Are We Really Making an Effort to Save the Planet?

People are changing. We are becoming a society that reuses, recycles, repurposes. In the grand scheme, we are no longer being labeled penny pinchers in the negative sense, but people who care about preserving that which preserves us.

I recently found a Pinterest topic on reusables (one of my favorite topics). Over a dozen articles and YouTube videos were devoted to showing all the different ways to use binder clips. Each author topped the previous one on the number of off-the-wall creative ways to reuse them. I think the winner came up with 52 different uses. The electronic cord organizer got my attention.

We recycle products, clothes, furniture, accessories, materials, trash and landfill items … the list is inexhaustible. I have a friend who visits landfills and dumpsters. She’s not homeless. She has an active and successful business creating beautiful artistic works merging pieces of furniture out of scraps of metal, wood, and plastic, dented carts, discarded baby carriage wheels, glass shards and other discarded items. And what’s encouraging is that people are paying top dollar for these assembled used creations.

I recall in my youth laughing to myself at the shot glasses of used tea bags my mother would place in the refrigerator. She felt using one teabag for one cup of tea was wasteful when two cups could do the job. I chalked it up to the refugee culture of her generation and growing up in America’s post-depression era.

Everything Except Toilet Paper

I used to make fun of a friend whose mantra is “I reuse everything – except toilet paper.” Some shake their heads at the piles he accumulates on his property, but he is vindicated –often – whenever he is able to dig through his stash to come up with the perfect doohickey to fix a broken appliance or find enough building materials for a greenhouse that saved probably $500 in lumberyard wood.

Are we treading a thin line between being pack rats (or hoarders at worst) and being thrifty and environmentally responsible citizens? What to keep and what to throw away? And where do we find the space to store it all until or in the event we can reuse or repurpose it?

We used to be an unconscious throwaway society. I was part of it. I grew up with that mentality. But I see deliberate, sometimes slow changes in myself and in many others. “Reuse, recycle, reduce” is the familiar chant among consumers and businesses alike – albeit for differing reasons: cost savings, environmental concerns, to show off our trendiness, because it feels good to be good.

Sure, there are still plenty of us who are either totally oblivious to our serious planetary problem, don’t care, or are too busy to make the extra effort to separate our recycled trash, bring reusable bags to the grocery store, opt for more sustainable ways to make home renovations and save energy. Granted, it takes work. But it’s the little oversights that annoy me, the ones where there’s hardly any effort required. At my post office, there are two large paper recycling bins, clearly labeled and prominently located, yet the regular trash can is overflowing with junk and unwanted mail while the recycling bins are near empty. What gives?

One of my favorite movies, Wall-E, beautifully depicts the theme of environmental waste and the consequences of not cleaning up our acts. It doesn’t seem like a far-off or unlikely scenario any longer.

For those who haven’t seen this animated cinematic gem, Wall-E, produced in 2008, depicts an earth far in the future, a “trashed” planet, abandoned and uninhabitable by people and all other living organisms due to the excesses of consumer waste. Wall-E is the last remaining trash compacting robot among a fleet who were assigned to tidy up the mountains of accumulated debris so that humans could eventually return from their automated earth orbiting spaceships.

But the project is abandoned as it is determined that the planet cannot be saved. Meanwhile, humans, who are in outer space limbo, have become morbidly obese from their sedentary lifestyle on the cruise- ship-style space vessel built to sustain them, indefinitely marooned for centuries in orbit above our doomed earth.

LANDFILL 1 Morgue File-FREE-800px-

I [Heart Icon] Love Canal

Waste has some serious consequences for us today, as we ever-so-slowly transition from a consuming society into one of being earth’s protector and partner. Companies, once contracted by local governments, handled the disposal of our household waste. They were viewed as socially responsible businesses.

However, over the last few decades, hazardous industrial waste has merged with household waste to form municipal landfills forming huge toxic dumps that are leaching into our groundwater and polluting our air, our oceans and streams, our crops, and affecting our health. Most of us remember New York’s Love Canal and the more recent dumping grounds in Uniontown, Alabama and Flint, Michigan. This is just cherry picking some of the more publicized incidents around the country. National Geographic counts 1700 of the most toxic “Superfund” waste sites and offers a coded US map and a place to type in a city name to find more details on each of them. OnEarth magazine reports that about 11 million people live within one mile of one.

