Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Joy of Telling the Story

Admit it. You’ve done this: someone starts to tell you a joke, and you stop them by either saying, “I’ve heard that one already” or *gasp* telling them the punchline before they can get to it. After all, if you’ve already heard the joke, why waste the time in letting them tell it? Right?

Maybe you are the person telling the joke. How do you feel when someone cuts you off before you can get to the end? If you are like me, it’s not the most pleasant of experiences.

It may not even be a joke—it could possibly be a story, or you could be telling about an experience you had. Personally, I get a little frustrated when someone jumps to the end, or at least what they think will be the end.

I’ve thought about why I get frustrated in situations like that. And then it occurred to me: there is joy in the act of telling the story—at least to storytellers.

My first book, The Hidden Sun, has an ending which many reviewers have stated as being predictable. I’ll admit it, it is. It has a happy ending. The good guys win. The bad guys lose. Predictable, right? Well, not really. You see, I knew the other option of having the bad guys win would not go over well. I needed to do something else.

What was my solution? Yes, the good guys win, but it is how they do it which makes the story interesting. (The reviewers who call the ending predictable also state they did enjoy the twists and turns which led to the happy ending.)

When writing a book, the most enjoyable time for me is during the primary draft—when the story is first being told. Often, the story takes unexpected twists that I, as the author, didn’t see coming. It’s pretty cool when that happens. In fact, it is probably the single biggest reason I continue to write—because I enjoy telling the story.

Granted, it’s also pretty cool when someone reads the story and enjoys it.

Next time someone starts to tell a joke or a story you think you’ve heard, let them finish. You may be delightfully surprised—not at the ending, but rather how happy the storyteller looks at the end.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Don’t Take This Personally, But …

Whenever someone starts a conversation with the words, “Don’t take this personally, but …” it seems the person being spoken to will most certainly take it personally.

In addition, I’ve learned an interesting phenomenon when starting any sentence, and in the middle adding the word “but” as a transition. It has the effect of negating anything that came before it.

For example, I may say to one of my daughters, “You look lovely, but you should really comb your hair before you go.” What did they hear? Did they hear that I said they look lovely? Most likely not. Instead, they heard that they need to comb their hair.

Here’s another one: “You’ve been a great employee all year, but due to budget constraints, you won’t be getting a raise.”

See what I mean?

Therefore, when someone says, “Don’t take this personally, but …” and then gives you bad news, criticism, or states an opinion different than your own, it’s kind of hard not to take it personally. To which, of course, the person who gives you the news says, “Hey! I told you not to take this personally!” (As if that absolves them from any fault.)

There has been a lot of debate, for lack of a better word, about certain social issues recently. While the heart of the debate may be rational and logical, emotions tend to get in the way, clouding the issue and creating hard feelings on both sides. People take it personally.

In the case of same-sex marriage, from what I’ve been told by those who support it, the heart of the issue is that they want the same legal rights as traditionally married couples. From my opinion, the problem isn’t about the legal rights, as much as the definition of the word “marriage.”

That word, marriage, connects with deeply held beliefs by many people. There are quite a number of people who support equal legal rights for same-sex couples, but don’t think it should be called a marriage.

Those on the other side of the argument, those in favor of same-sex marriage, often claim that what others believe should have no impact on them getting the same legal rights for everyone. For things to be equal, it needs to have the same name—that is, marriage.

Since both sides’ positions are tied deeply to what they believe, many take it personally when someone else disagrees with them.

The challenge, then, comes when name calling, hateful words, disrespectful activities, and other negative actions are directed to someone else—just because they believe differently. People on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue are guilty of this, and it is a shame.

In any healthy relationship, one of the key factors is learning to agree to disagree. Shocking as it may seem to some, you can disagree with someone and still treat them kindly and with respect.

Therefore, instead of saying, “Don’t take this personally, but …” may I be so bold as to suggest that honest, sincere kindness towards another person, even one you disagree with, will work wonders when acknowledging you do not agree with them.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Any Reasonable Person

NOTE! If you are looking for a blog which is going to argue the pros or cons of gay marriage, look elsewhere. This blog is looking strictly at the way information of legalizing gay marriage was presented to the public, as well as the public’s reaction.  

There is a term in advertising called puffery. Basically, it allows companies to make bold, sweeping statements which, of course, any reasonable person will see as not the complete truth.

For instance, you may go to a restaurant that boasts “the best hamburgers in the world.” Do they have proof to back that up? Nope. Can you sue them for false advertising? The answer again is no.

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has gone as far as to say, “The Commission generally will not pursue cases involving obviously exaggerated or puffing representations, i.e., those that the ordinary consumers do not take seriously.”

The idea of puffery came to my mind when I read the United States Supreme Court ruling on legalizing gay marriage. All over the internet are phrases like “Love is Love” and hashtags including #ProudtoLove and ‪#‎marriageequality.

And why not? In the statement made by Justice Anthony Kennedy, he includes the following words, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

“Where’s the puffery in that?” you may ask. Hint: it is in the last sentence. Go ahead, read it again.

