Blue Thread Editing and Writing

Who I Am

I’m an accomplished author, ghostwriter, and developmental editor. My favorite of these is ghostwriting, and I explain why elsewhere. I develop college textbooks and general nonfiction. I write and edit educational materials, blog posts, and newspaper articles. I’m passionate about transforming chaotic concepts into clear, well-organized prose for targeted audiences while meeting the objectives of authors and publishers.

My strengths include developmental, substantive, content, line, and general editing.

Whether I’m involved with developmental editing or ghostwriting, I ensure that my work conveys the author’s intended meaning to readers.

Ghostwriting Examples:
I’m the Boss of Me: A Guide to Owning Your Career by Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson FT Press, 2017).

Tour Guide to Alternative Medicine, edited by Marilyn R. Freedman (TBD). [Originally Mosby’s Tour Guide to Alternative Medicine, Mosby Editorial Board (St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Yearbook, 1997 unpublished).]

I’ve successfully edited college textbooks in economics, statistics, psychology, technology, nutrition, and health.

Portfolio Highlights:
Nutrition from Science to You by Joan Salge Blake, Kathy D. Munoz, and Stella Volpe (Pearson Education, 2014)

Principles of economics by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells (Worth Publishers, 2006, 2009)

Principles of economics by Michael Parkin (Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1993, 1996)

Information Technology Project Management, 1st, 2nd, 8th editions, by Kathy Schwalbe (Course Technology, 2000, 2001, 2015)

Information Technology & the Networked Economy by Patrick McKeown (Course Technology, 2003)

My specialties include: nonfiction in the social sciences, statistics, management, technology, applied sciences, and health.

I believe that family, work, and play are what make life rich and help us grow. Growth is what my life has been about from early on. To grow, you need teachers and directed practice. My closest teachers are my twins, older son, dog, and cat.

I’ve been growing in my career for more than 30 years, first editing best-selling college textbooks and now writing and ghostwriting, along with development editing. My most recent continuing education course was news writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications in Manchester, NH.

I learn as much from my authors as I learn from my family, and I think they learn from me as well. But I’ll let my authors speak for themselves.

About That Photoshopped Image of Tech Entrepreneurs Visiting Brunello Cucinelli

Fifteen presumably savvy guys—they are Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, all successful—walk into an Italian village to visit Brunello Cucinelli, who designs expensive sweatpants.

The next thing we know, Cucinelli runs a reality-bending photo of the group on his Instagram feed that includes two women not in the original, and GQ publishes the same photo as part of an article. (Ryan Mac, “This Picture Featuring 15 Tech Men and 2 Women Looked Doctored. The Women Were Photoshopped In.” Buzzfeed, June 12, 2019, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanmac/tech-titans-women-fake-photoshop-cucinelli-gq)

The image is so obviously photoshopped that you have to wonder why Cucinelli’s company created and posted it. This is the obvious question. Cucinelli’s staff said they didn’t have a photo representing the entire group, so they created one.

Even so, two women among 15 men looks like tokenism.

I would expect a group of successful technology entrepreneurs to know that women are underrepresented in their industry. Do they care? Some of them do. Near the end of an interview with Quartz, published in October 2018, writer Leah Fessler prompted Reid Hoffman to reflect that, if given a redo of his college years, he would “make a proactive effort to be closer friends with more women at Stanford.” (Leah Fessler, “Reid Hoffman Explains Why Privileged Silicon Valley Men Must Stand Up Against Sexism,” Quartz, October 30, 2018, https://qz.com/work/1408421/reid-hoffman-wishes-he-could-go-back-to-stanford-and-befriend-more-women/)

Regrets are only useful when they propel you to take action in the present.

