-for-word, but always with attribution and always with a link to the source. Maybe that was lazy, but it was never plagiarism, and it was never off topic. Here was my response:
Do I really believe all that I write on this blog? As I contemplate the answer to this question, it occurs to me that a lesser person, ahem, might see the insult such a question implies, but not me.
I’m curious to know why the question was asked, so I’ll ask you. Is something I’ve written inconsistent with something else I’ve said? Or inconsistent with what you see as ethical behavior, on or off the job?
Because my answer is, “Yes, I believe every word.” Much of it comes from the many notebooks I’ve collected over the years, notes from books, articles, audios and live speakers. I don’t believe everything I see, read, or hear, but I believe everything I tell you.
That’s not to say I have successfully applied every principle, mastered every technique, made my fortune and am now sharing my vast wealth of experience and knowledge. I have seen success from applying these principles, but I’ve also known disappointment. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I struggle with attitude and self-image and optimism and motivation. What I write is not a 100 percent reflection of me as a person, but, as a reflection of the person I’m becoming, or trying to become, it’s pretty close to that.
That trend has continued in the ensuing years, generally upward, some good decisions, some poor ones, some success, some failure, the same as most of us. I am, for the most part, better today and better off today. I think that’s a pretty accurate reflection of me as a person.
About the Author: Quotidian the Llama Volume 1: The Excellent Thoughts of Others
When I was 16 or so, I heard the Bee Gees singing Words, on the car radio. It poured into me, the feeling I had about words, the realization that words mattered to me in ways that they did not seem to with my family and friends. I was an avid reader, and even then had a fondness for biographies and books of quotations.
I also loved songs for their lyrics, their uncanny way of saying so much, of sometimes being so profound in such a few syllables. “It’s only words,” the Bee Gees sang, “and words are all I have to take your heart away.” I wondered what that would be like, to win a girl’s affections with words.
When I first became aware of girls, I was certain none would ever want me, and I wasn’t too sure I would ever want one. Girls scared me. There was one girl I liked, but she lived many miles away and wore another guy’s ID bracelet. One day, shooting baskets alone at the Lutheran School playground, I thought about this girl, and fantasized that I could win her adoration and defend her honor by beating her boyfriend at HORSE. Over the next year, I relived that victory and several others, beating her boyfriend in my mind time after time.
Then I heard Words. The phrase “Let’s start a brand new story” caught my attention. Although I doubt if the idea of our lives as stories had yet formed in my young mind, I was struck by the thought of a man and a woman living their own story, that they would tell over and over through the years. Then came the verse, “Talk in everlasting words, and dedicate them all to me, and I will give you all my life, I’m here if you should call to me,” and I was moved nearly to tears with the notion that words, everlasting words between lovers, were what held them together, through good times and bad times. Then, out of nowhere, he sings with passion, “You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say, but words are all I have to take your heart away.” I was confused then, as I am now, about why she didn’t believe him, but I always felt and still hope that he was able to talk it out with her, to work it out with her, to live out their love story together, after all.
I’ve learned over the years that actions matter, too, of course, but I appreciate that we can use words as such a big part of our own love stories, as part of our own joy.
I never again imagined sports as a means of walking away with the girl. I began to think about words and stories in relationships, and found I could express myself writing to girls. Not that there were a lot of girls, just the two back then, and just for a short time, but I found I could express myself and be more open in writing, not making a fool out of myself like I so often did in person. This carried over in my school work, as well. I could give good answers in essay questions and make good grades by writing well. The only reason my high school 1.9 GPA wasn’t a lot worse was that I could write.
It seemed that, indeed, words were all I had. This was true in college. I was never the smartest student in class, far from it, but I could write. I could use words to make what little knowledge I had sound good. My literature class was only the first where the teacher read my papers or essay answers to the entire class. There were many others. At some point, I learned that I could express my words orally, too, not just on paper, at least in some situations.
Words were all I had. So I started writing….
Drop me a line sometime, and you and I can have a word.
About the Author: Never Iron Your Shirt
I was born in a cold, gray mining town smack in the middle of Minnesota, and a lot has happened since then.
I wrote a book or two and sold some articles, but most of my career was spent as a technical writer, mostly for banking software companies, cranking out proprietary manuals and white papers. My goal was to create documents that even my dad could understand. Not that my dad wasn’t intelligent, but technology baffled him, which explains why his VCR clock flashed little blue numbers for so many years.
At some point, I grew weary of 50-hour weeks sitting in front of a computer screen and started selling cookware door-to-door. It was the most fun I ever had at work, and it turned out I was pretty good at doing the demonstrations, and at recruiting, and at training. The only thing as satisfying as walking into a stranger’s home and walking out with a wad of cash three hours later, while they praise you for what you’ve done for their family, is teaching someone else how to do it.
Eventually, I left that sales field to pursue my life-long passion, which is teaching public speaking to college freshmen, the ultimate sales job in the ultimate sales field.
Drop me a line sometime.
I haven't decided what to write about myself, or whether I will at all. I'm leaning toward just telling stories instead of "look at me, look at me."
In the meantime, here are some recent random photos so you can, you know, look at me....
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