Hy Bender's Writing Samples

 

On this page you'll find the following writing samples:

 

 

 

Start of biography of comics author Neil Gaiman, from

The Sandman Companion

 

Neil Gaiman was a dreamer from an early age, spending most of his time with his nose in books and his mind in other worlds.

 

Gaiman was born above his father’s small grocery store in Portchester, England on November 10, 1960. Gaiman’s mother loved stories and enthusiastically exposed her son to the written word; one of Gaiman’s clearest memories are of wooden alphabet letters his mom bought him when he was two. “We painted the vowels red with nail varnish,” he recalls, “and so vowels have always smelled to me of varnish.”

 

Gaiman’s mother also made a point of reading books to him. By age three, however, he became impatient with having a go-between and made the effort to read to himself. It was the start of a life-long addiction.

 

“I’d always carry books around with me,” says Gaiman. “My parents would frisk me before we went to a family gathering, like a wedding or bar mitzvah, because they assumed I had a book on me somewhere. And they were right; I’d usually spend the day under a table reading.”

 

Gaiman tackled books indiscriminately. When he was old enough to visit his local children’s library, he quickly devoured the entire collection. He then turned his attention to the adult stacks, starting at “A” and working his way through the volumes alphabetically.

 

Although he cheerfully read everything, Gaiman especially loved stories involving magic and fantasy by such authors as James Branch Cabell, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. “My great daydream when I was 10,” says Gaiman, “was to travel to a parallel universe exactly like ours—except in that other universe, no one had ever written Lord of the Rings. I would bring along my copy, get someone to type it out for me in manuscript, send the pages off to a publisher, and then be celebrated as the author of Lord of the Rings without doing any of the work.”

 

Actually, Gaiman wouldn't have minded the work. He began composing poems at age three, and he started writing stories with continuing characters at age eight. But it would take him a long time to develop confidence as a fiction writer...

 

Another form of fantasy attracted Gaiman’s attention in the summer of 1967, when a friend of his father’s lent him a cardboard box filled with comic books. The box included Marvel’s The Mighty Thor, which fascinated Gaiman and led him to actively seek out books on mythology. The box of comics also contained such treasures as Justice League of America 47, which provided a first glimpse of DC’s original Sandman. Gaiman was hooked. The issues were returned to their owner a few weeks later, “but I continued to hunt down and read American comics. The damage had been done. It wasn't just a box of comics, it was a Box of Dreams.”

 

By age 11, Gaiman had become so enchanted with comics that he decided he wanted to write them for a living. He kept this plan to himself, however, until he was 15 and a special counselor came to his school to provide career guidance. “When the advisor asked me what I wanted to do, I didn't hesitate, because I’d been waiting to tell the appropriate person for years,” says Gaiman. So I answered, ‘I want to write American comic books.’ And what I wanted him to say was, ‘Okay, that is a commendable ambition. You should go to the School of Visual Arts in New York, and you should work on your craft, and these are the people with whom you should talk to get you on your way.’

 

“Instead, he just replied, ‘Oh, you can’t do that. Have you ever considered accountancy?’”

 

Gaiman laughs about it now, but he says that at the time, “it really, weirdly hurt. This counselor was the first person to flatly ask me what I wanted to do; and after I finally answered the question out loud, he told me my goal was unreachable. And it made me give up; I quit reading comics for nine years.”

 

Of course, such discouraging moments are a routine part of virtually any artist’s development. John Updike once observed, “the artistic impulse is a mix, in varying proportions, of childhood habits of fantasizing brought on by not necessarily unhappy periods of solitude; a certain hard wish to perpetuate and propagate the self; a craftsmanly affection for the materials and process; a perhaps superstitious receptivity to moods of wonder; and a not-often-enough-mentioned ability, within the microcosm of the art, to organize, predict and persevere.” Gaiman had already demonstrated most of the impulses mentioned by Updike in spades. The young writer’s challenge was to organize, predict and persevere.

 

After the ill-fated interview, says Gaiman, “I still read lots of books, of course. And I’d begun trying to write professionally in 1980. I completed a number of short stories, and a draft of a children’s book, but no one would buy my fiction.

 

“After about 18 months of rejection slips—nice rejection slips, but rejections nonetheless—I abruptly decided one day, ‘Either I have no talent—which I do not choose to believe—or I'm simply not going about this the right way. I'm going to switch to journalism, and in the process I'm going to figure out how the world works—how magazine articles get assigned, how books get published, how television scripts get sold.’

