When People Reach Out and Remind You of the Advice You’ve Given? Blessed.

1481048898823Yesterday, I received an email from a former student of mine. She said she is an avid reader of my blog and encouraged me to keep on going having read one of my posts I wrote about needing a break from writing. She’s clever, this one. She asked if I remembered advice I had given in class, and stated that she remembered me offering it to students on one pretty, spring day. The advice I had given was this: to step away sometimes from things we are working on and come back to them with fresh perspectives.

Yes, I do remember saying that. It’s one of my mantras for writing. Put it away, and then look at it again later.

I can’t tell you how touched I was to receive that email that cheered me on and told me to persevere.

It’s not the only one I’ve received (which makes me feel super good that people are actually reading my blog and what I write!) I had another former student of mine tell me that my words saved her years ago in one of her darkest moments. Yes, I remember that, too. Her email brought tears to my eyes. We were both going through some tough times and we shared that with each other.

Many people have reached out to me to check on me. I find it sweet, touching, and encouraging.

Let me assure everyone that I am fine. Perfectly fine. Think of me as Elizabeth Gilbert, only without the year-long traveling to three different countries to reconnect with herself in Eat, Pray Love. I just needed a few weeks to sit back and take a look at what I was doing and ask the question why? (You can blame it on the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek that I’ll be using in the new course I’m teaching this fall). Clearly by reading this post and others I have written since that day, I am not giving up blogging. As I said in a previous post, it’s not the writing that is most challenging. I love that. I will keep on doing that. It’s the decision to just take a break from intense book marketing for a bit. It eats up a ton of your time and doesn’t allow you to do the thing you love most: WRITE.

Have no fear: I’ll be back at it. Why? Because I care about my published works too much not to give it all I’ve got.

I just hit the pause button the DVR.

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And that clever student of mine also reminded me of another discussion we had in class, as my post hinted at those people who want to see you fail (which, truthfully, we should never take into consideration—ever—although thoughts of them can make you work harder). She said that this notion really resonated with her, and that was “to celebrate other people’s accomplishments.” She said she thinks of our talk all the time, and we shared examples in class of people not always being supportive of our endeavors. As she said, and I quote her, “Learning to celebrate others’ successes showcases a person’s quality, and sometimes an opportunity can arise from that interaction.” In other words, yes, boost them up. Give them a high five. To tell them that the work they have done was well done. As she indicated, it’s a sign of someone’s maturity to be happy for another person’s success. It’s not an indication of our own failure.

And this lack of support is something we notice. We notice when others are not happy for our success (and sometimes they honestly don’t know just the amount of grit and sweat and tears and grueling hours we have that put into it—it can be downright maddening.) As difficult as it may be sometimes, it’s your duty as a friend or family member to extend congratulations when someone else does something awesome and to help in any way you can. We all agreed that we must always try our best to be congratulatory always when someone we know has worked tirelessly to achieve a goal. I’m so glad my student remembered this bit of advice, too.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: it’s been wonderful to hear from people who actually do want to see you continue on your path and hope you reach your goals. And, it’s been pretty cool to have people reiterate some of the discussions we’ve had in the past. Therefore, to my former students, friends, colleagues and family who have reached out to have a side conversation regarding these latest thoughts, THANK YOU. I appreciate you more than you know.

Stepping back to re-examine is a good thing. I’m blessed to have so many helpful encouragers in my life.

And a fresh writing and book promotion perspective is just what the doctor ordered.

I’m working on that.

Stephanie

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

 

The Case for Teaching: Inspiring Students AND Inspired by Students

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One of my students wrote this piece about my blog for our campus newspaper. So cute.

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sitting on my porch writing this post and looking at this glorious day sipping my cup of coffee from my Yeti (which keeps it INCREDIBLY hot, let me just say). In a little while, my daughter and I will head to my parents’ house and sit by their pool and spend time with my brother and his family who are visiting. My son and husband will go play golf–a ritual they’ve tried to do on one day of the weekend. I love that they do this, as my son has one year left of high school before he enters college. I love my summers; they afford me a lot of writing, reading, and family time. That’s for sure. And, they allow me time to plan for the upcoming academic year.

In less than a month, I’ll be back on campus at Stevenson University teaching classes for my 17th year there (my 24th year of teaching overall). I started teaching when a neighbor of mine, who worked at the community college, asked me if I could teach an adjunct course in public speaking. As I had a minor in speech communication and a master’s degree, I told her I could, and a year and a half later (yes, it took that long!), I taught my first course at night.

I fell in love with teaching right then and there.

I was incredibly lucky, as I already had a full-time job I loved working for the Baltimore Orioles. Now, I had a part-time job I loved, too.