Hoffman is a strong proponent of women’s rights, but maybe he could go further.
Why not try a social way to change underrepresentation at events like Cucinelli’s?
Bruno: Hey Reid, I’m inviting a few friends and colleagues to Solomeo to talk about improving the world for everyone.
Reid: Hi Bruno. Hey, I love your cashmere sweaters. Who else is going? My friend Susan loves your sweatpants. Is she going to be there?
Bruno: No, I don’t think we invited her.
Reid: Well, what about my friend Ginni. She’s the one who turned me on to your blazers. Is she going?
Bruno: No, I don’t think she is on the guest list either.
Reid: Did you invite Sheryl? She has a lot of great ideas to offer. Life has been rough on her the past few years. An uplifting event in a beautiful Italian village might take her mind off things.
Bruno: Sheryl? You mean Sheryl Sandberg? No, we didn’t invite her.
Reid: Did you invite any women?
Bruno: Let me look at the guest list. There are two.
Reid: Two. How many guys are going?
Bruno: We wanted to keep the group small, under 20, so we could have some good discussions. You know, an intimate event.
Reid: Bruno, I think a summit on how to improve the world is a great idea. Call me back next year when you’re inviting more of my women friends.

If each of those 15 men asked whether more than a token number of women—or African Americans or Latinx people—were invited and declined the invitation if the answer was “no,” the world would be a different, perhaps better, place. (Look closely at a photo of the group in discussion and tell me if you see an African American or Latinx individual among the men.)

Is it crass to ask who is on the guest list? Not when the stakes are so high. Not when greater diversity is part of how to make the world a better place.

If we want to make the world a better place, we need to ask uncomfortable questions.
Would any of those 15 men think to ask? Probably not.

If we want gender inequality to stop, we—in this case, men—need to make it stop. And that means men need to make different choices all the time.

Banana Road

 

October 5, 2012

During the first presidential debate on October 3, 2012, the question of income inequality should have been front and center. It’s the nation’s biggest domestic issue (Income Inequality is America’s Biggest Challenge: United Nations Economist). And it links to just about every other issue that is on the table: health, education, economic growth, even democracy and the competition that is necessary to a free market (The American Dream Is a Myth: Joseph Stiglitz on the Price of Inequality). But even though the debate focused on the economy, neither candidate mentioned the issue.

Perhaps neither candidate wanted the debate to turn into another round of name calling about moochers and takers. Regardless, the issue remains: inequality has been increasing since 1970 and the gap between the top 20 percent and everyone else has been getting wider. Here’s a very good picture of the data from the West Coast Poverty Center at the University of Washington.

banana road Fig1

The top 20 percent have about 50 percent of income, while the other 80 percent of us share the rest. And the top 20 percent’s share has been steadily increasing since the late 1960s, while the share of the other four quintiles has been steady or decreasing slightly.

The story for wealth is similar. In 2007, the top 1 percent held about 43 percent of the nation’s financial wealth (richer-rich-and-poorer-poor).

To say that people outside the top 1 percent are pretty unhappy about this income and wealth inequality is an understatement. Most of us are working hard, but are not getting the same rewards that other hard-working people—those in the top 1 percent—get. In fact, our productivity at work has been increasing, but for people outside that top 1 percent, wages and income have stayed pretty much the same (“You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Gains available at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph).

Discussion about income inequality veers off in several directions. The liberal side tends to talk about redistributing income so that we end up with an outcome that looks fairer. The conservative side says that people in the top 1 percent have earned their large share of income and wealth because they work harder, are more productive, and create jobs that produce economic growth. In fact, they say that some of the wealth the top 1 percent generates will eventually trickle down and improve the economic circumstances of the middle and lower economic groups. No evidence from the income distribution data supports this idea, which has been around since the Reagan administration in the 1980s. The evidence is clear: the wealthy are staying wealthy and becoming more so, the middle class is getting poorer, and the poor are staying poor (http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/10/richer-rich-and-poorer-poor/). A lot of finger-pointing and more name-calling goes on.

Both sides look at federal taxes to either support their position or construct a solution. But a look at federal taxes doesn’t help that much.