 

“I bought a copy of the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook, which lists contact information for magazines, and I started phoning editors cold. When asked who I’d previously written for, I lied. I knew that no editor was likely to check on me, because all that really mattered was the quality of the idea I was pitching and, after I got the assignment, the quality of my writing.

 

“The magazines I claimed to have worked for included Time Out, City Limits, The Observer, The Sunday Times of London—in other words, UK publications I respected. And over the next five years, I actually did write for every magazine I’d mentioned during that first week of cold calls. So I wasn't really lying; I was merely being anachronistic.”

 

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Excerpt from Dummies 101: The Internet for Windows 98

 

World Wide Web may sound like the title of a 1950s conspiracy movie involving radioactive Communist spiders. However, the WWW, or Web (as savvy Net users refer to it) is much cooler than that. Though it didn't even exist until 1990, the Web has become the second most popular feature of the Internet, trailing only email.

 

The Web consists of electronic pages that display text and pictures, similar to the pages of a paper book or magazine (though some jazzier Web pages also can play sound and video clips). Well-designed Web pages are a visual treat, and they cover virtually every topic that you can think of—from the stock market to stock racing, from bass to baseball, and from Picasso to Prozac. The neatest thing about the Web, however, is that each page typically contains links to other pages, allowing you to jump from one page to another with a single mouse click.

 

For example, you might be reading a Web page about the life of William Shakespeare and notice that various phrases and pictures in the biography are underlined, are a different color, or are marked in some other special way. This usually means that clicking the phrase or picture (link) with your mouse takes you to another page covering that topic in more depth.

 

At the William Shakespeare page, clicking the phrase Romeo and Juliet might take you to a page with the full text of that play, while clicking an image of the Globe Theatre could take you to a page with a series of detailed drawings of that famous Elizabethan playhouse.

 

Your voyage wouldn't have to end there, either. For example, the Globe Theatre page might contain a link to modern theatre. Clicking the phrase could offer you additional links to such disparate topics as Arthur Miller, movie adaptations, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Clicking the latter might furnish—in addition to information about other Lloyd Webber hits, such as Evita and The Phantom of the Opera—links to Web pages about real cats. And any feline Web page worth its fur inevitably offers a link to pictures of Socks, the First Cat of the Clinton White House.

 

This hypothetical journey from Shakespeare to Socks shows you what jumping around the Web, also known as cruising or surfing, is all about. Because these electronic pages—which are created independently by thousands of individuals and organizations around the planet—are all linked together in various intricate ways, they truly form a World Wide Web of information.

 

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Excerpt from user guide for Morgan Stanley project managers

 

Defining Requirements: Dig Beneath the Surface

 

You must always look past surface appearances to create requirements that are genuinely effective. This concept is best represented by a case study related by Michael Hammer and James Champy in their classic 1993 book Reengineering the Corporation.

 

The project was at IBM's Credit Corporation, which was taking an average of six days (and sometimes as long as two weeks) to process client applications. Such an extended waiting period gave clients time to change their minds, or to find some other creditor that would grant approval much faster.

 

The project's objective was clear: speed up the approval process. Less obvious was how to go about achieving that goal.

 

Evaluating an application involved moving a paper form through four sets of evaluation specialists and seven different departments. One problem was that nobody knew at any given time where a client's application was located, because no tracking system existed. IBM therefore added a control desk through which each application would be returned before going to the next evaluator—but that just created an extra layer of bureaucracy to the process, making it take even longer.

 

Senior administrators then suggested that the efficiency of the workers needed to be enhanced. To test this theory, the project's managers walked an application through personally, handing it over to each evaluator and clocking the amount of time it took to process. They found that the actual approval work took only 90 minutes! The rest of the six-day period was apparently spent in moving each form from desk to desk. This meant that even if worker efficiency was improved 50%, the time savings would amount to only 45 minutes.

 

The real culprit was the process itself, which was based on an  unspoken assumption: that every application required several different specialists to evaluate it. Upon close inspection, however, it was found that only a tiny percentage of applications required such special care; over 98% could be handled by a single generalist supported by an information-rich computer database.

 

Once this realization was made, IBM Credit replaced its multiple evaluation desks with one department, in which each person took responsibility for processing an application from start to finish. As a result, the average approval time immediately went from six days to four hours—and this radical improvement occurred with fewer staffers doing the work. Further, Credit was soon processing one hundred times more applications than previously—i.e., the project ended up increasing productivity by nearly ten thousand percent.

 

This is just one of example of what happens when savvy managers refuse to accept the "obvious" solution and insist on probing for the core problem. Therefore, when you create your project's requirements, always make sure they address the real issues and are aimed at achieving the maximum results possible.