(Seriously, read the last line again.)

It says, “two people become something greater than once they were.” Two people. Any reasonable person will accept that the two people are not closely related by blood, are not already married, and are of consenting age. Right?

Someone (not me) could argue that the way this was phrased means that brothers and sisters could be married. After all, they are two people. And who is to say that the love between a brother and sister could not embody “the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family”? Or is that just implied because any reasonable person would find it as unnatural?

How then, do those celebrating this case with terms like “Love is Love” (which, by-the-way breaks the common sense rule of using a word to define itself) counter when someone wants to use the same mantra to allow siblings to marry? Ah, once again, any reasonable person understands that when they state “Love is Love,” they don’t mean that.

Perhaps the president of the United States could clear things up. Let’s see, what did he say? Oh yes. He is quoted as saying on the ruling, “When all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free.”

All Americans, he said. Equal, he said. Of course, he didn’t mean siblings. After all, any reasonable person would know that.

But that then begs the question, what defines someone as a reasonable person? I’m going to propose that it is based on public opinion. Is that too far of a stretch? I don’t think so.

In 1996, a Gallup poll on acceptance of gay marriage showed only a 27 percent approval rating. In May, 2015, Gallup's findings were at a 60 percent approval rating for gay marriage. Apparently a lot more people became reasonable over the last twenty years.

The biggest problem, I see, is that the wording was too broad on the gay marriage ruling in some statements. In a sense, it used puffery.

There are those who are fighting to legalize marriage between siblings. There are those who are fighting to legalize marriage between more than one person. There are those who are even fighting to have the legal age for marriage lowered or eliminated.

To each of these groups fighting for their wants, they too, could argue “Love is Love” and that they are #ProudtoLove. But to them, there is no #marriageequality.

But that’s okay, right? After all, any reasonable person will see how misguided they are. At least until popular opinion changes. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hidden Sun Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Hidden Sun by J. Lloyd Morgan

The Hidden Sun

by J. Lloyd Morgan

Giveaway ends July 13, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to Win

Monday, June 8, 2015

Moving irony

Human nature is fascinating. While every person is different, I’ve noticed traits which appear more common than others—behaviors which are not always logical.

Our neighbors across the street are moving. How can I tell? The first hint is the “For Sale” sign in front of their house. However, I should have known they were moving even before the sign went up.

Here’s why:

We’ve lived across the street from them for several years. They’re nice folks. Generally, they keep their lawn trimmed and house maintained, though there are times when the Home Owners Association have had to politely remind them to do these tasks. (I’m on the HOA board.)

Recently, I noticed one of the family members was painting their mailbox post. It’s wood, and needs a fresh coat every so often. I was impressed because as far as I knew the HOA hadn’t said anything to them.

Then I noticed that they trimmed all their bushes and trees. Next came new landscaping updates—mulch, new stones around their trees, and such.

In the last few days, they have power-washed their house. Just this morning, I could see they were getting new carpeting.

Yes, all of these updates are because they are moving. In order to get as much money as they can from their house, they are spending a lot of time, money, and energy to make it a nicer place to live.

I’ll admit that when my wife and I have sold houses in the past, we’ve done some last minute touches to help make it more attractive. Sometimes we’ve joked, “Now that we’ve done these last few things, we really like the house and don’t want to leave it!”

When we moved into the house we are in now, we knew there were things we wanted to do to it. The goal was to make it a place we would want to live in here and now, which would also help make it more valuable down the road if we moved again. The idea was to do a little each year—and it has worked.

We’ve customized our house not only for it to be a place we love living in, but also to help increase its value.

Back to the human nature and logic comment, it strikes me as odd that people time and again spend so much effort on making their house super nice just as they are about to leave it.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


I just watched the most amazing display. It was one of those experiences where I had to tell myself I was actually seeing what I was seeing.

First, let me set the scene: I’m on break from teaching college English for the summer. The high schools are still in session, and so I work as a substitute teacher. It is a win / win. Once I get the classes started and working on the assignment their regular teacher has left for them, I get a chance to write.

Today is a nice, sunny day at the end of May. I am covering for a Microsoft Word class, so the students each have a computer in front of them and are working quietly on their assignments.

One of the other classes, I don’t know which, are outside working on some sort of project. Some of the students have sports equipment (footballs, tennis rackets, hockey and lacrosse sticks, and a few tennis balls) and are playing across the courtyard. I can see them from my window.

I am not paying them much attention, until I notice several of them standing around a large tree. This time of the year, it is thick, and filled with leaves and branches. Looking closer, I see that one of their footballs is stuck near the top of the tree—too high up for any of them to climb.

After discussing it over as a group, they step back, and using their one remaining football, try to knock the other one out of the tree. Three attempts later, they are not having any luck. On the fourth attempt, the other football gets stuck—not far from the first one.