The highest income quintile has the largest share of income, but also pays the largest share of taxes. When you break that highest quartile into smaller groups, though, a different picture emerges.

Still, in 2009 the top 1 percent paid almost 39 percent of individual federal income taxes (that’s 39 percent of the taxes collected, not 39 percent of their income) and 47 percent of corporate income taxes—more than any other group. This is consistent with the income picture: greater share of income, greater share of taxes. But it isn’t consistent with actual tax rates. For example, the federal income tax rate in 2009 for married individuals filing jointly and earning more than $357,700 was 35 percent. So  people in the top 1 percent (about 1.1 million households) paid a little more than the top income tax rate, but no one else in the highest income share quintile came close (about 22.5 million households).

Our social insurance programs and tax programs really don’t appear to be redistributing wealth or income from those at the top to those at the bottom or in the middle—an argument that is often made.

Can we pin responsibility for unequal income distribution on one political party or the other? No such luck. Between 1969 and 2012, we’ve had eight different presidents, five of them Republican and three of them Democrat. We’ve had 22 different Congresses, with sometimes one or the other party seemingly in charge. But the Senate and House must work together, and no party has had enough votes in recent years to enact legislation on its own.

So, which political party is responsible for the increasingly unequal income distribution in the United States? Conservative or Democrat, Republican or liberal, the outcome seems to be the same. Not incidentally, the salary of most members of Congress is $174,000. The average before tax income of people in the 81st – 90th percentile of income shares was $131,700 in 2009; for people in the 91st – 95th percentile of income shares, it was $175,800.

I suspect that the income inequality we are observing is the end of a long process that is a bit like the card game war. The player holding most of the cards from 10 through the face cards is likely to win.

But life is not a card game. In a card game, the players either agree to play another game, or they find something else to do—eat, watch TV, go outside, or go their separate ways. And in life, the winner makes the rules. And the rules that are being made (or unmade) are resulting in an ever greater concentration of wealth and power among a small group of people. For an example, look no further than the financial crisis of 2007 and the resulting recession, the effects of which are still being felt by most people—well, with the exception of the top 1 percent of the income distribution. They are doing just fine.

Whatever the short term result, the long term result won’t be good for anyone. One of the factors that promotes a country’s general welfare is economic growth. When the economy is growing, everyone’s prospects are better. Economic growth relies on productivity, which depends on physical capital, human capital, and technology. Human capital and technology are both affected by the workforce’s quality of education. Without a well-educated workforce, it’s unlikely that we can keep research & development, innovation, and technology advancing at the pace we’ve been experiencing. Growth also relies on political stability and property rights. And it is affected by how well the financial system functions. We’ve already seen cracks in the edifice of our financial system. As income and wealth become increasingly concentrated and higher education becomes increasingly more expensive, the quality of our workforce’s human capital is bound to deteriorate; deteriorating health will also have a negative impact on the quality of our workforce. Even without social unrest, a loss in our capacity for economic growth is likely to follow.

Countries that have a pattern of unequal income distribution that is similar to the trend in the United States are Guatemala and Honduras, both commonly referred to as banana republics. A small group of very wealthy people are in charge in these countries, and the majority of their citizens are poor—an economic underclass or peasantry, if you will.

Banana Road Fig2

Banana Road Fig3

If we allow the political process to carry on as it has been, is our fate to become a banana republic? Maybe we’re already there, and we just don’t want to admit it. I’m not the only one who speculates in this direction. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff made this same comparison in 2010 the day after midterm elections.  And Christopher Hitchens, writing in Vanity Fair, made the observation in 2008 in the wake of the financial crisis.

So, what comes next? I don’t have a concrete answer to that question, only a metaphor. If you’re on Banana Road and you don’t like where it leads, find a new road. And if none of the other roads are appealing, build a new one.