 

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Business article "Best Practices for Attracting and Retaining Millennial Talent" published in Enterprising Women Magazine

 

Within 10 years, Millennials (born between 1980 and 2004) are expected to comprise a whopping 75% of the workforce. Your company’s survival might therefore depend on understanding how to attract and retain top Millennial talent.


That was the case for PriceWaterhouseCoopers when new hires began behaving in ways that, to management, appeared inexplicable. PwC's Anne Donovan responded in 2011 by helping create NextGen, the largest (44,000 people) generational study in history. Donovan found companies are primarily managed by Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1979), whose attitude she described as, “If I'm controlling my world, if...I'm learning, and I'm getting paid well, then I'm pretty happy.” More important to Millennials, though, is “how their team works together, how much support and appreciation they feel, and whether they have enough flexibility to (enjoy) a full life.” Bridging the gap between those worldviews is challenging, but doable...as evidenced by PwC's roughly 180,000 global employees now being over 75% Millennials.


That said, you don’t necessarily have to please all Millennials. As HR Director Barry Barber of engineering firm Kimley-Horn put it, “Our core purpose is providing an environment for our people to flourish... not make it so everybody flourishes, but (allow) those who are self-starters and relationship-based by nature to seize the opportunity and thrive.”


To discover real-world strategies for attracting the best & brightest Millennials and helping them thrive, we interviewed representatives of 22 wide-ranging organizations, including Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal, Siemens, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Genentech, Automattic/WordPress.com, Tumblr, and Mercedes-Benz Financial Services.


We also interviewed the following companies on Fortune Magazine’s June 2015 list of “100 Best Workplaces for Millennials:” David Weekley Homes (ranked #2 on the list), Pinnacle Financial Partners (#4), Ultimate Software (#6), SAS (#9), Chili’s (#11), World Wide Technology (#12), Burns & McDonnell (#14), Plante Moran (#15), Kimley-Horn (#20), Ryan (#20), Transwestern (#27), CHG Healthcare (#30), and NuStar Energy (#32). (You can hear all these interviews by visiting our podcast site MillennialCareerPlaybook.com.)


Millennials are the first generation to grow up online, so there was universal consensus that the Net is critical. Beyond the obvious—a compelling career section on your company’s website, an app that allows job applications to be filled in via smartphone—it’s wise to build a friendly, sharing community that authentically conveys your company’s culture via social media. If you do this well, appropriate job candidates will feel that—in the words of Marketing Manager Sara Rosso of Automattic (home of WordPress.com)— they “have found their tribe.”


Millennials also crave using technology to operate flexibly. The majority of businesses we spoke to allowed employees whose jobs didn't depend on being in the office to work off-site either part-time or full-time. A robust example is tax services firm Ryan, whose President of Global Shared Services Delta Emerson told us, “There are no boundaries in place...(to) go to a soccer game with a child, drop a child off at daycare, take care of an elderly parent. None of those things are guilt factors anymore...Our folks can work anywhere, anytime, as long as they can achieve the results that we mutually agreed upon.”


Some companies, such as Automattic, go even further by being 100% virtual. According to Sara Rosso, “People can decide, even from one week to the next, where to make their home office...(and) you can set your own hours to when you think you’re most effective.” Rosso adds an open door policy isn't necessary because “there aren't closed doors anywhere...you can get hold of any person in the company at any time.” Employees maintain community via internal blogs that are visible to everyone in the organization and by monthly virtual town hall meetings.


Millennials love to be heard and to make a difference; and because they bring fresh perspectives and think outside the box, they can lead to enormous positive change. Marketing SVP Leslie Snavely told us that after six months at CHG Healthcare, every worker is interviewed by an executive who asks, “What ideas do you have to make our business better, or a better place to work?” Snavely continued, “It provides a great context for ideas to flow up from our new employees, who can see things that maybe we can’t.”


Communications SVP Sarae Janes told us her company Pinnacle Financial Partners sponsors book clubs held at the homes of the CEO and other top management for the lively exchange of business ideas. Microsoft holds an annual “Hackathon,” which gathers thousands of its employees to work together on ideas for improvements. And as Siemens’ Head of Leadership and Talent Development Fabienne Bressot pointed out, “It doesn't have to be a product innovation. Sometimes it's a process innovation, (just) a different way of doing things.”