What constitutes hazardous and non-hazardous waste has become blurred. The lure of business interests, politics, fuel and greed have taken priority over environmental pollution and human health. Politely termed “environmental parks” these dumps are no more than concentrated waste sites eating away at the natural beauty and natural resources of our communities – and our serenity at the very least.

Owned by multi-billion dollar enterprises traded on the stock market, corporations cashing in on waste management have sprung up all over our country, encroaching on our communities. In many cases they are bullying and buying their way into communities where they are unwanted by residents, making deals and offering hollow promises to cash-strapped local city councils.

Waste has to go somewhere. That’s the argument of the landfill corporations and many others who have trouble seeing the big picture and the consequences of letting profit-driven businesses handle the transportation, disposal, and storage of coal ash, radioactive materials, chemicals, and waste … waste generated from the growing production of consumer and industrial products resulting from the use of fossil fuels, consumer and commercial products that reflect antiquated, industrial-age dirty and harmful production systems.

We’ve had our share of human-caused environmental disasters: Three Mile Island Nuclear meltdown ( 1979 Pennsylvania); Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984, India); Chernobyl (1986, Russia); Exxon Valdez (oil tanker spill (1989 Mediterranean Sea, Alaska); BP Oil Spill (2010 Gulf of Mexico); Fukushima Nuclear Disaster (2011 Japan). More recently: lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s water (2014) and Southern California’s methane leak (2016 San Fernando Valley, California). These are just the more publicized ones.

Good Intentions Go Awry

Renewable energy hasn’t caught up just yet. It’s not always cost-efficient, and the industries that are responsible for the spewing of chemicals, fuel emissions, and other wastes aren’t’ happy about changing the way they do business. It costs a lot of much money. No argument there. But it’s a dilemma that’s going to cause serious deterioration to our overburdened ecosystem if we don’t move away from those practices.

Look at what’s happening in Nevada. It’s a classic example of the battle between clean renewable versus carbon-emitting dirty energy. The state initiated a large rooftop solar initiative in 2012 and received a federal grant to kick start a program that would be a model for the rest of the states to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of energy.

The program’s main focus was on residential customers. Residents who decided to go solar and give their business to solar installation companies to install expensive solar panels on their homes were part of a net metering solar grid. Their intention was, in time, to drastically cut their utility bills. I think there were about 17,000 residents in all. To give incentive for the program, energy rebates were given to these customers by local utilities and federal funding helped defray some of those costs to the utility companies and the state.

Solar power issues heated up when Nevada’s governor and the state’s Public Utilities Commission eliminated net metering at the end of last year. Apparently the state of Nevada is no longer interested in supporting a new solar energy industry, creating new jobs, and being a role model for the rest of the country. Maybe it was costing them more money than they anticipated. Maybe political pressure was in play.

To add insult to injury, residents who signed up for net metering will see an increase in their utility rates as a new utility tariff goes into effect for solar customers. Instead of paying slightly higher prices for solar energy that they hoped would eventually drop when the program caught on, they started out paying a fixed service fee of $12.75 per month (what non-solar customers were paying). That fee jumped to $17.90 per month in 2015, and will continue to ratchet up, reaching a projected rate of $38.51 by 2020, according to a Las Vegas Sun news report.

It’s interesting to note that the owner of the holding company for Berkshire Hathaway, multi-billionaire Warren Buffet, who owns a number of the Nevada utilities, is opposed to the solar grid initiative. Some speculate he may have had a hand somehow in the state’s decision reversal. Angry solar panel homeowners have begun fighting the increased rate hikes by filing a class action lawsuit.

Now a similar scenario is occurring in Maine. As I write this, lawmakers there are considering legislation that would eliminate “net metering,” the billing credit system that makes solar use more affordable, just like in Nevada. Citizens, who are nearly unanimously in support of net metering, are frustrated  with the difficulty they’re encountering getting their voices heard and their desires addressed.