Someone needs to ask Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney if he and his party can even acknowledge that the problem exists. And if they can, what they have to offer as a constructive plan for the future, without resorting to failed ideas like supply-side economics and trickle down or name-calling like socialism. President Obama also needs to be asked some hard questions about addressing income inequality. Does he have a constructive plan for the future that does not distort (or not too much) the incentives that drive activity in a market economy? And if the current distribution of power in Congress remains as it currently is, how does he plan to get things done with a group of people who don’t believe in compromise and refuse to be led?

 

Writing a book takes tremendous effort. Ernest Hemingway is often quoted as saying that to write all you need do is sit at a typewriter and bleed. According to Steve Paul, writing at The Hemingway Society website, there is no substantive evidence that Hemingway is the source of that quote. I think most of the authors I’ve worked with would say that writing a book takes time, thought, persistence, effort, and, in the end help.

I’m always a little embarrassed by some of the acknowledgements I have received for my work. I think developmental editing and ghostwriting are the most fun things to do—hardly work, although genuinely difficult. Usually by the end of a project, I feel a deep affection and fellowship with a book’s author. Some authors have become life-long friends. While I was working on the first edition of Kathy Schwalbe’s book, I was pregnant with twins, my second and third children. Kathy made beautiful, quilted pillow covers for each baby, and her mother knitted booties for them. I still treasure the pillows and booties. Don Gosselin has been like a brother to me over the years. And I owe my black belt in Taekwondo, in part, to Robin Wells, who I misheard as studying “force yoga;” Robin and I are about the same age, and I figured that if she could become a “force yoga” instructor, I could earn a black belt in Taekwondo. Of course, Robin was studying to become an instructor of Forrest Yoga, and I was experiencing a hearing issue.

More recently, I have been collaborating with Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, a remarkable and energetic woman who grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and is now CEO of the Internet of Things Talent Consortium. I have also been developing a very special philosophy book, but information about that and its author will have to wait until publication.

Merrily Rolling Home

Den Rock Park in the early fall

Den Rock Park in the early fall

I need to tell a little story before I forget it.

I went to the eye doctor today and received a clean bill of health: no more virus attacking my cornea. But they dilated my eyes. Those slip-behind-your-glasses-sun-shades they hand out took care of the glare when I went outside.

On the way home, I called my mom to share the good news. When I got home, it was time to take Abbie for her walk (I was at the eye doctor’s office from 11:20 AM to after 1:00 PM). I was still on the phone with my mom, sharing good news and bad, listening to her good news, and so on. So she went on the walk with Abbie and me, virtually.

Abbie doesn’t like that too much, but what can she do about it? Not much. We went on our usual route, which amazingly did not result in me getting pulled into the tree at the bottom of this very steep, but short, incline that leads from the apartment complex into the woods.

After awhile, we went back up to the complex. By this time in the conversation, I was reporting the latest aggravation from the divorce proceedings. I was pretty agitated and animated, but I was paying attention to where I was walking. However, my vision was very blurry from the dilation, so I couldn’t find the path back up. It’s not that big a problem because there is not that much undergrowth in that part of the woods.

Because I wasn’t on the usual path, I ended up a bit to the right of the convenient but steep incline. It has stones in it that work like stairs, so it is fairly easy to negotiate. There is also a flexible drainage pipe that runs along that area so it doesn’t get too damp and slippery.

Abbie scrambled up the hill with no trouble—must be those great retriever-style paw pads. I, however, slipped and slid until I ended up rolling down the hill backwards. I still had my phone in one hand, and the leash was over my wrist. Between Abbie’s weight on the end of the leash and my Taekwondo fall training, I did not roll into a tree.

Since I was still on the phone with my mom and out of breath from the rolling, I said, “whoops” into the phone.

It’s a gorgeous day here. A little cooler than yesterday, but bright and sunny with a beautiful blue sky. This morning, I heard birds when I took Abbie out, and I could smell spring in the air, even though it’s still February. Who could be upset about slipping and rolling down a hill backwards on such a beautiful day? I cracked up. I was still laughing when I got to my apartment at the top of the stairs on the third floor.