Millennials additionally love being mentored. HR Director Chris McCoy told us his accounting & professional services firm Plante Moran assigns every new staffer a junior “buddy” providing casual information such as where to find the best coffee, and a senior “team partner” who’s responsible for the person’s career development (and whose own performance is evaluated in part by the new employee’s progress; as McCoy put it, “We don’t promote partners who can’t develop future partners”). While a buddy and/or team partner will often evolve into a mentor, Plante Moran encourages its people to also seek out mentors on their own as they build relationships within the firm.


Kimley-Horn takes a slightly different approach, refraining from formally assigning guides. However, it trains its senior executives in mentoring skills, and at the same time gives newer staffers “free lunch” coupons that let them take experienced execs of their choice out for meals to pick their brains. HR Director Barber favors this approach because it’s “organic,” and allows a Millennial to reach out to a variety of mentors who can help him or her grow in different ways. Kimley-Horn President John Atz added that the latter is consistent with his company’s Millennial-friendly philosophy of individual choice. “We don’t really have one career path....A lot of organizations are very hierarchical...(we’re) much more focused on giving people the freedom to pursue the things that are of interest to them.”


In a similar vein, nearly all the companies we spoke with offer extensive training programs, in part so they can retain Millennials who are driven to keep improving their skills and learning new ones. As Grace M. Gorringe of Mayo Clinic told us, if a company fails to adopt a “talent mindset...if you’re not giving people opportunities...they will leave the organization.” Director of Allied Health Recruitment Brent T. Bultema added that Mayo Clinic’s success at allowing its people to take on multiple careers is indicated by it typically filling 60%-70% of its 4,000-5,000 annual job openings internally.


Some businesses latch onto Millennial talent early through vigorous internship programs. For instance, Executive VP of Business Development Peggy Johnson told us that at Microsoft “interns come on campus for a 12-week program, and...they’re put on real teams that are working on real projects. So they’re very much integrated into the rhythms of the product groups, (getting) hands-on experience.”
Microsoft goes even further, though—it has a high school program called “DigiGirlz” that’s been running for 15 years. Johnson observed, “Now we’re actually hiring them...It goes to show that if you can reach out to young girls early enough in their educational careers and continue to support them, they will choose degrees in STEM, and then be ready to join tech companies like Microsoft.” Programs such as DigiGirlz yield benefits beyond grabbing talent early—they help ensure a diverse workforce, which is also something highly valued by Millennials.


It’s additionally important to many Millennials to make the world a better place. Companies with a clear mission to do this therefore have an edge in attracting talent. Examples include revered health organizations such as Mayo Clinic and CHG Healthcare, whose efforts literally save lives; but also organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, whose mission Dow Jones VP of Talent Management Meredith Lubitz described as, “To uncover truth.” The passion for that work was indicated when Lubitz told us, “We recently won our 36th Pulitzer Prize. The entire newsroom stood around, and there were tears in people’s eyes.”


If your firm’s positive impact isn't as clear, though, internal awareness of it can be raised via the subtle yet highly effective route of storytelling. For example, HR VP Jennifer Hartley of Chili’s shared with us a tale told throughout her organization of a 7-year-old named Arianna in Midvale, Utah who ordered a cheeseburger and received it cut in half, because that’s how burgers are served from the kids’ menu. The little girl wouldn't eat it, though, exclaiming, “It's broken!! I need another one that's fixed.” With zero fuss, waitress Lauren Wells took it back, saying, “You know what, I'll have them cook you a new one!" A few minutes later manager Brad Cattermole came to the table, kneeled down, and said to Arianna, “I heard we gave you a broken cheeseburger! I am so sorry about that. We are making you a brand new one that isn't broken, with pickles!” When the replacement arrived, the little girl was overjoyed, kissing the burger and saying “Oh thank you!!! You fixed my cheeseburger!!!" Arianna's older sister Anna MacLean shared the entire incident on Facebook—with the explanation that her little sister is autistic. Everyone at that restaurant going above and beyond standard service resulted in nearly 1 million online views; priceless positive publicity for Chili's; and a story that inspires Chili's employees to this day.


Along similar lines, Pinnacle Financial Partners has a “Wow Budget” that staffers can dip into anytime just to do something exceptionally kind for clients. In addition to earning Pinnacle clients for life, the “Wow” moments often generate stories that remind everyone at the company of its commitment to provide both excellent service and extraordinary experiences.

 

Most of these best practices are likely to appeal across generational boundaries. So the more your company works at integrating Millennial-friendly programs into its culture, the better its chances of attracting and retaining all employees who crave flexibility, are eager to learn and grow with colleagues, and are determined to make a difference.

