Kind of a Big Deal…

Last week, I got an email from a member of the Plante Moran management team congratulating me on my promotion to associate: “Congrats on the well-deserved promotion. Let me know if you need help writing an acceptance speech.”

It occurred to me, then, that although associates don’t give speeches like our new partners do (out of necessity—can you imagine having to endure 60+ new associate speeches?) that I have a built-in platform to do just that. So if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to take a break from posts like “You and Your Semicolon.” Instead, I’d like to talk a little about what this promotion means to me and thank the two people who most made it possible.

A Brief History of Plante Moran & Me
I came to Plante Moran after teaching freshman composition at both Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College. Although I loved teaching, it wasn’t lucrative. I always had at least three jobs simultaneously, and after a few years, I craved the simplicity of a single job. I saw an ad for a proofreader position at Plante Moran (in the newspaper—that’s how people looked for jobs back then), and in May 2000, I joined the firm.

I told my manager, Ron Reed, about my writing and teaching background, and almost immediately he came to me with an opportunity to write an article about fraud for Dave Wells, a member of our forensic & valuations services team. I spoke with Dave, wrote the article, and he loved it. He actually said he felt guilty about putting his name on it. That article was the beginning of my writing career at the firm. Funny how the action of one single person can make such a difference; if Ron hadn’t recognized my potential and uncovered that opportunity, I doubt I’d be at Plante Moran today. (Proofreading can be painfully monotonous. I’m talking to you, due diligence reports.)

As word got out that the firm had a writing resource, I got more and more opportunities. I started writing articles for our firm magazine, Universal Advisor, and even the occasional internal communication. After three years or so, I changed positions and moved from the graphics department to the marketing department where I still work today. There it was all writing, all the time, and I loved it. Eventually I became the editor of Universal Advisor and had opportunities to work on everything from management team communications to speeches to video scripts. In January, I was promoted within the department to “supervisor of content marketing and internal communications” and, effective tomorrow, I will become an associate at the firm.

My Two Most Significant Mentors
I met Donna Smith within a few weeks of joining Plante Moran. I remember going out to meet with her in Auburn Hills so we could discuss the edits I’d made to a document she was working on. “I can’t believe she’s questioning my edits,” I grumbled. (My ego loomed much larger then than it does now.)

It wasn’t long, however, before she trusted me and even began letting me work on her “baby,” Universal Advisor. She knew I was growing tired of proofreading and really wanted to focus on writing, and she became my greatest advocate. She spearheaded an effort to get me noticed by key people within the marketing department, and I will always believe that the primary reason I was brought into the marketing fold was because she campaigned for me so tirelessly. Before I joined the department, there was no “writing” position; it was created for me. Thank you, Donna, for everything. For 15 years, you’ve been an amazing mentor, confidant, and friend. Somehow I managed to come to the firm without being assigned a “buddy,” but as far as I’m concerned, you’ve always been mine.

And then there’s Teresa McAlpine, who’s been my manager since I joined the marketing department. It’s hard to narrow Teresa down to a paragraph, so I’m going to do a top 3 things I love about her instead:

  1. Her poker face. Teresa is the consummate professional, and her emotions rarely betray her. Whether in group meetings or one-on-one, she has this look that manages to be simultaneously interested, supportive, and devoid of judgment. Until, that is, you do something career-limiting like try to give the firm’s managing partner talking points you’ve scrawled illegibly on a wrinkly scrap of paper. And then she saves you from yourself.
  2. Her candor. We have a saying at Plante Moran: “Candor is kindness.” Teresa was feeling particularly candid one day when she gave me some “feedback” about something I’d written. She said—and I remind her of this often—that it was “turgid and constipated.” And she was right.
  3. Her selfless leadership. I can’t think of a single time in more than a decade where Teresa was too busy to listen/help/counsel/comfort/talk me down off a ledge/etc. This woman gives new meaning to the phrase “open-door policy”—there’s always someone in her office; it’s a wonder she gets any of her own work done. She puts her team ahead of herself, and she epitomizes the kind of leader I strive to be—kind, compassionate, supportive and, of course, candid.

Thank you, Teresa. If I could play the Plante Moran “wind beneath my wings” partner song for you right now, I would. Instead, you have to settle for this.

