Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Breaking the Ice (Or How I Became the Writing Diva!)

The following is from a speech I prepared for a speakers' group at my workplace. Enjoy!

My name is Carol Evonne Robinson, and I’m a word nerd.
I know it sounds like an introduction for a 12-step group. Let me tell you how I became a word nerd!

Reading and writing have been a part of my life since I was 3, and I’m glad to use my passion for prose in my position as chief editor for the California Energy Commission.
My love for the written word began when my father, an offset feeder for what is now the Office of State Publishing, would bring home imperfect textbooks for my six siblings and me to read. From a geography textbook about South America, I would practice words like “Brazil,” “river,” and “country.” I began writing at 6 years old, not just my name and address, but stories about imaginary places and real happenings on my street in Oak Park.

Although I attended UC Davis with the intention of going to medical school to become an obstetrician-gynecologist, science and math didn’t come easily to me. But writing always had. I worked as a news reporter for the campus radio station, one of three jobs I held while carrying a full course load. Writing and airing stories about events on and off campus gave me a rush.

Five years after graduation, I became a reporter for a small newspaper in Bellingham, Washington, then a small town 90 miles north of Seattle along Interstate 5. After a year there, I worked for small papers in Northern California, closer to home.

What I learned from my 12-year stint in newspapers is that people wanted news they could understand without the jargon they didn’t. At first, I would write the way city and county government officials wrote and spoke because it sounded “official.” But my city editors taught me that readers wanted to know what was happening and how it would affect them.

Of my 16-plus years working for the State of California, I spent 12 here at the Energy Commission. When I took the writing test my soon-to-be supervisors gave, it was supposed to take an hour. After taking the test and checking my results, I saw that I had finished in a half-hour.

When I edit, I have one character flaw – I curse under my breath. I’m not patient regarding terms like “in order” or “make contact with.” I bite my lip when I see needless capitalization. When it comes to working with prose, I’m a cross between ChloeO’Brien from the TV series “24” and Academy Award-, Emmy-, Grammy-, and Tony-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg. In other words, I do not suffer fools gladly – that is, I have no patience for nonsense, in print or in person. (Your fault, Dad!) So, when you see my edits, please don’t take it personally.

One of the most influential pieces I’ve read is an essay by George Orwell – “Politics and the English Language.” He also wrote Animal Farm and 1984. The essay focuses on the use of verbose, unclear language to hide the truth rather than express it. I consider editing reports for plain language to be a mission. Although energy scientists, economists, and analysts may know what the reports communicate, regular people who read at a ninth-grade level often don’t. I enjoy what I do because my position combines my writing skills with public service.

To conclude, I’d like to think that when I retire, I will write my own book and read the 250 books in my collection. From toddler to elder, I remain a word nerd.

Friday, September 29, 2017

My Mom, the Superhero

Last night, I was making dinner after a long day at work editing a 469-page report due in two business days. After dinner, I made four dozen Toll House® cookies for a coworker’s birthday. In the meantime, I washed dishes, folded clothes, and prepared for work the next day. When I finally got to bed at 11:15 p.m., I fell asleep immediately.

This morning, on the eve of the 19th anniversary of my mother’s passing, I awoke with an epiphany: Claudia “Deena” Buford Robinson was a superhero. If I could, I’d call her “Wonder Woman” because I wonder how she did it all.

During her entire adult life, Mom raised seven children – five daughters and two sons – and an occasionally obtuse husband. (Still love you, Dad!) She worked for the California Department of Motor Vehicles headquarters in Sacramento, rising through the ranks from clerk to supervisor before retiring. In addition to taking care of the house (and rounding up the “herd of cats” to help), she handled the household finances, took us children shopping for clothes, and attended school events in the evening after she had worked the entire day.

Furthermore, she still had time to listen to our problems, play with us, and sing and dance with us.

However, she did not tolerate disobedience or talking back from us. The James Brown song “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” easily applied to Mama. She admonished us not to do anything that would land us in jail because she would not visit. Because of my parents’ steadfast goal of raising good citizens, the four older siblings are retired from government and university positions, and the three younger ones, including this writer, are working toward that gold watch.

My mother endured tough times, but she also persevered, with grace and humor. Frankly, when I was a teen, I thought sometimes I didn’t want to be like her because I wanted more out of life than what she had. I realize now that there’s no way I could step into her size 7 pumps and do what she did without losing my mind or energy.

So, here’s to you, Mom – a true superhero. I know in my heart that Heaven made room for you.