 

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Business article "How Top Companies Support Their Female Executives" published in Training Magazine

 

Fostering gender diversity isn’t merely good corporate behavior. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, it’s key to survival. As AT&T’s VP of Talent Management Julie Bugala told us, “Women are a majority of our customer base, so understanding their needs, their habits and preferences, is really critical to us. And it’s imperative that we have accomplished women at the top in decision-making positions throughout the company.”

 

We wanted to know what major corporations are doing to support their female executives. We therefore interviewed representatives of a dozen wide-ranging organizations: AT&T (telecommunications), Deloitte (Big Four), 3M (product inventions), Microsoft (software/hardware), Eli Lilly (pharmaceuticals), Salk Institute (biology/health research), State Farm (insurance), Allstate (insurance), Aon (risk management), Edward Jones (financial management), FleishmanHillard (public relations), and First Horizon National (banking). You can hear edited versions of all these interviews by visiting our career diversity/Millennial podcast site at TMCPB.com.

 

Before determining how to most effectively bolster female executives, it’s helpful to understand some of the challenges they face. Consider Deepa Purushothaman of Deloitte, who told us that as a 5’ 1” Indian woman, “I don’t necessarily fit the mold of what people think a leader and an executive is going to look like.” When walking into meetings she was about to lead, she frequently suffered such questions as, “Are you here to take notes?”

 

Purushothaman still clearly remembers a high-stakes consultation scheduled to last an hour with the CTO of a large technology firm. When she entered his office, before she even had a chance to sit down he looked at her and said, “‘If I had a daughter—which I don’t, but if I did—she would actually be older than you. What could you possibly have to share with me?’

 

“If you could see my throat at the time,” Purushothaman said, “it was this big lump. I swallowed to try to find courage from somewhere, and ground myself in my feet so I could answer him back in a strong voice versus the ‘Oh my god, what am I going to say?’ voice that I heard going on in my head.”

 

Purushothaman managed to calm herself and respond, “Give me 15 minutes. And if I don’t say something that is helpful, I’ll give you back the rest of the 45 minutes.

 

“In that moment I realized I didn’t have the gray hairs or years of experience that he was maybe expecting; I didn’t have the engineering or technical depth that he was expecting; but what I did have was the ability to tell him things that he hadn’t been hearing. Because of his personality, I think a lot of people shied away from telling him the truth...so I was very direct and open, and he found that refreshing. And he learned some of the challenges his people were facing and the company was facing...He ended up meeting with me for over two hours. And he ended up being one of my biggest clients, and one of our biggest projects for the next few years.”

 

Finding the strength to say the right thing at the right moment isn’t only a matter of personal character; it’s often fueled by institutional support. Purushothaman credited a program that put her together with other female Deloitte executives five times a year for sessions running 2-3 days each. “For me the big ‘Ah ha!’ was I learned some of the things I was struggling with were the same things these other women were struggling with. (That) gave me such a boost of confidence, I can’t even explain...There’s ‘The Imposter’s Complex,’ a lot of women have it...Realizing that I was placing too much emphasis on what I didn’t know versus what I did know was a huge turning point.”

 

Purushothaman added, “You can’t really manage how people see you or what they make up about you, but you can absolutely influence what they think when you leave a room. (So) don’t focus so much on what people think when you walk in—control what you can control, and be conscious of it. But focus more on what you say in the room so that changes.” Purushothaman now shares such hard-won lessons with her colleagues as Managing Principal of the Women’s Initiative, a Deloitte employee resource group.

 

Every company we spoke with sponsors comparable groups. For example, State Farm has Women in Networking, which VP of HR Annette Martinez told us allows “female leaders to come together to talk about career development, (do) a lot of networking, (and) create a platform for women to succeed by getting support from other women.”

 

Such groups also typically develop and host training programs. For instance, Aon’s Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Nichole Barnes Marshall shared with us, “Often women will focus more on the tactical aspects (such as) degrees, experience, skill sets. Which are all great...but it’s also the image and the exposure.” Aon’s Women’s International Network therefore offers a series of popular workshops on “appearance, how you represent yourself...communication styles, body language—all the things that build the package and your ability to articulate your value.”

 

Further promoting visibility are such programs as the Salk Institute’s Women in Science, a series of seminars which scientist Amy Rommel described as “a bridge between the scientists at Salk and successful women in science or industry, and also the community.” The program gives presenters the opportunity to network with scientists outside of Salk, meet business and government leaders who might help fund their research, and even motivate young girls drawn to science. Scientist Laura Tan added making the public understand their work is part of the job: “We don’t want to be stuck in an ivory tower. We want to be part of the community.”