I help authors write books by collaboratively editing their manuscripts. Some people call this developmental editing. However, when an author doesn’t have the time or the writing skills, I do more of the heavy lifting.

I bring a variety of techniques to my work, including developmental editing, line editing, rewriting, research, and ghostwriting.

The way I see it, developmental editing begins with understanding an author’s vision for his or her work. What is the author trying to accomplish in the book or with the book, and who is the author writing for in addition to herself? Understanding the vision involves taking the author’s, the target reader’s, and the (prospective) publishing company’s perspectives, and then blending those into a coherent story of the book. It also involves understanding that a book’s vision can change over time. This understanding of vision from multiple points of view informs what happens during hands-on editing.

It is a good idea to know something about what other books exist on the same or similar topics. Is the book at hand unique? If not, does it have unique aspects? What distinguishes this book from others like it? Of the millions of books a person could read, what will drive them to read this one, beyond pure interest in the specific topic?

Developmental editing often involves project management. It’s a good idea to have some ideas about schedule, cost, and what the end product will look like. Will it be a hard copy book? Will it be an ebook, and in what format? Will there be figures in the book? What format does the manuscript need to be in for the production process? Is there a target length in pages or words? Is there any flexibility?

I like to have an idea of the book’s overall structure. How many chapters? Is there a good idea of how long chapters should be?

Most of the time when I do an estimate for a project, I don’t have answers to these questions or much information at all. And that’s OK, because most of the work happens with the paragraphs, sentences, and words.

I can take a variety of approaches to the editing. I like to look at everything I do as a suggestion. I can do all my work through querying, asking open-ended or close-ended questions. In this case, the author does all the implementation. I can do line editing and rewriting as necessary. I can suggest changes either by demonstrating a change or providing a model to follow. How much querying versus how much changing of words, sentences, and paragraphs I do depends on what an author and I agree to at the outset. An author might have the skills, but not the desire to do all the implementation. Or vice versa.

My process is collaborative. So, if we work together, I would hope to get as much information from you as possible before I begin. I would do a 5- to 10-page sample edit, preferably paid, and would send you the edited manuscript with all changes tracked in a Word document. I can edit a PDF, but I prefer to work in Word using track changes; I have not yet found a better tool than Word. I would send a memo along with the edited manuscript. The edit would describe what I found, what I think, why I think it, and what I think next steps should be. Hopefully, I would come up with a list of 3 to 5 key revisions that will improve the material so that it better embodies the author’s vision.

My deliverables always take the form of an edited manuscript plus a memo. If there are figures in the chapters, and you want me to work with those, I can sometimes come up with visualizations of concepts; however, I am no artist. Figures that I create are rough drafts, at best.

From a sample edit and memo, an author and I together decide what I should do. Ideally, we work together as a team, fully collaborating. This collaboration can occur via email, shared documents on Dropbox or Google Drive, phone or Skype calls, or any combination of these.

If this all makes sense to you, let me know. I’d like to hear about your current plans and needs from an editor. Basically, I’d like to hear whatever you’re willing to share with me about your current project. We’ll converse via email, or if you’d like to talk via phone or Skype that would work as well.

This Is How It Starts

By Valley2city — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12061409

I always wondered how it would start. I remember reading somewhere that these things start quietly. Looking at old newsreels, it didn’t seem to start quietly in Germany. I remember seeing large crowds of people listening to an impassioned Hitler speak, even scream, and responding with the Nazi salute and loud cheering.

But here, it starts quietly, subtly.

The president’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day doesn’t mention Jews or antisemitism. Jews aren’t alone here. The statement doesn’t mention any group of people.