Writing Diva

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Standing at the Crossroads

On the way home from my vacation last week to Bellingham, Washington, I was waiting at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for my flight back to Sacramento, California. A white woman sat next to me and checked her phone. Shortly thereafter, she poked me in my left arm with her right elbow.

"Ow!" I said loudly.

She got up and walked away without uttering an apology.

Granted, what she did wasn't a hate crime. But I couldn't help but wonder if she would have been contrite had I been white.

Although I have friends and family of different races, I've learned to keep my distance from strangers and acquaintances I've perceived to be racist. I've had the "N" word hurled at me several times in my life, and I've called the person on using the epithet. But, for the most part, I've kept my distance, and those who don't like people of color or other faiths have stayed away from me.

I predict I will have an encounter with racists sooner rather than later.

On August 17, I plan to attend a candlelight vigil in Fairfield addressing the violence after a white supremacist march August 11 and 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia. I will stand quietly with my candle and not call anyone names or start fights. I will do my best to keep out of harm's way. But I feel I must make my presence known.

Now that the 45th President of the United States has blamed both white supremacist marchers and what he calls "alt-left" (There is no such thing!) counterprotesters for the violence that resulted in the death of a local woman and injuries to 19 other people, I'm more on guard. I concluded that he was racist when he announced his candidacy by labeling undocumented Mexican immigrants as "killers" and "rapists." I was appalled when he was elected. (No, I refuse to use his name.)

Today's entry isn't long. Just know this: I'm woke, and I'm done.

Writing Diva

Monday, January 23, 2017

Talking About the Walk

I'm back. I'm not going anywhere. And as the former USA Today columnist the Rev. Barbara Reynolds wrote, "No, I won't shut up."

I am one of millions of people nationwide and around the world distressed by the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States. (From now on, he will be referred to as "Cheeto." He will not have "president" before his name.) I still believe that he lacks the temperament to run this republic and that the country may slide into fascism comparable to Germany in the early 1930s.

Shortly after the presidential election, I saw a Facebook post inviting people to the Women's March in Washington, D.C. Although I couldn't attend, there were satellite marches throughout the nation and around the world, including a march and rally at the State Capitol in Sacramento. I attended that march Saturday.

When I drove over the Tower Bridge onto Capitol Mall, I was amazed to view a sea of people from 7th Street east to the West Steps of the Capitol. It took about 20 minutes to find parking, but I lucked out by finding precious spaces at the SEIU Local 1000 headquarters at 13th and S streets. I walked about a mile to the West Steps, where I stayed, took pictures, and talked to people. (I wore a hot pink hoodie underneath my black pea coat.) I stayed about an hour before my head began to hurt. Then I decided to visit my older sisters in Elk Grove.

My older sister D answered the door as she was talking to my sister T2 on the phone, who was preparing a presentation on getting a job in state government. T1 had just returned from the store. We watched coverage of marches worldwide on CNN and MSNBC. Later, my older brother H2 arrived.

While I was proud to be part of history, I felt gratified to watch it with my siblings.

P.S.: I will be writing my blog at least once a month. At first, I didn't have much to say. Now, no one can shut me up.

Writing Diva

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday the 13th – Not Just Any Other Day

“Triskaidekaphobia – fear of the number 13” – http://www.merriam-webster.com.

I don’t fear Friday the 13th as much as I’ve learned to respect it.

On Friday, May 13, 1988, a letter arrived in the mail that drastically changed my life.

The letter from the San Francisco Bay Area-based Institute for Journalism Education (IJE, now the Maynard Institute for JournalismEducation) informed me that I was invited to an interview at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, where the institute was hosting a 13-week “journalism boot camp” for aspiring newspaper journalists. A career door finally opened after struggling in dead-end clerical positions five years after I graduated from the University of California, Davis.

That year, I was a secretary-typist for a consulting firm in north Sacramento. In my spare time, I was attending classes at Cosumnes River College in south Sacramento to qualify for internships I later earned at two local television stations – KCRA-TV 3, the NBC affiliate, and KTXL 40, the local affiliate for the new Fox network. I was also writing articles for the Sacramento Observer weekly newspaper, hoping to get some clips for my portfolio.

In the winter of 1988, I had applied to IJE’s Summer Program for Minority Journalists, which takes only 10 people annually out of hundreds of applicants. When I received the rejection letter in March, I figured I would apply to California State University, Sacramento, and work toward my master’s degree in journalism and see if I could get into the field that way. (I’m a big believer in having a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D … you get the idea.)

