Monthly Archives: September 2012

I am not “stoic”

Not too long ago I was having breakfast with a friend, and during the course of the conversation, she referred to me as being “stoic”. That word gave me a very deep-seated feeling that she thought I was depressed or that I was filled with doom and gloom. I am neither and I told her I was not in the slightest way depressed, that my glass nearly always is half-full. I was truly offended by the word she used to describe me.

The discussion of the word began. She explained that the word (to her) meant someone who was fiercely independent, who never depended on anyone to make one’s own happiness: a definition with a positive connotation (for me)

I countered that I thought the word was associated with gloom and doom: a definition with a negative connotation. She did not agree with that definition.

We agreed to shelf the word until we referred to Webster. According to him, Stoic comes from the Greeks, and the word is derived from stoa, which means a porch or colonnade. Zeno, a philosopher around 308 B.C., founded a school of philosophy who called themselves Stoics (because they met under a colonnade). They “believed that all happenings were the result of divine will and that therefore man should be calmly accepting and free from passion, grief, or joy.”

Further investigating the word, I went to trusty Roget’s (thesaurus), and he included being a patient man, apathetic, and calm.

Neither one of us were right “on the spot”, and to tell you, I am nothing like Webster’s definition; although, I am patient, and I am (99% of the time) calm. Never, ever apathetic, which refers back to Zeno’s philosophy.

How important words are in our society and getting along with one another! Here we were, two friends having a conversation when one word brought two polarized meanings.  What kind of ill feelings would have been harbored if we did not discuss the word, if we would not have spoken up and explained our definition? I wonder how many times during a day when two people, maybe not friends, say a word and one person believes the word means one thing, and the other person believes the word means something else. That one word can cause ill feelings, or a tense situation, unless the word is acknowledged, explored and discussed between those people.

Fast forward that thought to different cultures, different nationalities, and I can imagine the problems words bring into our world.

For another  idea on how to define “Stoic” see


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Look vs. Gaze

While tutoring my student in reading, we talk about the words used in the selection. He intercepts when he doesn’t know the meaning of a word, and we look the word up in the dictionary, which then leads to demonstrations and discussions.

The last inquiry was about the word “gaze”. After defining the word as “to look intently and steadily”, I gave him a demonstration with my eyes by steadying my eyes on an object for more than a “look”. We know the “look” when we simply scan our eyes over objects to find whatever it is we are looking for or at, but, really, are we looking, peering, gazing, or glancing? Maybe we are taking a glimpse to sum up the whole, or maybe we want to invoke a negative connotation and stare, or worse, glare.

Each of these words require the same sense of eyesight, but each word has a slightly different meaning that we have learned over the years and now take for granted. Sometimes, that meaning is misunderstood and that wrong word choice leads to problems between people. And sometimes, if a person has not been exposed to the varying ways of using the word “look” and understanding its synonyms, the simple word “look” is taken for a “stare” or a “glare” and becomes a negative.

What’s the difference — we start with a glimpse (a brief view) or a glance (a sudden, brief view) which turns into a look (directing attention to) that turns into a peer (to see more clearly) that turns into a gaze (a steady look) that could turn into a stare (a steady, intent look). Add anger or wanting to make a point with someone and you have that dreaded “glare” (to stare fiercely or angrily).

As you have read this, which form of “look” did you employ — did you glimpse, glance, look, peer, or gaze? If you are tired, you may have stared at the page, but hopefully, you did not “glare” at my words.


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The Jeff Probst show

I am not a fan of the talk show circuit, but sometimes I flip through tv programs when the new season begins to see if any catch my fancy.  One did. Jeff Probst is the host of “Survivor” (which I am hooked on), and he now has his own daytime talk show. It is not your run-of-the-mill celebrity worship show; rather,  he features regular people doing extraordinary things with their lives.

It’s a feel-good about your life hour where he features people who step out of their comfort zone and change their life (for the better).

For instance, this week (the first week) he featured a guy from NYC whose girlfriend broke up with him and he was very lonely. Lonely enough to drive him to putting signs around NYC to call him if they were lonely and they simply wanted to talk. He received some 80,000 calls, and now he has written a book about how much people want to connect.

The other part of the talk show is at the end where Jeff brings two ordinary guys (who may be guests on his show) from the audience and they answer questions about personal relationships  from  the women in the audience. For instance, one woman asked if it was okay to tell the guy she loved him before the guy said it to her. The guys agreed that the guy should tell first. But, there was another train of thought that was to get it out there, and if  the guy didn’t react favorably, it was time to move on. Whatever — it is interesting to hear the different answers.

Jeff and I are on the same wavelength.  The better we are able to communicate, the better we will be able to live the life we want.  But he goes a step further — to act on that life you want. I’m right there with you, Jeff.