Renewable energy is on the minds of everyone across the globe … everyone who hasn’t buried their head in the sand, that is. Recycling on a massive scale. It’s what the climate change talks have been focused on: trying to get the world’s leaders to commit to reducing and setting limits on the amount of carbon-based fuels and emissions its country uses.

Here’s What Disagreement Looks Like

Each day I read about a new technology or a company or a school or an individual helping to reduce the carbon footprint. It’s inspiring. And it makes me feel that maybe we’re not doomed as a planet. Maybe we can turn things around. Lots of naysayers are coming out publicly too. They like to explain why our efforts are fruitless, deny climate change is occurring, or piece together historical data to show that it’s part of the earth’s cycle. How could humans possibly be responsible for the rapid rise in temperatures that began just over the last decade?

Eart Temperature Chart-429pxhttp://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/9/

In its summary to policymakers, the global panel on climate change (IPCC), gathering in Paris during the summer of 2015, made its first public observation:

“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.”

Key Findings-Climate Change-26_ipcc_2_538pxhttp://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/26/

As we approach the 46th anniversary of Earth Day, an event now celebrated in over 192 countries, it’s a good time to take a look back in time to get some perspective. Have we made progress advancing responsible stewardship of mother earth? Can we say with conviction that we’re moving toward, not away from our commitments to clean up our messes and taken determined action? Is it window dressing? Or, have we begun to give up all hope, as individuals, adopting what Pogo defeatingly suggests: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

How to know when the blog ends and the book begins

 

The Writer

 

My toughest assignments are writing my own blog posts. It’s a bit like stepping out on stage to address a crowd. Public speaking is difficult for some people. It is for me.

Could the hesitation to author a blog or a book or anything that’s written for a public audience derive from shyness or modesty? Nope, I can’t say that. It’s a kick to have a byline, to take ownership. Doing the work is challenging, sometimes with many twists and turns, but I’m not afraid of putting in the effort.

Am I worthy?

Maybe the reluctance lies in feeling I don’t have anything worthy to say. Hmmm. No, that’s not quite it either. It’s probably that I don’t know if I have all the parts, if they’re in the right order, or if I can assemble something interesting, expressed in a way that grabs the reader’s attention.

As a writer for hire, I usually put words into other people’s mouths, in a sense. I write for them, on behalf of them. I hide behind my keyboard and write what my client conveys to me, what they want me to get across and to whom. I’m a ghost. I go unrecognized. I’m incognito.

Sometimes they ask me to take their written thoughts and “do my magic,” turning them into an article that has flow and style and relates an important message they want to get across to a certain group of people. Other times all the words are laid out on web pages, or in a word-processed file. The final text is there; I’m simply making corrections for grammar, spelling, and adjustments to organization and formatting.

When I started writing blogs of my own, I came out of hiding. I was forced to take responsibility for my words and ideas. It was both exhilarating and a little frightening. I had to design my own project, be my own client. I had to convince myself those ideas were worthy.

Writing my first eBook recently, I dipped my toes into uncharted waters. If writing a blog is like public speaking, writing an eBook is like emceeing the academy awards.

Where is your writing taking you?

In my book Moving Mom, I felt I had some important things to say about being a caregiver from which others could benefit. But caregiving is a broad topic and I knew I had to narrow my focus.

What finally gave me the courage, after thinking about it for about a year or so? I think I just slid into it, as I would a bath of hot water, slowly, carefully, and knowing I would eventually become acclimated to the temperature.

But I didn’t know it was happening at first, not until I realized the word count was too long for a blog post or magazine article. The first tip-off was when I passed the 3,000-word mark with so much more to say.

But how does the process work? I explain it like this to a friend who asks me how I do it, how I come up with all the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, that form a completed work. I tell her I start out by typing random thoughts onto the screen – well, not exactly random, but thoughts about the particular subject about which I’m writing—not fully developed sentences, just phrases, in no particular order, with no effort to correct grammar, structure or style.

Sometimes it starts as a question. Then I answer that question. Sometimes the answer to that question becomes complex, such that I start bulleted lists to separate different aspects of the answer from one another.

Sometimes the question just naturally requires a list, such as when it has to do with a process. For example, how does one go about cleaning out a house that’s been lived in for 50 years? That question prompts other questions, and the writing continues.