I arrived home to my South Natomas apartment at the end of a mind-numbing week of work with my bunch of mail from my mailbox. Then I saw the letter from IJE. “What could they possibly want?” I thought. “I was already rejected.”

When I opened the letter and read the contents, my jaw dropped and my eyes filled with tears.

The letter read that I was being invited to a writing test and interview with IJE at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. I would interview with Jeff Rivers for one of the last few slots. Director Ira J. Hadnot signed the letter.

I was floored. Then I realized what entering the program would mean – 13 weeks in the Bay Area, followed by working for a year with a newspaper that, more likely than not, would be outside California, the home I had known since birth. A mix of excitement and fear prevented me from sleeping well that night.

Long story short, I not only got into the program, I completed it and went to work for The Bellingham Herald, a small newspaper in northwest Washington state then owned by Gannett. (McClatchy now owns the Herald.) I spent 11 months there before returning to California to work for the Daily Republic in Fairfield.

Some people have asked if I regret having been a newspaper reporter. I usually reply, “Never.”

Bad things do happy on Friday the 13th, but so do good things. I’ve learned that it’s not just any other day. Who knows what will happen today?

Writing Diva

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Year the Music Died

During the past five months, music lovers have experienced the loss of several authors to what I call “the soundtracks of our lives.” Natalie Cole (who died on New Year’s Eve); David Bowie; Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire; Glenn Frey of the Eagles; Nicholas Caldwell of the Whispers; Dan Hicks; Gayle McCormick, the lead singer of Smith who belted a rocking rendition of “Baby, It’s You”; Sir George Martin, record producer for the Beatles; Merle Haggard; Prince; Billy Paul (“Me and Mrs. Jones”). This year, 2016, has seen the passing of what appears to be more famous artists than in previous years.

Maybe it appears that way because we Baby Boomers grew up listening to the music of these artists. For me, the deaths of these musicians make me think of my mortality.

The recent untimely death of Prince, 57, stunned me most. He is only three years and three months older than I, so he’s a contemporary. Twenty of his songs are on my iPod, and I have his “Musicology” CD at home. When my sister Black Woman Blogging and I heard that Prince was going to perform two shows in Oakland, we wanted to get tickets. But, with any Prince performance, it sold out as soon as the concerts were announced.

I thought that we would be able to see Prince another time. That was not to be.

What saddens me is that the artists of the soundtracks of our lives are passing away. These passings remind us that we, too, have limited time on this Earth. (By the way, I believe that each of us has a soundtrack. We have to listen for it.) All I can do is cherish the music these gifted musicians left behind and live in such in such a way that we leave behind our gifts for others to enjoy.

I still feel wistful over the passage of time and the passing of these artists. But I’ll go forward.

Writing Diva

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Done With Gun Violence

I doubt that my blog post will have much focus today. To my readers, I ask for your patience.

Last night, around the time nine parishioners of an African-Methodist-Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, were shot to death, I was having dinner with members of my church’s small group at a local Panera restaurant. We laughed, broke bread, and prayed for one another. Normally, we would’ve met at the church that evening studying the Bible, praying for one another, and praising God.

People should feel safe at church to worship and pray. For this reason, I am stunned and angry to hear of the mass shooting yesterday evening at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nine people died, including a state senator who was the church pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. A young Caucasian man allegedly sat in the pews for about an hour before opening fire on the praying group. He allegedly said told a parishioner during a break in the violence, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

Law enforcement authorities arrested Dylann Storm Roof this morning in Shelby, North Carolina. They are investigating this massacre as a white-on-blacks hate crime. Frankly, I’m surprised the suspect didn’t kill himself when he was confronted.

This violence has to stop. I realize that it’s a hackneyed phrase, but I use it out of frustration. President Barack Obama, in remarks made today at the White House, was also frustrated and saddened by the news of this latest mass shooting during his term. Among those killings were the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people, 20 of them children, and another 2012 shooting, this time in a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee that took the lives of five men and a woman.

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” a somber Obama told reporters with Vice President Joe Biden standing silently next to him. “It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point, it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”

Whatever the solution is, it isn’t arming clergy and parishioners. It definitely isn’t having armed guards at the doors of houses of worship. Furthermore, the idea of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples locked to the public with security guards to buzz them in seems antithetical with beliefs that doors should be open to those who wish to worship.

So, dear readers, if you have suggestions on how to deal with gun violence in general and mass shootings in particular without arming everybody (including children) and closing gathering places, please let me know. As author and talk show host Tavis Smiley wrote in USA Today, “What kind of nation do we want to be? Who are we, really?”


Writing Diva