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The boy in the hall

I did teach in the public schools for one year to discover that I was not suited for that grade level. I taught at the junior high and the senior high schools. I did not have a school and I did not have a classroom to call my own, and I felt very disorganized for the entire year. I also found that most of my students could care less whether the sentence had a dangling modifier or not, whether the subject agreed with the verb or not, or whether the sentence was a complete sentence or not.  After a year I needed more — students who, at least, appeared to care to learn.

I will say, though, that most of those memories come from the junior high level. By the time the students reached high school (second semester), the students who either had no clue what was going on in the classroom or the students who had no desire to be there had dropped out. So, the high school was a much better place (for me). I tip my hat to any person who teaches at the junior high level. Give me elementary, secondary and college levels any day, and I will leave the junior high level to the brave souls who tread those grounds.

There are so many factors at play at the junior high level. It is that in-between stage where the students are not children any longer and they are not young adults either. I believe it is called puberty, and if anyone can remember those years, they are tough. Besides fitting in at school, there are parents and family members to figure out, and a myriad of obstacles to work one’s way through.

It was one of those obstacles that I remember so well. At the beginning of the class hour, teachers were to stand in the hall and watch the students as they passed from class to class. Usually, I was passing in the hall alongside the students, and it was there that I saw the incidence. There was one young man who was ready to fight another. I saw the beginning of the incident (books thrown to the floor) and intercepted before the situation escalated. I asked the young man who was ready to fight what the problem was. His answer was, “I didn’t like the way he looked at me.”

I said, “Whoa. How was he looking at you?”

“Like he was mad at me. I figured I’d punch him before he punched me.”

The other boy had already left the scene and went to class. I told the young man (who was also my student), “Maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t mad at you. Maybe he just had a fight with his mom or dad and he was thinking about that, or maybe he was hungry, or maybe he was mad at himself for something he did or did not do. Or, maybe it’s just the way he looks. In any case, maybe it wasn’t about you at all. Maybe it was about him.”

We went into the classroom together, and throughout the day I listened to hear rumor of fights. There were none, but that instance always stuck in my memory bank. How many times do we jump to conclusions by the way someone looks, or looks at us, or uses a tone of voice we don’t like, or says words that we don’t fully understand, or says words we misunderstand? Immediately, we pass judgment and decide that we don’t like that person based on an action, a look or a word.

Do you have stories about being misunderstood or have you witnessed what happens when two people misunderstand a situation or instance? I’d love to hear those stories.




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My name is Mary and I have worked in the communication field as well as the education field for years. As a journalist, I was a newspaper reporter and a magazine editor. During this time, I also obtained my master’s degree in communications and I wrote my thesis on “Legal Words Used in Newspapers”. After scouring through many  newspapers to select the few I was going to research, and after compiling, stamping and sending the questionnaires to 1000 members of  the general public, I found that when newspapers defined  legal terms (such as homicide or first and second degree murder), the readers understood the story better than when the newspaper did not define the term. That thesis was the beginning of being aware that our words mean more than I could ever imagine.  

Be aware that I was brought up with the saying, “Be careful what you say because you can never take the words back.” As I have traveled through this life journey, I  found that saying was only the foundation to words and understanding how those words affect who we get along with and why, sometimes, we do not get along with someone else.

Enter my second career (actually, my third because I began this journey with an accounting certificate from a business school, but that is a mute subject , simply background for my personal use)  — education. I started as an adjunct faculty member at a university while I was working as a magazine editor. I taught  Grammar, Composition and Business Communications. Composition was  my forte, although I enjoyed Business Communications.  I was your Composition I educator, teaching how to organize thoughts and form them into sentences and paragraphs. I loved the work. I mean, I loved it. After I switched careers, I lived sometimes an hour from my first class, and  in the winter I would get up at 4 and 5 a.m. to make sure I was at the 8 a.m. class on time. My students knew  I would be there, and I knew they would be there. We talked about words and ideas and topics. And we wrote. And we learned.

During this time I also tutored, both at a university and privately, which I continue to this day. And I love tutoring as much as I loved teaching on the college level. During my tenure in the education field I could actually see when a student’s lightbulb went on. It is an amazing discovery, and I imagine this is the reason why people stay in the education field. Today, teaching is  hard work, long hours, little accolades, but that one minute when you see that student light up, that’s what it’s all about. It’s the same with writing. All these words streamed together form thoughts, and those thoughts are read by one or many, and then one day, someone, somewhere says, “boy, do I understand that. That is exactly how I feel.” Or experienced, or imagined.  And that’s what it’s all about for me — forming words and communicating an idea or thought or experience so I can help someone else get along better in this world or understand the world better or understand the people in this world better.

This is who I am — a simple girl with a simple idea to help anyone communicate better, and that is what this blog is about. I may write on personal experiences with communicating, or on idioms, or  on word choices, or on writing, or on educating, but I will be writing.

Leave your comments, your writing, your thoughts, and together we will attempt to make sense of this world of ours through communication. Welcome to my world!

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