June 2011

Day Lilies_2010

Almost a year ago, I flew from Cleveland, Ohio to Los Angeles, California to begin a new life. I had lived in Los Angeles for over 20 years, prior to moving to Cleveland in 2004. I had family, long-time friends and an established community structure in LA. Yet, I did not have a place to live or a job.

I left behind a house, friends, and lots of mixed memories. There were fun and happy times in Cleveland. Cleveland is where I began my marriage with Herschel – the excitement of a new relationship, filled with visions and dreams of spending years together. I enjoyed a great career as a technical writer, in a good workplace and connected with wonderful, spunky tech writers.

Yet Cleveland is also a place of sad memories, with sudden endings. My work ended suddenly in December 2008. Herschel passed away unexpected in November 2009. By June 2010, I wanted to move to another level of healing. I was willing to try and put some joy into my life. With massive doses of faith – someone else’s, not necessarily mine – I boarded a plane on June 30, 2010 and flew west.

And I’m grateful. Thank you to all of you who made this transition possible!

Sure, it’s been a challenge. There have been unexpected wonderful opportunities in all aspects of my life. Besides…challenges help me grow, which is the path I choose! Especially when I can grow the write way!

Day Lilies in 2011-courtesy of Shoshana Socher, realtorDay Lilies in their new home 2011
(photo courtesy of Shoshana Socher, realtor)


“We provide information that other people can use to do amazing things! Are you in?”

Yes! As is Sharon Burton, Associate Fellow with STC. Sharon inspired, entertained, and educated us on how we can provide quality information to help folks like engineers, developers, and others create amazing things.

In the midst of a large project, I’m so “down in the weeds” looking for information, formulating the procedures, or concentrating on the style guide that I forget that I like to write. I’m bogged down with the details and wonder “Why am I doing this?” Sharon helped me come up for air. “Oh, yeah – that’s why I’m focused on all these details. It’s all so I can help these end users – and me – do great things!”

At the recent Los Angeles Society for Technical Communication meeting, Sharon presented about topic-based authoring. Here’s what I took away:

  • Develop content based on scenarios and use cases.
  • A topic includes information to perform one procedure or understand one concept.
  • The audience is the user, so the topics are based on users’ needs.
  • Topics are the equivalent of a half page to four pages.
  • Circulate the topics for review when they are ready.
  • Each topic stands alone.
  • Maximize content reuse.
  • We can translate topics, which is faster than translating entire chapters or manuals.
  • Use a consistent writing style with an active voice and use the second person pronouns.

Learning from Sharon is a treat. Learning about topic-based authoring from Sharon is a must!

Where in the world is this lake? Shaker Heights, Ohio? Pennsylvania? New England? Guess again!

This beautiful lake with stunning trees provided a tranquil backdrop to my afternoon excursion in Los Angeles! This is a lake Franklin Canyon, about 25 minutes (in traffic) from my home; about 15 minutes from Beverly Hills. Yep – smack within city limits, there’s this inviting scene. What a contrast to the city streets, large homes, and extra-large billboards I passed en route.

I found many of my favorite pine trees, with their refreshing smell that reminded me of camp summers in the pine conservation forest in Connecticut. The trees in Franklin Canyon have new pine cone growth – light green cones pushing out through the pine needles.

Yet this is Greater Los Angeles, home of palm trees. I saw those, too – in between the tall pines.







What a contrast! And to make the scenery even more interesting, I passed some large cacti…just off the lake.

I’m used to seeing one type of scenery. On the east coast – or even in Ohio – I saw pine trees, other evergreens, oaks, and maples. In Los Angeles, a typical street has palm trees, cacti, or other desert-related plants. (The rose bushes and lush lawns are not native to LA.) This was the first time I recall being surrounded by pines and palms, cactus and wildflowers, and lizards and ducks.

A study in contrasts…a study in pleasant, relaxing contrasts!

There are times when Fear looms like a six-headed monster, with large white gnashing teeth. There are other times when Fear shows itself as a small, but persistent annoying barking dog. Then there are instances when Fear raises its head in forms of everything and every size between the monster and the dog. In each case, though, I may still be afraid. I may feel that I cannot combat the monster – that the fear is just too, well, frightening.

What helps us overcome fears? “For some clues, consider re-reading the Wizard of Oz,” a friend suggested. “And pay attention to how the Cowardly Lion overcame his fears.”

Well, that’s interesting. I haven’t read the book in ages. Reading a children’s book as an adult is an enlightening experience! The Lion felt he was a coward since he ran from danger. I noticed, though, that he kept facing all of the dangers head-on throughout the book. Oz remarked about that point, too:

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty. (p. 161; emphasis added)

Clue #1 to overcoming fear: Every living being is afraid of danger. Recognize that fear of danger is “usual, customary and reasonable.”

Clue #2: Face danger when you’re afraid. Overcoming fear is about the process of facing the danger, not about the end result.

Clue #3: When we face our fears, our courage meter goes up!

“…You know, of course, that courage is always inside one; so that this really cannot be called courage until you have swallowed it. Therefore I advise you to drink it as soon as possible.”

The Lion hesitated no longer, but drank till the dish was empty.

“How do you feel now?” asked Oz.

“Full of courage,” replied the Lion… (p. 166)

Clue #4: Courage is already inside of us. Yet we often don’t believe that. We are tested from the outside to bring out our innate courage.

Clue #5: When you face a huge monster – or wicked witch – get help from your team!

* * *

The page numbers I reference are from this edition: L. Frank Baum, Wizard of Oz, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1982. Mr. Baum published the original book August 1, 1900.