Archive for September, 2017

Reviewing the writing process

“What’s it like to write an article every week?” people sometimes ask.

“It makes the week fly by!” I usually respond.

All good writing starts with good ideas. And good ideas are birthed by other good ideas.

My college English professor, Darryl Tippens, was right: “You’ll never write a lot unless you read a lot.”

Put another way, all good readers aren’t good writers, but all good writers are good readers.

Oftentimes good ideas come to life as they’re dwelt upon. Hence, revising is paramount in the writing process.

I hated revising as a student. Proofreading felt like a waste of time. I now realize it makes or breaks a piece, and it has become a favorite part of my routine.

“Two words are not better than one,” Newberry Award winner Madeleine L’Engle said.

Especially if your throng doesn’t know what one of them means! Throng? It means audience.

William Zinsser, in his classic work On Writing Well, wrote:

“Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost…We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can’t believe that it wasn’t born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 per cent that it wasn’t.”

Getting an imperfect first draft down is half the battle. Fear of failure, fear of exposure, fear of apostrophes; the opposition is fierce.

Accept that your first draft will be crappy, Anne Lamott said, albeit in slightly smellier language.

In conquering the rough draft, no substitute exists for old-fashioned discipline.

“I only write when I feel like it,” Max Lucado told a writers’ conference once. “And I make sure I feel like it every morning at 9:00 a.m.”

“Write a page every day at the same place and time,” John Grisham told the New York Times in May. “Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.”

Grisham continued, “Early morning, lunch break, on the train, late at night — it doesn’t matter. Find the extra hour, go to the same place, shut the door. No exceptions, no excuses.”

But don’t keep the door shut forever. Try out your writing in other places.

Lucado suggests reading your writing to yourself, to a friend, out loud, in your bedroom, in your dining room, on your porch, etc. Hear how it sounds in different settings and before different audiences (a.k.a. throngs!).

Zinsser agrees, “Bear in mind, when you’re choosing your words and stringing them together, how they sound…Readers read with their eyes. But in fact they hear what they are reading far more than you realize.”

Then there’s the need for voice, which basically means being true to yourself.

“My commodity as a writer, whatever I’m writing about, is me,” wrote Zinsser. “And your commodity is you. Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page.”

Lamott also encourages personalization.

“You own everything that happened to you,” she wrote in Bird by Bird. “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”


Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 

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Developer: Build up and close, not far and out

I heard a telling definition of “developer” recently from none other than a developer himself:

“A developer is someone who takes your money and his experience and turns it into his money and your experience.”

The Greater Boerne Chamber of Commerce has been on a mission to advance the conversation about how, where and when healthy development happens in our area.

Within the last year, the Chamber has hosted two presentations with ties to an organization called Strong Towns, a public affairs group dedicated to rethinking how America builds its cities.

Strong Towns exposes the fiscal and congestion-related challenges facing U.S. municipalities, particularly as they relate to creating new infrastructure and maintaining old.

Austin-based developer Terry Mitchell is affiliated with the group. He addressed a Chamber gathering in Boerne last week.

Mitchell compared development in any region to a swath of oak trees with an extensively intertwined root system. A cause on one side of the grove can have an effect on the other. With any kind of development – just like with legislation – there are both intended and unintended consequences.

For example, suburban office parks pop up when a city’s core becomes too pricey and too congested. According to Mitchell, this happened in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s and then in Austin a decade later.

Decades of urban and suburban sprawl are now hamstringing American cities with infrastructure upkeep costs.

I won’t scare you with the numbers. Suffice it to say the maintenance costs on our existing state and federal roadways are huge enough – and resources are thin enough – to have “gravel” offered as a potential solution. (Gravel is cheap to maintain.)

“You never pay off a road,” Mitchell said. “Every twenty to forty years you have to rebuild it.” He noted transportation challenges are exacerbated by public resistance to toll roads.

Given the ongoing maintenance cost of even brand new infrastructure, some cities are demanding more tax value from new developments in exchange for the future infrastructure costs the cities will absorb.

Cities are also using other strategies to crack the nut. They are attempting to drive more tax base growth on top of existing infrastructure (e.g., build up instead of out).