It Is Kind of a Big Deal
Although there are hundreds of associates at Plante Moran, it’s much less common to be promoted within an internal department (marketing, HR, technology, etc.) because we don’t generate revenue directly for the firm. What makes this year even more noteworthy is that there are three marketing staff that share this promotion—my friends Dan Tines and Laura Kopsch were also promoted. Congratulations to Dan and Laura. It’s a pleasure working with and sharing this honor with the two of you. Today’s song of the week is dedicated to you both. (And no, Dan, it’s not Jim Brickman.)

Word of the Week: Turgid
Song of the Week: You Did It, by Jason Mraz

#octothorpe

For the past several years, I’ve participated in a weekly trivia league. It’s a lot of fun, and my team does reasonably well, enough to earn a gift card now and then.

This year we did better than most. In fact, we made the league finals. 50+ of the top teams in Michigan convened in Woodhaven to compete, and we held our own. Then came the category “Words.”

Perfect, right? Not so fast. I both love it and hate it when we get a “Words” category. I love it because I know lots of words; I hate it because, if I’m wrong, I never hear the end of it. Being the finals, I expected something reasonably difficult. I got this: “In writing, the word ‘octothorpe’ is the technical term for what grammar mark?”

As is typical for this particular category, all heads at the table turned to me expectantly. *crickets*

“Well,” I speculated, “Maybe the @ symbol is also known as an ‘octothorpe.’” That seemed like a good guess; after all, it has to have a name beyond “at symbol.” And it does (see below)—but I regret to inform you that it’s not “octothorpe.”

Nope. An octothorpe is—drumroll, please—the pound sign or hash symbol. (#really?) After drawing it out and staring at the nine squares encompassing it, I realized that the “octo” actually comes from the eight lines that stick out around the character—which actually makes a lot of sense.

It made me wonder, though—are there other characters that have technical terms I’m unaware of? I did a quick Google search and found that:

  • @ is also referred to as an “ampersat,” an “arobase,” and an “asperand.”
  • ^, or “caret,” is also called a “circumflex.”
  • &, which we all know as the “ampersand,” is also called an “epershand.”
  • /, the forward slash, is also called a “virgule” or a “whack.”
  • \, the back slash, is also called a “reverse solidus.”

Interesting, right? So be honest—how many of you knew what an “octothorpe” was before reading this post? Perhaps you should join our trivia team…

The 40-Year Old Sesquipedalian

Between teaching at Eastern and starting at Plante Moran, I endured a five-month stint as a waitress at Senate Coney Island in Livonia. I was a terrible waitress—frenetic and easily overwhelmed—and I had occasional lapses in focus. For example, one evening I was waiting on a couple. I took their order and headed over to retrieve their drinks. Somewhere between point A and point B, I decided that I, too, was thirsty, so I got myself a Pepsi and proceeded to drink it. That was when I noticed my table—my only table at the time—staring at me incredulously. I walked back with their drinks and said something to the effect of, “That gives new meaning to the word ‘apathy.’” The guy laughed, and at the end of the meal, he came up to me with a $10 bill. “You don’t often hear a waitress use the word ‘apathy,’” he said.

I’d argue that you don’t often hear anyone use the word “apathy,” but whatever—in this guy’s mind, poor service + a three-syllable word = big bucks/no whammies, and that was just fine with me. But when someone has the vocabulary of, say, Frasier Crane (who once sent me to the dictionary after he used the word “jejune”), it tends to have a polarizing effect. Some people, like my customer, are impressed. Others are irritated. I’m reminded of an instance where a friend of mine was working as a pharmacy assistant. A customer was trying to access a drug without a prescription, and at some point Shadia used the word “acquiesce.” “Ac-quee-what did you say?” he asked. “You think you’re smarter than me, using big words like that?”

Now, Shadia didn’t use that word to put on airs or make him feel inferior. She used it because “acquiesce” rolls off her tongue as easily as “roll” or “tongue.” She earned that word like she’s earned so many others—through years of combing through various books and conversations with similarly articulate people.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with smaller words. Here I have to, again, quote Stephen King: “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.” The same goes for speaking.