I’ve tried outlining story ideas but, despite what I’ve been taught in school, that doesn’t work for me. I read somewhere that one should begin by writing subtitles first and then fill in the details. I’ve tried that. It can sometimes move me along, but not always. Eventually, a path begins to emerge. Paragraphs get written and rearranged, passages deleted or expanded upon.

The important thing to know is that us writers are entitled—owe it to ourselves—to develop our own process. A style will emerge with practice … and you know what they say about practice. In the case of writing, who can say what perfection is? We may not consider our work perfect, but in time it gets easier to express our thoughts and we evolve into better writers.

What’s interesting about putting thoughts down “on paper” is we don’t always know exactly where those thoughts will lead. That reminds me of my favorite lines from the movie Forest Gump. Forest tells a woman at the bus stop what his mama would say to him: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

So too with the process of writing. We start out with an idea of what we’re writing about, and after a while, we begin to realize we’re not writing about that anymore. One minute we think we are and then, well, something happens; there’s a shift.

I think it’s important to recognize and follow that shift. I think that shift is the authentic self, making itself known. Am I waxing metaphysical?  Yeah, I believe there are some things that can’t be explained by the physical realm. The creative process is like that. It comes out of thin air, perhaps guided by a muse, an inner mentor, or possibly divine intervention.

My suggestion: don’t fight it – even if you think it’s straying far from where you want to be, or that it’s ridiculous, or that people will laugh. At least let it take you a little farther. See where it leads, then drop it after you put it away for a day or so, if it feels like a dead end, doesn’t make sense, or you’re losing interest.

The interesting thing

You have to be interested in what you’re writing about. If you’re not, your readers won’t be either. One hears that all the time, but it’s true. They’ll know. I say that as a writer and as a reading junky. The dilemma gets more difficult if you’re not interested in a subject that you’re writing for someone else. The remedy? Dig deep for what makes it interesting. It’s usually there. If not, step into another role, like an actor in character. One of the two should do the trick.

If you’re writing for yourself, you have more flexibility:

  • Try a different angle
  • Change the focus from first person to second or vice versa
  • Explore related subjects
  • Read what others have written on the subject to stir the creative juices
  • Change the subject completely

One of the reassuring things about non-fiction writing – to me, anyway— is that it concerns itself with the real world. In the land of make-believe, anything goes. But I admire fiction writers because they are working in a ship of fantasy with no anchor. I’m clueless as to how writers of fiction create their characters and go about the writing process. They are not bound by the same rules as non-fiction writers. I’m not sure they even know if they’ve unearthed buried treasure until the reviews and the book sales start flowing in – or not.

With non-fiction, I think the author knows early on what he or she has: a firecracker or a dud. There’s comfort in knowing one is drawing upon one’s own experience or someone else’s. Your job is to tell your readers something that will help them, inspire them, motivate them … yes, and entertain them too. In both fiction and non-fiction engagement is a given.

 

For the long haul

Related to being interested in the what-you’re-writing-about requirement, in book writing that interest has to be sustained. You’re in it for the long haul – just the one you’re working on, of course. It’s not that you can never go back to writing blogs.

Another analogy comes to mind about the difference between a blog and a book. Get ready … Here it comes … Writing a blog is like a sprint, a jog around the neighborhood. Writing a book is a marathon. Be prepared to put in the time, the second-guessing, the rewrites, the editing. You made a tacit agreement with yourself to be dedicated to the task for weeks, months, and maybe years. That’s a lot of time sitting in front of your monitor for one project.

Sacrifices may be necessary, animal and human (just kidding). I’m just saying, you may have to excuse yourself from occasional outings, visits with friends, or diversions like streaming Netflix movies or posting Facebook comments. Are you up for the challenge? That may appear preachy, but it’s a valid question.

It’s not that I’m suggesting one should be a hermit or a prisoner chained to a computer chair. I am saying one needs to exercise restraint, be persistent, and have stamina – within reason. But not to worry. When you’re on a roll and in the zone, not much will have the power to pull you away from your work … except eating, sleeping and taking potty breaks. Keep it up over a long period of time, and chances are you’ve got yourself a gem. Huh, look at me … my first e-book and I act like I know what readers’ want.