And they are trying to bring jobs, recreation, services, etc. to where people live in order to minimize transportation needs.

Density seems to be a silver bullet in the fight to leverage past infrastructure expenditures rather than creating new ones. Mitchell referenced examples of triplexes that look like the single family residences on either side of them.

Higher density development can improve quality of life while reducing the cost of life. It can increase community spirit with its common areas and vegetable gardens. It also brings energy savings as unit sizes decrease.

We haven’t always needed much space, Mitchell noted. The average home in 1959 was 953 square feet.  And if you don’t need much space, you don’t have to build that far out, thereby further limiting transportation outlays.

If there’s anything our fiscal pickles and public debt debacles teach us, it’s that we must get smarter about how we grow. Otherwise, we’ll eventually collapse under our own weight.


Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

 

TXDOT Planning Roadways Around Boerne

Like it or not, Boerne has traded Bergmann’s for Buc-ee’s. You can rant, or you can rave, but you can’t not notice the extra fifteen seconds it takes you to pull out of an intersection near you.

Of all the ways population growth affects an area, none is more pronounced than vehicle congestion.

I may wait an extra week for a library book every once in a while, or I may wait periodically for a tennis court. But sitting in traffic impacts my life everyday.

“Transportation is a family values issue,” The Honorable Dan Branch used to tell a conservative Texas House of Representatives. “You can’t spend time with your family when you’re stuck in traffic.”

Branch’s remarks often came while lawmakers jockeyed either to reduce transportation funding or to siphon gas tax revenues into non-road areas of state government.

Boerne’s City Council and Kendall County’s Commissioners Court were on the right track when they linked up in 2015 to formally ask the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to help preserve corridors for future roadways.

By mid-2016, TXDOT committed $250,000 – yes, $250,000 – for a comprehensive “Kendall Gateway Study.” TXDOT has since engaged multiple engineering and consulting firms, as well as various local stakeholder groups.

A January 2017 open house brought hundreds of concerned citizens from the woodworks along with dozens of comments about the mobility and congestion issues facing Kendall County.

After almost a year of talking, the study’s rubber is starting to hit the road. While we are still a few months away from conclusions, some points are rising to the surface.

“This study is data driven,” understated one of the project’s engineers. A report posted to the study’s Web site shows 283 pages of documentation about the aforementioned open house.

Every e-mailed, handwritten or spoken remark was captured for posterity’s sake. We’re largely saying the same things: keep Boerne desirable and create sufficient through routes and roadway redundancies.

In addition to the age-old tube strips across roadways, engineers are using Bluetooth-enabled traffic data collection methods.

If a vehicle has a GPS or mobile device emitting a Bluetooth signal, data collectors can tell not only from which direction it enters Boerne but also in which direction it leaves, purportedly without invading anyone’s privacy.

Of the traffic coming into Boerne from State Highway 46 (SH 46) east (i.e., Bergheim area), a majority is going west toward Kerrville, not into the country’s 7th largest city, San Antonio. Traffic from SH 46 west of Boerne tends to go toward San Antonio.

Increasingly, SH 46 is being used as an outer loop. As Loop 1604 gets more developed and congested, traffic flows from Interstate 35 and from Interstate 10 east of San Antonio are turning to SH 46.

Whether this data prioritizes a thoroughfare around Boerne’s northeast side from SH 46 to IH 10 West over a southeast connector from SH 46 to IH 10 East remains debatable.

What is not debatable is this: Not only do we have a lot of people moving to Boerne, we also have a lot of people moving through Boerne. Hopefully, we’re getting closer to deciding which route(s) they should take.

 

Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

A Bible Belt Survival Guide

Except for a single semester in college, I have never not lived in the Bible Belt. I’ve also experienced firsthand – and for long stretches – what some people call the buckles: Nashville, Dallas and Abilene.

For the carpetbaggers among us, the Bible Belt is that swath of the religious South not easily understood by eastern bluebloods, western free spirits or pragmatic midwesterners, though the latter likely relates the most.

The Bible Belt’s culture is frequently stereotyped in national entertainment and media circles.

It is even parodied within itself by folks – yes, folks – like Jon Acuff, editor of the Web site “Stuff Christians Like,” along with Christian comedians Tim Hawkins, Tripp Crosby and John Crist.