 

Other ways companies share knowledge and training include internal websites, such as AT&T’s World of Women. VP of Talent Management Julie Bugala described WOW as a “one-stop shop for tools, resources, and information that they can use throughout their careers to...spark the conversation about issues and opportunities that impact women inside and outside of work; challenge the status quo; and, ultimately, helping shape our practices in the future around women.”

 

Eli Lilly has a similar intranet site, but also goes a step further with a public website, Women @ Lilly, at https://lillypad.lilly.com/women.php. The latter includes stories of women who this global corporation has championed worldwide—even in cultures that don’t traditionally encourage female business leaders such as Japan, Korea, and Saudi Arabia—inspiring both current employees and potential new ones.

 

Yet another way to train female executives is through mentorships. Every company we spoke with backs this, be it through formal matching or simply by creating an environment that encourages employees to find experienced advisors to guide them. For example, Allstate’s Director of Talent and Leadership Effectiveness Dianne Ferrara pointed to a new program in which “our Executive VP of HR reached out and selected five women to mentor.” It didn’t stop there, though—each of those women then chose five women to mentor herself; and so on. Called Power of Five, Ferrara deemed it “an organic method” of female executives both receiving help and paying it forward.

 

Some companies, such as First Horizon National, additionally hire professional coaches. According to Lynne Walker, Executive VP of Affinity Banking, these give female executives a consistent “safe place to talk, bounce ideas off of, get different perspectives and feedback, in order to make them better, stronger leaders.”

 

Equally important for career success is sponsorship, which encourages high-level executives to champion and recommend promising talent for key opportunities. A variation on this concept is AT&T’s Executive Women’s Leadership Experience, which Julie Bugala told us is “specifically designed to further develop and retain our highest potential female senior managers (with) high visibility to key business leaders and the CEO. The 20 high-potential female leaders are hand-selected (for) three multi-day sessions throughout the year. They’re like workshops; and they are taught by senior executives from within the company, and also external thought leaders and instructors. The sessions are designed to expose high-potential women to in-depth business views; really help them understand all parts of the business; and demonstrate how they will help drive success in transforming the company to meet all of our key priorities over the next five years.”

 

By the way, training efforts needn’t focus exclusively on rising women. They can additionally be useful for those who choose among the candidates—e.g., by sensitizing top executives to their unconscious biases. Eli Lilly’s Director of Global Diversity and HR Communications Janice Chavers was especially proud of a classroom program that gives leaders “tools and tips to include everybody on their team...The shy woman who doesn’t speak up may have the absolute best ideas, so it’s teaching the leader how to engage that person.”

 

Career support goes beyond maintaining or promoting; it must also include moving laterally. This is especially understood by 3M, a company driven by invention. VP of Global HR Business Operations Jon Ruppel told us 3M’s philosophy is, “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. If you give people the room they need, they innovate.” As a result, if a woman is interested in a career change within the company, “we offer different types of project-based experiences so (she) can dabble in that space to see if there’s a good fit.” If that works out, 3M provides “stretch assignments” for her to further develop. And if those results are promising, 3M helps pay for internal and/or university training for the staffer to fully learn the new skills—which might even occur in a different country, leveraging 3M’s global presence.

 

Also critical, especially for woman with children, is a healthy work/life balance. FleishmanHillard’s Chief of Staff Lisa Moehlenkamp (who’s raised three kids) told us, “Part-time work options, leaves of absence, sabbaticals, we have all of those. But the thing that makes the most difference is just an attitude here about getting done what you need to get done in the way that allows you to integrate your work and life in the most effective way. I have been sitting on the sideline of a soccer game with my earbud in my ear listening to a conference call for work...I don’t mind being on call in the evening, because if I need to follow up with my son during the day while he’s away at school...I have the flexibility to do that.”

 

And speaking of school, one other way a company can ensure diversity is to reach out to female talent early. A prime example is Microsoft’s “DigiGirlz” program, which Executive VP of Global Business Development Peggy Johnson told us “helps young girls 14-18 get interested and stay interested in technology, (and) has grown and expanded to more than 16 countries...It’s a talent pool that we started cultivating 15 years ago. These young girls have...stayed with technical programs all through that time because of the support of DigiGirlz; now we’re actually hiring them.”

 

If you’re at all hesitant about the expense of such programs, consider the words of Edward Jones’ Associate General Partner Penny Pennington: “We consider training an investment, not a cost.”

 

A strong argument can be made for having the same attitude about using training to attract, retain, and nourish female executives.