Where does it end?

Another difference between blogs and books and then I’ll shut up. When writing a book, one feels like they owe the reader a memorable finale. You want to tie up the loose ends, justify what you’ve been saying for the last 50 pages or more, give them a present, reward them for staying with you. Ultimately, you want to let them feel they’ve been on a journey, a quest for the gold ring, Tolkien style.

Blogs are not usually faulted for ending abruptly. They often drop off a cliff, much like a news story. In Speech 101, we’re told: “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you’ve just said.” Similarly, my journalism professors would instruct, “Give them the “who, what, where, when, and how … then get out.”

I’m out of this one now, dear readers and writers. You’re on your own, and I wish you success.

How to Find the Best Freelance Editor or Proofreader for Your Project

Freelance Writing infographic-blogWhat are the Differences Among Editing, Rewriting, and Proofreading?

Define the job that needs to be done. Do you want someone who can start from scratch? Or do you have a sketch, an outline, or even a rough draft that needs a professional to organize, express your thoughts more fully and eloquently, fix the typographical and grammatical errors? Make sure you’re using the correct and consistent tense, punctuation, proper syntax. If the text is meant to be in third person, it shouldn’t stray into first person.

There seems to be a bit of confusion about the differences between editing and proofreading. And sometimes what you think is an editing job turns into a complete rewrite.

Proofreading involves checking for grammatical and typographical errors, subject and verb agreement, being consistent with a first, second or third person narrative. A few changes in word choices might be necessary, adhering to one style and usage guide, such as the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. A proofreader will catch for any words that were meant to convey one meaning but actually meant something else. Proofing is the last checkpoint that your content goes through before it gets sent off to your graphic designer or webmaster for posting on a website, emailing, or printing.

Here are the results of a poll on some of the top frustrating writing mistakes. Which one bothers you the most?

“Tophttp://www.grammarly.com/grammar-checker

Editing involves more massaging of the text. Sentences might need to be completely rewritten, reworded. Paragraphs might need to be broken up or combined or rearranged. Facts might need to be verified. More research may be needed to expand on a topic or provide source material to support certain statements.

Rewriting involves taking something that has been written and conducting a major overhaul on the text. You may not be happy with the quality or tone of the text. New information or material may make the text outdated or obsolete.

Rewriting might also be in order if you’re repurposing the content for another publication, changing it from an article to a video or audio script, from a news story to a press release, from a resume to a LinkedIn profile. A client may want to incorporate material from a brochure or company profile into the pages of a website, perhaps for a blog, or synthesized into to a Facebook or Twitter post.

Defining the Project

How many words or pages does it need to be? If it’s a blog, 500 to 1000 words is a typical length. If it’s for a website, is it for a landing page or are you creating content that will span all the pages of the website including  “About Us,” “Our Services,” “Our Staff,” product or service descriptions, and so on?

What is the intent of the piece? Is it to sell something? Explain how to do something like build a deck or bake a pie? Tell a story? Inspire people to take some action such as making a contribution, volunteering, or writing to your local representative about a political issue?

What tone should it have? Should it sound informal? Clever or creative? Inspirational? Hard-hitting? Are you selling a brand of shoes, a car or piece of furniture? Are you asking for their enrollment in a school or seminar? Do you want your reader to act on a particular piece of legislation?

Depending on your business and what the purpose of the writing is, you may want to excite or inform your reader, or entertain them. Perhaps you want a humorous piece for a blog that will get people laughing. Maybe you want them to be horrified or shocked at some social or political injustice.

One of the things I look for when I’m searching for jobs as a freelancer is the subject of the content. It surprises me how few job postings reveal this. The posting might list the number of words, what format it’s to be in, the date it’s needed, certain keywords to be used, that it needs to be uploaded to WordPress or the client’s website. What is the client is selling or promoting? If that needs to be hush-hush for the moment, how about at least telling us what type of business it is?

It’s also helpful to know who is going to be reading or viewing the content. Who is their reader? Or what different type of reader is the client trying to reach? What’s the message they’re trying to get across? The more information you can supply your freelancer, the better they’ll be able to do their job, and do it right the first time.