These content creators certainly differentiate between (A) making light of the idiosyncrasies of God’s people and (B) making fun of God.

They would likely point out that Jesus himself had his biggest field days with the religious people of his day.

The humorists might even adapt Churchill’s line, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others,” by saying the church is the worst form of religious organizations except for all the others.  Jesus did give his spirit to his body, after all.

But sometimes we maintain our sanity by laughing at ourselves, which is my intent with the following survival tips.

Whether your radio station is The Fish, The Rock, The Way, The River, K-LOVE or W-JOY, the same record labels seem to control the playlist. It includes the same five songs, and they all sound about the same. For artistic health, mix in some U2, Tim McGraw and Mat Kearney.

You will go to church with someone who makes you want to bathe in the baptistry when you finish talking to him. Tape your top grace-themed scriptures to your shampoo bottle.

There will be more service opportunities than you have time or energy to fulfill. Boundaries will blur as guilt creeps in. A well-timed decline of a volunteer solicitation may keep you from burning out in areas that matter more.

Small groups have many names: care groups, community groups, life groups, heart groups, Hebrews 10:25 groups. They all mean the same thing: Christianity is more relational, vulnerable and transparent than most of us would naturally prefer.

Whether your group is church-sanctioned or just a band of believers, intimate allies will keep Christianity relational, not just cultural. The church did start around a dinner table.

If you hire a plumber with a fish on his business card, he may not be any better at plumbing – or treat you any more honestly – than a plumber with a Harley sticker on his truck. As Reagan said, “Trust and verify.”

Finally, author John Eldredge tells the story of a tour guide he experienced in the Normandy region of France, site of the Allies’ 1944 D-Day invasion. The dull docent demonstrated nonchalance not commensurate with the heroism that happened there.

“He had all of the facts, but none of the story,” Eldredge observed.

For believers deep in the Bible Belt, may the same not be said of us.


Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Over the Hill, Under the Sea

I turned forty two weeks ago. Yes, I was born within a week of Elvis’ passing. Mom still thinks there’s a correlation.

Going over the hill is not as bad as I feared. It’s not a mountain, after all. And I still have hair, at least when viewed from the front.

From the back, it’s a different story.

Scientists call it male pattern baldness. My wife calls it a solar panel for a you-know-what machine. My kids call it a “Bob spot.”

I tell them it’s just proof that I know something. Then I remind the boys about the concept of heredity.

Hair changes, including the aggressive protrusion of hair from the insides of one’s ears, are among the differences time inspire.

Just as bodies change with the decades, so do the questions about the road of life.

The first decade of life demands, “Are we there yet?” The teenage years scream, “What a ride!” The twenties announce, “I’ve arrived.” The thirties, with its focus on kids and career, wonder, “Am I getting anywhere?”

Then, you get to the top of the proverbial hill and ask, “Do I like the view?” Many people don’t.

Here, a fork appears: Will I grow disgruntled with how things have turned out and take an off-ramp? Or will I stay the course and finish what I started?

People find plenty of justifications for the exits they take. By mid-life, the drip, drip, drip of life can fill to neck level. Life has a way of not meeting expectations, and a fortieth birthday can pronounce the disappointments.

The so-called mid-life crisis may not simply be a calculated, albeit selfish, decision. It may feel compulsive, like a survival mechanism, like a choice to remain viable.

We innately know at age forty that the ride down won’t be smooth or gradual. “Getting old is not for sissies,” old-timers say between doctor visits.

The best we can hope for is that the hilltop visit sharpens our focus on what’s important.

Blogger Morgan Snyder says most people spend their thirties building kingdoms: families, businesses, careers, organizations, etc.

He, instead, spent his thirties attempting to accumulate wisdom. He interviewed dozens of gray hairs and presented the results at www.becomegoodsoil.com.

Snyder concludes that people are like icebergs: ninety per cent is below the surface – their motives. The behavior and actions above the surface are driven by what lies beneath.

The person who excavates his life – and allows timeless wisdom from ancient paths to form a firm foundation – that is the person who takes the hill and keeps on climbing.


Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

 


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