 

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Introduction to chapter on electronic grammar checker, from

Essential Software for Writers

 

Like many things forced upon us at a tender age, the word “grammar” carries some negative connotations with it.

 

For me, they go back to grade school (a.k.a. “grammar school”), where I spent laborious hours poring over an obtuse red book filled with rules about gerunds and participles and dangling modifiers. I had trouble connecting the hard-sounding words and rigid statements about English to the organic ways in which language weaves and bobs; and so I quickly developed a “bad attitude” about grammar. As a result, to this day I can’t deconstruct a sentence, or even say with any certainty which word is the subject, which is the object, and which is the reject (or whatever).

 

At the same time, I know that correct syntax and punctuation are extremely important. Like fine clothing or a sharp letterhead, they convey to an audience a certain level of competence and care. Similarly, when we allow grammatical errors to creep in, they call into question both overall accuracy and sincerity of effort. (For example, if I’d begun this chapter by stating “Grammar checkers is good things. Very unique. Hopefully, you like them.” it would've demolished my credibility with any reader outside of The Incredible Hulk.)

 

Even worse, such errors threaten clarity. There’s a world of difference between “I love you.” and “I, love you?!” Indeed, fortunes have turned on the placement of a single comma in a contract. (The problem has even become a plot device in fiction. For example, if you’re a fan of the TV series The Prisoner, recall that the show would have ended immediately if Patrick McGoohan's character realized the answer to his question “Who is Number One?” was not the non sequitur “You are Number Six.”—in response to which he roared “I am not a number, I am a free man!”—but rather “You are, Number Six.”) It’s difficult enough to be understood without placing such impediments in our way.

 

How do we reconcile a resistance to language rules with our need for them? A course is suggested by Arthur Zeiger in his book Encyclopedia of English:

 

There is only one “law” of grammar: If any construction is used often enough and widely enough, it is right and proper.

 

There are no invariable “rules of grammar.” However, there are descriptive generalizations concerning grammar. They are valuable, when they conform to reality, in the same way that a periodic chart of chemical elements is valuable; both abridge the total learning process.

 

But remember: if a generalization and a usage do not agree, the generalization is not necessarily wrong, and the usage certainly is not. It is merely that the generalization is not comprehensive enough to cover the usage.

 

In other words, if you have a good ear for language, trust it; but when in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek guidance from existing rules. (Or, as Ken Kesey once wisely advised, “Take what you can use and let the rest go by.”)

 

This same attitude should be held toward grammar checkers. It’s likely that you won’t agree with much of what these programs tell you about your documents (especially if you write well). However, if you patiently work with them, and fine-tune them to accommodate your particular writing style, they'll help you catch errors that no other type of program can.

 

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Theatre reviews for The New York Times and my arts site HyReviews.com

 

Review of Jesus in Montana

For The New York Times,  8/15/05

 

"In the old days, it was easy. Someone strolls by and cures you of leprosy, he's Jesus. Times were simpler then."

 

So laments syndicated humorist Barry Smith in his one-man show, Jesus in Montana, a comedic account of Mr. Smith's joining a doomsday cult in the early 1990s.

 

You might wonder how an intelligent person could be convinced Jesus had come back to live a relatively obscure life—particularly as a guy named "Doc," an 80-year-old chiropractor who was once convicted of child molestation.

 

But, according to Mr. Smith, the signs were there, via the 1991 Gulf war, numerology, and biblical passages—all of which he demonstrates via a series of graphs, photos, and home movies.

 

With the wisdom of hindsight, Mr. Smith then uses the same techniques to make an equally credible, and hilarious, case for Paul McCartney being dead in 1969.

 

Of course, Mr. Smith had doubts even when he was in the cult. But these were always brushed off as tests of faith, similar to when God ordered Abraham to kill his son Isaac. Mr. Smith now wonders whether such tests "make God seem like a single, insecure parent with a bit of an alcohol problem."

 

Mr. Smith's cult experience—which finally ended during his recovery from a serious head injury—soured him on organized religion. However, he says he still has a deep belief in and connection to God.

 

Mr. Smith is an affable storyteller; and his show is both funny and gently thought-provoking.

 

 

Review of The Del Close Improv Marathon

For HyReviews.com,  7/19/05

 

There are two types of people in the world: Those who find Jiffy Pop as much fun to make as it is to eat; and those who prefer to skip the interim steps and buy their snacks pre-popped.

 

If you're in the former group, you'll probably enjoy improvisational comedy—which not only supplies laughs, but shows you the process performers take to get to them.