Instead we — because a president’s statement issued from the Whitehouse speaks for all of us, doesn’t it? — remember “victims, survivors, heroes,” “those who died,” “those who risked their lives,” and “the perished.” We remember the faceless, the anonymous, the unknown. How like tattooing a number on a person’s arm and taking away their name.

When questioned about the statement, The White House Director of Strategic Communications, Hope Charlotte Hicks, is reported to have assured us: “despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.” Hope, I have to tell you: actions speak louder than words. And a statement carefully crafted to erase why people were targets of state murder is enough to make me fear where your “inclusive” group is headed.

I’m not reassured. Like a lot of other people, I’m reminded of 1984, by George Orwell (the link is to a letter describing why he wrote the book, published at The Daily Beast), newspeak, and doublethink.

Talking about “those who suffered” does not convey inclusiveness. It masks and muffles. It gives a foothold to Holocaust deniers. How many years will it take before the rest of the world begins to forget?

Those victims and sufferers — and, yes, some survivors — were lesbians and gay men. They were Jehova’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, people of the Ba’hai faith, and people with disabilities. Protestants were not safe. The victimized peoples were Polish — both Christians and Jews, 3 million of each — Slavs, and Soviets, Romani and Sinti, Blacks, Asians, and Jews. So very many Jews. Jews from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Holland, and France. The Nazi regime murdered about 11 million people based on racial, religious, ethnic, social, and political grounds. More than half of them were Jews.

Inclusiveness might look like this:

By WWII-HolocaustDeaths-Pie-All.png: User:Dna-Dennisderivative work: Pedroca cerebral Talk-Up — WWII-HolocaustDeaths-Pie-All.png, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15383828

Or it might look like this:


from Wikipedia

There are many ways to show inclusiveness. Inclusiveness has a face and a name. It looks like you and me. Think about the Vietnam War Memorial, a wall of names, a stark and deeply moving remembrance. You can touch a person’s name and think about him or her.

Inclusion does not look abstract and nameless.

I remember my fellow Jewish people who died. I remember, equally, all who died with them. I remember the people — civilians and military personnel — who died trying to save them. Experts estimate that about 100,000 people who survived the Holocaust are still alive today; the youngest are in their early 70s. They are the last first-hand witnesses. When they are gone, I will still remember and keep their memory alive. My children will do the same.

I try to create some meaning out of it. Today, my meaning is writing to remind you, Mr. President, your staff, and others who share your political philosophy that every person who died during the Holocaust, Jew or non-Jew, was a human being, worthy of regard, not as a victim, sufferer, or abstract number, but as a brother or sister or friend with a name and a history and a spark of holiness inside them, just like you.

This may be how it starts, but it will end differently. Because we remember.

Humane in New York

Aerial view of Washing Square Village, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8493062

User Experience Can Bring Out Our Best Or Our Worst

“Fuck off!” I shouted as I whipped around and looked the other driver in the eye. He shouted back at me, “So it’s going to be that kind of day, is it?”

It’s going to be that kind of day? It had already been that kind of day. I had been sitting in my car with my kids, trying to figure out how the parking garage worked when I heard a horn beep. That had settled it. I ignored the beep and got out of my car. The driver of a black SUV had stuck his head out the window and shouted at me that I was blocking the exit lane.

How, oh how, did I end up swearing at another driver, in public? The easy answer is that we left several hours late for the drive to my cousin’s house in New Jersey, and I didn’t get enough sleep. But I’d rather see what can be learned from the more complicated answer.

When my kids and I went to an open house at NYU, I figured it made sense to park in a garage that NYU recommended. It was easy to find the general location of the garage in Washington Square, but I had a hard time finding the entrance once I drove into the Washington Square Village Apartment complex. I drove by it twice. The entrance ramp is unobtrusive by design so that it doesn’t disrupt the harmony of the park the garage is built under.