Once again the students huddle and talk about what to do. Next, one of the students—a tall one with dark hair and fuzz on his chin—throws one of the tennis rackets at the footballs stuck in the tree. Not surprisingly, the racket catches one of the top branches of the tree and stays there.

At this point, I’m looking around for their teacher, but he is on the other side of the courtyard watching different students play some sort of game.

Seemingly undaunted by their recent failures, the students with the remaining sports equipment start throwing everything they have at what the tree has captured. Within moments, all of the items are now lodged somewhere in the tree—and still out of reach.

Without anything else to hurl at the tree, the students look at each other. It was at that moment when I see the proverbial lightbulbs go on over their heads. They now realize they lost more than just one football to the tree; they lost everything.

Instead of going to their teacher, the students sit around the tree, heads hanging in defeat.

Class ends twenty minutes later. The students leave.

The equipment is still in the tree. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Teaching Top 10

I did it. I completed my first year of teaching college English. Though some may find this hard to believe, I honestly feel I learned as much, if not more, than my students.

To be clear, not everything I learned related directly to English. Some of it was about teaching, and even life in general.

What did I learn? Here is my personal top 10.

Number 10: It takes longer to prep for a class than to teach it.

It should only take me about 75 minutes to prepare for a class that runs 75 minutes, right? Nope! I use PowerPoints, short videos, images, and examples when I teach. Each of these takes time to create. The challenge is to make sure I’m teaching the concepts in a way in which the students can actually learn. How long does a lesson take to prepare? Depending on the topic, several hours.

Number 9: The students who sit in the back aren’t the worst students—most of the time.

I remember being told that the best students are those who sit on the front row. That isn’t always the case. Personally, I like to sit in the back because I’m tall and have good vision. And I’m something of an introvert. Some of my best students sat on the back row. But to be fair, almost all of my worst student sat in the back.

Number 8: Teaching can be heartbreaking.

I couldn’t help but get to know many of my students on a personal level from reading their work. One of the big assignments in ENG 111 is to write a personal narrative. Time and again, I was surprised, shocked, and dismayed at many of the events my students had endured. From abusive parents / spouses / boyfriends or girlfriends, to coming to America and having to learn English as a second language, to serious medical conditions (and the list goes on), I grew a new appreciation for overcoming challenges.

Number 7: English, as a language, is pretty confusing.

They’re, Their, and There? When to use whom instead of who? How to explain to a person where English is not their first language when it is appropriate to use “had had” in a sentence. (Example: I had had better days.) What is the difference between affect and effect? Frankly, some of these are downright perplexing! Oh, and by the way, here is a tip for using whom instead of who: replace the word with “he” and “him.” If “him” sounds better, use “whom.” (See how both end with the letter “m”?)

Number 6: College teachers spend more time working outside of class than in—by a lot!

The vast majority of the time in a college class, I’m teaching. It isn’t me just talking the whole time, sometimes we do other learning activities. But grading papers, creating lectures and assignments? These are all done outside of the classroom. 

Number 5: Some students simply do not care.

One of the biggest surprises was encountering students who just didn’t care about the class or learning the material. These are those who would sleep through class, or read books while I am lecturing, and (more often than not) turn in poor work, if they turned it in at all. I only had a few students like this over the last year—but it was common enough to indicate it wasn’t as rare as I would have imagined.

Number 4: Doing the basics makes a huge difference.

At the start of each semester, I give my students the four keys to doing well in a college class. These are: 1. Do ALL of the assignments. 2. Do all of the assignments ON TIME. 3. Do all of the assignments on time AND TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY. 4. Do any EXTRA CREDIT the teacher offers. Most of the students who dropped or failed my classes couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do the first basic rule.

Number 3: Most people procrastinate.

For my classes, almost all of the assignments are submitted online through a program called Blackboard. The deadline for the assignments is 11:59 PM on the assigned day. When a student submits an assignment through the computer, it displays when the assignment was turned in. More than half of my students turned in papers within the final hours before it is due—even when they have had days, and sometimes weeks, to work on it.

Number 2: Good writing takes time.

I already knew this, somewhat, yet it was reinforced this last year. Writing is a process. The papers written for my class went through several stages: prewriting (getting ideas), research, creating an outline, writing a rough draft, doing peer reviews, re-writing the paper based on the feedback, submitting the next draft to a tutoring service (either online or on campus), re-writing the paper again, and then submitting it for the final grade. Those students who did this process earned a good grade. Those who waited until the last minute? Not so much.

Number 1: Teaching is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

I’m not saying that my other jobs in retail, TV, and banking didn’t have their perks, but they don’t come close to teaching. Sure, the money isn’t as good. Yet, it is an amazing experience to watch a student grow and apply what they have learned. My primary goal is to help them learn how to learn. That is a skill they will use throughout their lives. When a student tells me, “Mr. Morgan, I’ve never liked English before. But now, I’m getting it. I can see why it is important and how I can use it in my major”—that is a feeling that is 100 times better than being told I was the top sales manager or that our snow coverage set a ratings record.