 

Many of the best improv comics in the country will be converging July 22-24, 2005 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (307 West 26th Street) for a continuous 3-day festival. (And I mean continuous—some of the most popular acts come on around 3:00 am.) Admission for the entire 50+ hour extravaganza is only $20—though, like a trendy nightclub, when the house is packed you must wait on line for people to leave until there's room to let you in.

 

The marathon is an annual UCB ritual to honor the memory of Del Close, who pioneered and championed improvisational comedy for over 30 years, tutoring such comedic icons as John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis, John Candy, and Mike Myers.

 

Close led a colorful life. For example, according to his writing partner Kim Johnson, in the late 1950s the U.S. government conducted experiments with the sleeping mind for which Close was a paid participant. When he prematurely left the program, Close received a letter from the government stating "You owe us two more dreams." During the 1960s, Close roller-skated through the sewers of Chicago with a flashlight strapped to his head, shooting rats. And in 1999, Closes dying words were "I'm tired of being the funniest one in the room."

 

Hundreds of improv troupes apply each year to participate in the Del Close marathon—and the cream of the crop will be unleashed this weekend. (For a complete schedule, visit www.delclosemarathon.com.)

 

By definition, there's no telling what to expect from these impromptu performers. But to give you a taste, last year's festival offered such pithy observations as "Michelle Kwan's a really good skater, too bad she's Asian...;" gangs of celebrities, including multiple versions of Burt Reynolds, partying and periodically beating each other up; and some maniac pretending to be Tony Hawk slamming his body repeatedly between the back wall and a column at the foot of the stage, until it was impossible to not see the graceful arc of the nonexistent skateboard beneath him.

 

If one performer epitomized last year's marathon, however, it was the guy who abruptly stood on his head and then declared "I'm wearing the world as my hat." With that simple move and seven words, he transformed our entire planet—with all its governments, cultures, and conflicts—into his personal apparel. It was a demonstration that no matter how bad things get, we can always use imagination to empower us. And that's the true magic of improv.

 

The down side, of course, is that in between those transcendent moments on stage, there can be long lags when nothing genuinely interesting happens. In this way, improv comedy is much like life itself.

 

For that matter, it can be argued the purest form of improv is created not by professionals, but by everyday people under structured conditions. This is unquestionably the most popular and commercial form of improv—it's called reality television.

 

Small wonder that safe and predictable scripted TV fell victim to Richard Hatch dropping his shorts, Omarosa railing against falling plaster, and William Hung providing a rendition of "She Bangs" no one ever dreamed possible.

 

By the same token, if you've tired of retread sitcoms and Adam Sandler vehicles, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre awaits to give you the world—as long as you're willing to stand on your head.

 

 

Review of Decoding the Tablecloth

For HyReviews.com, 8/25/04

 

Gabriela Kohen, the writer-performer of the one-woman show Decoding the Tablecloth, conjures more than a variety of characters; in layered strokes, she paints a portrait of her Brooklyn childhood and the key figures who inhabited it.

 

According to the program pamphlet, "Gabriela's grandmother, Leike, left Poland for Argentina in 1938 (at) 24 years old. All of her remaining family in the Polish village of Kobryn were murdered by the Nazis...Gabriela's family lived with Leike in Brooklyn for several years."

 

Kohen performs her grandmother Leike with heartrending perfection, offering nuances full of meaning to those whose lives have been touched by Holocaust survivors—the enormous nonjudgmental love of children, the fear of outsiders, the importance placed on holding the family together above all else. In one vignette, Leike looks out her apartment's window and says, "Gabyleh, you can play from this line to this line, so I can watch you...in case something happens." In another, we're told "The tears would drip down her face, and she would iron them right into the sheets."

 

Kohen's world also included many others—her mother, her father, her aunts, the neighborhood tough kids...even herself as a child, clutching at a "Josie and the Pussycats" lunchbox. Kohen flows into each character with ease and grace. She indicates every persona with a small prop—a cap for one, a green jacket for another—but they're actually unnecessary, due to how completely she transforms via her skilled use of accents, facial expressions, hand movements, and body language.

 

We don't get the Disney versions, either—for example, we learn Kohen used to be beaten by her father, and then her schoolmates. And that she learned to take it and take it, vowing that no matter how much she was hurt, she'd never cry.

 

But then her grandmother dies—and when Kohen tries to play a recording of Leike talking to her, the tape suddenly breaks. Kohen finally bursts into tears, wailing "How will I remember my grandmother now?"

 

She's clearly found a wonderful way to do so; and for all of us to remember Leike as well.

 

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Hy Bender

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Email: hy@hyreviews.com

 

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