Extremely helpful is when the client can supply a link to their website or comparable website, product information, an attached draft, fact sheet or brochure. It’s so much easier for the freelancer to price the job or estimate the number of hours it will take to complete, and determine if they have the necessary skills to get the job done.

Work Samples

Portfolios filled with work samples are a wonderful way for the client to evaluate the skills of a prospective freelancer. I try to supply as many as possible. But in some cases, due to a client privacy requirements, samples of some work can’t be shared.

Some clients try to weed out the competition by listing various requirements. These can be helpful but sometimes unrealistic, such as requiring that candidates write on the level of a Pulitzer prize winner.

Another way to evaluate the skills of your freelancer is to post a test project. Most freelancers are happy to take a test. But please pay us for our time. It can be a modest fee but don’t expect us to do it for free.

Communicating

I always like to get to know the client I’m working for and for them to get to know me…not discuss our life stories, but a brief chat to put a face to a name, to actually feel like there are two live people here.

A brief phone call or Skype chat can help the client better communicate the project, pass on other helpful pieces of information that were not in the job description, and get both parties comfortable with one another as they work together.

Setting and Agreeing to a Fair Price

Maybe because the competition is so fierce on web-based job marketplaces like Upwork, Elance, or Scribendi or because pay rates vary from country to country, but there’s a tendency as a client to want to pay as little as possible.

I can appreciate searching to find the freelancer with the best work experience for your project at the lowest rate, but it’s also important to understand that freelancers need to be able to stay in business, pay their bills, and get paid for the amount of time, skill, creativity and professionalism they bring to the job. In the end—to use a very trite expression—“You get what you pay for.”

I like to explain fully to my prospective clients how much time I think their job is going to take and what I have to do to get the job done. Granted, I try to work as quickly as I can, but I know my limits. I want to complete the job expertly without having to excessively rush. That’s usually when something gets overlooked, or I’m not able to provide the best quality work.

For example, maybe I need to factor in the time it takes to conduct research, or contact someone for an interview or a quote, get more information, or gather material for a personal profile. That’s the job of an editor or rewriter, not a proofreader, by the way. A different skill level and turnaround is required.

Freelancer rates will also vary based on their skill level and experience. They may have expertise in a particular niche that matches your project. Someone may have just entered the freelance writing field while someone else has been at it for years. Be sure the rate factors in how quick a turnaround is required.

There you have it, information you can use the next time you prepare a project listing. I guarantee it will make your hiring experience go more smoothly, eliminate a lot of guesswork, and you’ll come away a satisfied client.

9 ways to enter the writing [zone] zen

perspective-Writing Zone.

 What this post is not about…and what it is

This is not an article about the mechanics of writing. I leave that to the grammarians. And it’s not about how to express yourself as a scribe. That’s for creative writing instructors or authors of how-to-write books, or bloggers who impart their wisdom on how to craft well-written prose.

This is about how to go about setting the stage for unleashing the voice from within when you have something that needs to be expressed. It might be a letter, a blog, a book, a poem or a song. That which needs to be put into words may be trapped or muddled. It may be bound up in doubts or fears, or you may feel an emptiness. Or maybe you can’t find the match to light the fire.

How do you initiate the process, dip into the creative well, and stir the creative soup so that when you put down your pen or click to close that file, you realize with certainty that you have said what your heart wanted to say in just the way you meant to say it? Here are nine tips for entering the writing zen. Continue reading 9 ways to enter the writing [zone] zen

Alayne is available for hire!

After a 19-year “pause” in my freelance writing career, I have returned!

As the former editor and publisher of Bowling This Month magazine, I’m happy to move on to new projects…pick up my pen, so to speak, and craft written marketing materials for other businesses looking to:

  • Boost their online visibility and sales
  • Tell their company story
  • Become more recognized and successful
  • Communicate new and relevant information about their brand
  • Enhance customer relationships

Clients, I’m available for hire. Contact me on projects requiring web content, blogs, articles,  emails, ads, press releases, editing, re-writing, promotional materials, presentations, and other digital and print communications.

I look forward to hearing from you. Email me at alaynemer@gmail.com or use the contact form below.

Alayne

 

 

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