Yes, I know. I should have researched all this before I left home. But who has the time?*


Driving down the ramp didn’t help much. Inside, the garage was a mystery. No ticket machine was at the entrance. Eventually, I saw a sign hanging from a concrete beam that read, “Stop Here.” I pulled up behind a silver SUV parked there and looked around. There was a parking attendant in a kiosk, but he left. No one else was around — not even another car — and he didn’t return.

In the public garages in Boston, the spots closest to the exit are reserved for people who rent them, and spots further away are available to the general public. I saw some cars, some with protective covers, parked in rows to my left and what looked like a ramp leading down, so I drove down the ramp. That’s what you do in Boston.

On the next floor, I saw open spots and cars parked one directly in front of the other, a pattern distinctive to valet parking. I told the kids that I didn’t know how this parking garage worked and headed out to find a different place to park.

I drove around the block, but I didn’t see another garage. By now we were late, and I didn’t want to miss the open house. OK, I’ll tell the truth: I hate being late. I’m almost always late.

We decided to try the Washington Square Village parking garage again. Now it was busy. The silver SUV was still sitting beneath the sign that read “Stop Here.” A black SUV with a driver and passengers was parked (I thought) behind the silver SUV. I pulled up near the kiosk to ask an attendant for help. And that’s when it happened. I stupidly swore at another driver. It was the first time I swore in public since I got out of my twenties. By the time I got to the kiosk, I was embarrassed, mortified.

A man was standing at the kiosk waiting to pay his parking fee. I said, “Excuse me,” because I wanted to ask him what to do to park my car. I was so confused. But my tone was wrong, and I was the crazy, wild-haired woman who swore at people at the top of her lungs. I got a one-eyebrow-raised glare. You know the look: If you’re asking to cut in front of me, you have a lot of nerve. I wanted to apologize to someone for my behavior, but he shunned me.

I asked the attendant what I was supposed to do. He told me to park my car behind the silver SUV and someone would come to the car. It was valet parking, just as I had guessed on the lower floor.

I don’t recall how the black SUV got out of the parking garage or how I came to be parked behind the silver SUV. Eventually the attendant came over and gave me a ticket. We got out of the car, and, still confused, I walked off with my car keys. The attendant was kind about it, and the kids and I went to the open house.

As we walked down LaGuardia Place, I thought about the experience. I apologized to the kids for my behavior. At the end of Taekwondo classes, I must have said “I will react in a mature manner to every event regardless of whether it is frustrating or disastrous as I represent the school,” hundreds of times. This would have been a good time to practice it. I was lucky that the inconvenienced driver didn’t react violently.

How could things have gone differently? I could have used some self-discipline. So could the inconvenienced driver. But I’m human and imperfect, even on a good day. And this was not a good day. Too much stress, too little sleep, too much driving in a strange city. Maybe it was the same story for the other guy.

So what else could change? The signs in the garage — a likely suspect.

Just like any digital app, garages have a user interface and a user experience. Can you design an interface for a parking garage so that customers have a great user experience? Why would a company want to invest in a UI for their parking garage?

Apartment residents who use the garage might be happier. Visitors might recommend the garage, and NYU would earn a little more money from parking fees. Employees might enjoy their work more because customers would treat them better. They might appreciate the gratitude, see themselves as helping people, view their job as having purpose beyond a paycheck. NYU, which owns the garage and houses faculty and grad students in the apartments, might avoid some unfavorable publicity. Who wants to be mentioned in a blog post for failing to make simple, low cost changes to signs in a garage?

So how do we improve the user interface in the Washington Square Apartments garage? The entrance ramp has a white sign that has a lot of blue, 12-point type. Most people can’t read the type from a car, and there are too many words, so it’s not useful.

The main user interface element is that black sign hanging from a ceiling beam. You know, the one that says “Stop Here,” in yellow type. It’s pretty easy to see the sign because of the bright yellow type. The type is large, so it’s easy to read. But the words are cryptic for someone unfamiliar with the garage. There may also be a white rectangle, about the size of a large car or van, painted on the floor. There is a curb to the right.