Do you remember that “In Living Color” skit featuring Damon Wayans as Oswald Bates, a guy who attempted to sound intelligent via big words but actually just came off as ridiculous? If not, here it is. This is an extreme example, but I think most of us can think of a time when we’ve heard a colleague or friend use a word that was clearly incorrect. For example, I have a friend who often says “exasperate” when he means “exacerbate.” I’ve never corrected him, but it’s all I can do not to quote “The Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

My vocabulary is constantly increasing, but each word is earned. I like the word “jejune”—I like it a lot, actually—but I don’t use it. Why? Because the only time I’ve encountered it is via an episode of “Frasier.” It would sound stilted and awkward coming out of my mouth, not to mention a little pretentious. A vocabulary is built over a lifetime, and the introduction of new words is earned over repeated encounters—not via word-of-the-day calendars (though those can be fun).

What do you think? Are you a sesquipedalian? Do you have an example of a time a friend or colleague used one word when he/she clearly meant another? And how great was “In Living Color”?

Word of the Week: Sesquipedalian
Song of the Week: More Than Words, Extreme

And May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

When I tell people that I hate to fly, they typically nod in agreement. “The seats are so small and cramped,” they’ll say, or “Security is such a hassle.” But none of those things bothers me. In fact, I’d rather stand in a five-hour security line than take a 45-minute flight to Chicago. Because despite the fact that the chances of dying in a plane crash are about 1 in 11 million, I’m convinced I’ll be that one—that I’m tempting fate every time I step onto one of those rickety old deathtraps. (The planes that transport me from point A to point B always seem to be one piece of duct tape away from disaster. I never like the cuts of their jibs.)

So you can imagine my bemusement when I came across an article on mentalfloss.com called “This Airplane Seat Knows When You’re Nervous.” Does it, now? Does it really? And, more importantly, what’s it going to do about it? Drop a mask down from the ceiling supplying nitrous oxide? Cue the TV screen in front of me to begin a slideshow depicting aviation safety statistics? Alert a stewardess to stop by pronto with a 4:1 ratio of rum and coke?

Not exactly. Apparently these new, state-of-the-art seats contain sensors that read one’s heart’s electrical impulses and collect this data into an app called Flightbeat. So when my unnaturally high heartbeat registers, flight attendants are supposed to take note that I may be “uncomfortable” and—I swear this is what the article says—“drop by with a glass of water or a blanket to provide some support.”

I’m sorry, but a glass of water and a blanket aren’t going to help when I’m *this* far away from becoming William Shatner (or John Lithgow, if you prefer the movie) in that “Twilight Zone” episode with the gremlin on the plane. You want to help me? Lose the water and the blanket and provide me, instead, with continuous, “This turbulence is completely normal, and this plane is definitely not crashing” updates. Every 3–5 minutes should suffice, with more frequent assurances upon any “fasten seat belt” indicators or unexpected turbulence.

Honestly, I don’t think these seats are even necessary, as you can typically spot uncomfortable travelers by our claw-like grips on the armrests; the way, upon the first sign of turbulence, we recoil and invade fellow passengers’ personal space (twice I’ve held strangers’ hands, and I’m not a big hand-holder by nature); or the way we stare, part mournfully, part terrified, out the window at the world below. You can also tell by our companions on these sure-to-be-ill-fated flights who—in the case of my poor husband—appear exhausted (because I won’t let him sleep) and slightly irritated that his valiant attempts at humor go unappreciated. (In other circumstances, hearing Steve tell me that I’d better save my work because we’re “in the cloud” would be funny.)

So to recap:

  1. Driving, good. Flying, bad.
  2. Seat sensors are unnecessary.
  3. Do not, under any circumstances, approach me with water and a blanket while I’m monitoring the plane’s wing and listening for sounds that may indicate our impending doom. Can’t you see I’m busy?

What about you? Do you enjoy flying? Why or why not? Have you ever sat next to someone like me? If so, how did you handle it? I’m sure Steve would appreciate your insights.

Phrase of the Week: Cut of your jib
Song of the Week: Shit Luck, by Modest Mouse* 

*Chosen because of its opening lyric: “This plane is definitely crashing!” Not a good choice for the airplane playlist.