When I was hired by Villa Julie in 2000, and then became a full-time faculty member in 2008 when the college changed its name to Stevenson University, I was ecstatic. Somewhere in the back of my head even as a college student myself, I knew I wanted to teach. My mother taught middle school English for 30 years, her uncle was a teacher, my uncle is a professor, two of my aunts were teachers…so you get the picture. Sometimes, honestly, a profession may just be in your blood. And sometimes a profession feels more like a passion.

I probably don’t say it enough, especially to my students, but I love working with them. And to my former students, I loved working with you all, too. I enjoy watching them grow from quiet and unsure freshmen to confident and self-assured young people ready to take on the work force. Some of their transformations are downright amazing, while others of them confidently continue on their trajectory to success. I am so proud of what they have become and what they continue to do out in the world today.

Being in the classroom with students is one of my favorite things. In my writing courses, I especially love when we have meaningful discussions and I get to hear from them about their lives or how a particular piece of writing affected them. In my advertising class, I get to see them make a final pitch—trust me when I tell you, some of those pitches would knock your socks off! In my public relations class last year, the students actually made me so proud when they executed their press conferences that I got a little choked up and teary. And this year, I’m teaching a whole new course, whereby we will function as a full-service agency. It’s going to be exciting.

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As a university professor, no two days are the same, and I don’t have to sit behind a desk all day long. I am there to inspire the students, but the truth is, half the time, they end up inspiring me. They make me want to be a better teacher each and every day.

Honestly, if you open your ears and listen to what your students have to say, it can be quite powerful. They have stories to tell and experiences to share, and they are always eager to understand what I have to impart, even when sometimes they may not fully understand the method to my madness. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time.

But it’s always worth it.

Yes, school starts in less than a month.

I can’t wait to see what this academic year brings.

 

Stephanie

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

7 Meaningful Takeaways from 2016

Hello Friends, Readers, and Fellow Bloggers,

It’s hard to believe it’s that time of the year again—a time to reflect on the past year and see if there were any takeaways and lessons learned from the last 365 days. In my college classes, I always have students write a final reflection that permits them the opportunity to critically analyze what they have learned over the course of the semester. I figured I’d do the same about what I’ve learned in 2016.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-4-37-37-pm#1: Your Health Is Everything

This past summer, I made a commitment to becoming healthier all around. This included diet, exercise, and my own personal health. Setting these goals allowed me to lose weight, feel better about myself, and engage in activities that were beneficial to my well-being. In addition to dropping nearly 30 pounds, I stayed committed to regular exercise and fitness. (I won’t lie: I think I ate a few too many holiday cookies, but we’re all entitled to a splurge now and then, right?). Additionally, I stayed focused on things that make me happy personally: writing, reading and fashion. These three hobbies of mine make me happy–and we’re all entitled to some personal indulgence now and then. (A day at the spa doesn’t hurt, either).

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#2: Really, Your Health is Everything: Don’t Ignore A Medical Issue

While I never made this public here on the blog or on social media, my students and colleagues who saw me regularly were aware that for the months of November through December, I wore a heart monitor for 30 days. After experiencing racing heartbeats and the feeling of my heart skipping beats, I took myself to my general doctor who then sent me off to a cardiologist. I had two EKGs, a heart sonogram, and wore the heart monitor that had a node and wire below my breast, above my other breast, and then the monitor that had to attach to my clothing. (I teased that I looked like Britney Spears wired up for her concert; all I needed was the microphone). There wasn’t a way to hide it, really. Plus, the thing made a high-pitched noise like Rudolph’s nose when my heart skipped beats. While I was terrified as to what the cardiologist might find, during those 30 days, I learned to appreciate my health more than I ever had before. I continued to exercise (though not as strenuously as I had previously), and I was determined to keep myself healthy when the monitor went away. Luckily for me, what I learned after the study is that I am prone to an extra heartbeat that can be set off by a lack of potassium, magnesium, electrolytes, and stress. When I hugged my cardiologist after hearing the good news, I likened my extra heartbeat to having extra love to give.

Well, at least that’s the way I’ve chosen to look at it.

Nevertheless, this episode taught me never to take things for granted, and that taking care of ourselves should always be a top priority.

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#3: Don’t Say NO To Travel

I saw California: Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley and San Francisco. I almost didn’t go on this trip with my husband. I’m so glad I did. It was lovely–I absolutely loved it. As well, our family traveled to Savannah, Georgia, and Hilton Head, South Carolina, where we did a lot of things, but primarily, we made memories.

That’s why you can’t say no to it. It’s not something you can purchase and give to someone–it’s experiential, and it’s something you should do as it bonds you and brings you together in more ways than one.

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#4: If The Shoe Fits, Buy It

I know material things shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all, but I’ve come to a conclusion in my middle-age years: if you find something you love and it will make you happy, buy it. It doesn’t matter if it’s clothes, music, a ticket to the theatre, movie, or sporting event, a purse you’ve saved for, or a diamond necklace—if it makes you happy and you can afford it without going into debt, get it. We only live one short life, so we might as well make ourselves happy.