Can we improve the sign? Sure.


We could also add a sign by the curb near the white rectangle on the garage floor. A sign like this one costs about $136.

I bet developing new signs would be a great cross-discipline project for NYU’s students taking design, user interface, and user experience courses.

Hey! Owner of the black SUV who shouted, “So it’s going to be that kind of day, is it?” at me on Saturday, September 17, 2016, at around 10 AM, I sincerely apologize for swearing at you.

*We did not leave northern Massachusetts for northern New Jersey until 7 PM on Friday because one of my 17-year-old twins had to see the oral surgeon who removed his wisdom teeth. One of the sites had become infected for a second time, and the kid did not let me know there was an issue until Thursday. Life with teens is always fun, no one ever heard me say.

On Children with Bloodied Faces

Quotation from Rabbi Hillel

I could look at his bloodied face for only a second or two. These images stick with me, and Omran’s now lives with the images of a naked Vietnamese girl running toward me and the foot of a German soldier coming down on the head of a baby, still alive, lying on top of piles and piles of dead Jews in a ditch. (Why did they film such a thing?) It is too much to carry, and I have no choice but to carry it.

The words we use to talk about these events are poor, removed from what injured children will feel when they come out of shock. We say it’s tragic, a humanitarian disaster. Some of us witness, but are helpless to do anything. Some of us do something but are helpless to stop the bleeding.

I’m ashamed of what some others do. They elevate fear to the level of a god and turn away refugees in lieu of sacrifices.

Well, guess what, you fear mongers. Fear has always been with us. Fear is at the heart of our lives. It is not going away, and you must learn to live with it.

With UN Security Council resolutions, mediated talks among the Syrian factions, and calls for an end to violence, why does the violence go on? There are briefings, press releases, messages, and statements. Why does the violence go on? We have felt and expressed empathy — well, at least some of us have. Isn’t it long past time to act with compassion?

Can we not set aside fear and embrace our common humanity for the sake of civilians and innocents? Can we call on our institutions to do a set of right actions on our behalf, even if doing so puts some or all of us in more or less theoretical danger for awhile?

The people and organizations currently offering humanitarian aid are not sufficient for the task at hand, and that’s not through any lack on their part. It’s an issue of the magnitude of the problem. With Assad more than happy to harm his own citizens, with rebels from who-knows-where acting in ways and places that put civilians in danger, with ISIS taking advantage of the chaos to gain a foothold somewhere, and with Russia bombing in a way that supports Assad’s agenda, Syria is no place for non-combatants, particularly children.

Fear of the stranger and fear mongering in an appeal to people’s basest reactions is no right action to take in the face of this situation.

I subscribe to a few basic thoughts that I’ve worked out over the years, with some help from wise people, both alive and dead, like Pema Chodron, Master D.K. Shin, Marsha Linehan, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Marcus Aurelius, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Rabbi Hillel.

· At some level, all stories are true. I came to this conclusion when I was trying to reconcile my basic support for Israel’s right to exist in safety with my concern for my fellow human beings who live in Palestine.

· The world is an uncertain place. Pema Chodron points out that our reality is that no one knows what will happen next. I don’t know what will happen next, and I know that you don’t either.

· The uncertainty leads us to fear. And as my Taekwondo master, Master Shin, said, “There is no room for fear here.” Rabbi Nachman of Bretslav said it differently: The whole world is a narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be afraid at all.

· No one gets out of here alive. No need to rush for the exit or try to bar the door.

· Most of the time, there is a dialectic that you can embrace. For example, I’m deeply afraid of what might happen, and I can help people who are suffering. My favorite dialectic is I’m doing the best I can do right now, and I need to do better. We need to do better.

These thoughts have helped me get through severely dark and challenging places in my life.

Maybe they will help you set aside your fear and call for all countries, the United States and Europe in particular, to give Omran and Syria’s other civilian refugees a safe haven.

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