#5: Make Time For Your Friends

This one’s a tough topic for me because I’m feeling like many of my friendships have changed and morphed over the years, and I blame a lot of that on social media and our busy family lives. My opinion is that because we are connected on social media 24-7, we think we are having meaningful relationships with people we used to talk on the phone with our go out with regularly. However, the truth is, these friendships have lost their special qualities when we think we can stay connected just through Facebook or Instagram. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to reach out more to friends the old-fashioned way–by calling them, inviting them to dinner, or by mailing them a handwritten letter. Reconnecting with our friends in the old way is what makes these friendships last…not posting and viewing each others’ photos on Facebook at the expense of spending time with one another.

Image result for what's your superpower#6: Inspire Others With Your Superpower

Whatever your amazing talent or gift is, you should consider sharing it with others in order to inspire them. For example, I received a lovely letter (mailed to my house, by the way!) from a student who told me I inspired her in many ways: to write, to pursue writing as a career, and maybe even to getting a master’s degree and teaching someday. I was tickled pink by this letter and will treasure it always; it made me realize that I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing—teaching. That is my superpower. What’s yours? How can you inspire and encourage others? When you answer this question, I challenge you to do it. You will feel wonderful as you begin to help others find their way.

inn-significant-cover-verni#7: Don’t Let Fear Stop You From Doing Something You Love

In a few weeks, I’ll be putting out my latest novel entitled Inn Significant. I’ve worked on it all year, and I am almost ready to let it go. Let me tell you something you probably already know: putting something out into the universe leaves you very vulnerable. It’s not an easy thing to do, and you must have the strength and gumption to do it. Do you think I second-guess my characters, plot, and story line? Of course I do. Do you think I worry that people won’t like it? That would be a ‘yes.’ However, we cannot let these self-doubts and worry consume us. I love to write. I love to tell stories. I know my type of story isn’t for everybody, but guess what? That’s okay.

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If you love what you do, you must be confident in that love for it. Nobody wants to put out a bad product…we do it for the love of what it is. So, I am encouraging you to not let FEAR decide whether or not you get to do what you love. YOU get to do that.

That’s it folks. I hope some of these ring true for you as well. Here’s wishing you a very happy and prosperous New Year filled with blessings. I’ll see you in 2017.

xx |

Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the upcoming novel Inn Significant. She is also a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

 

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Sharing Something Sweet: A Reward That Comes From Teaching

Yesterday, I popped onto my Instagram feed to take a peek at what was going on when I came across this:

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The Instagram post was written by a former student who was also one of the co-presidents of our public relations club that I advise and someone I mentored during her college years. During that time and afterwards, we became friends.

I am always so touched when someone takes the time to write something heartwarming like this. It’s the best reward one can get from being a teacher.

I am full of gratitude, and it brought a tear to my eye. It means the world to me.

Thank you so much, Rachel, for your very kind words, and for allowing me to share this on my blog. And I’m so proud of the journey you’ve taken into the world of higher education where you are now making a big difference in the lives of students, too.

xx |

signatureStephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice.

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Let Scrooge In This Holiday Season

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My Favorite Scrooge | Albert Finney in Scrooge the Musical Version

I’m crossing my fingers that my feature writing students will heed my advice and read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. We talked about the book’s timeless appeal: a ghost story wrapped up in the idea of redemption at the holidays. When you study writing, it’s important to study all writers. Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, strongly urges writers to read other writers. It’s the only way we learn technique, garner ideas, and think about things in new and exciting ways. ‘Tis the season, I say. Plus, we could all use a little reminder of the importance of giving and caring and loving those around us.

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that…Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” (From the opening paragraph of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens).Scrooge&Marley

Dickens had the keen ability to write intriguing characters, those that will live on in the hearts and minds of people for generations to come; and Scrooge is simply marvelous. And yet, the brilliance of the novel comes bit by bit, with the Ghost of Christmases Past, Present, and Future all paying our main character timely visits throughout the night. The question for Scrooge is this: Can he change his ways, turn himself around, and become a better person all in one night and will this change last for the rest of his life?

As Scrooge says, “It’s Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like Of course, they can. Of course they can.”

Therein lies the appeal. Show me a person who hasn’t done something in his or her life that he or she regrets, and I’ll show you a ten-legged alien from the planet Outinspace. We fail. We do dumb things. We make bad choices that turn into big mistakes.

Scrooge’s mistakes were just on a grand scale. Yet he repents, changes, and comes to terms with them. He rights his wrongs.

One may question the novel’s incredible, yet simple, theme and whether or not Scrooge’s specters were imagined or real. Did the ghosts actually appear for his salvation? Or, did Scrooge imagine them or dream them in order to save himself?

It really doesn’t matter either way, because what Dickens does so artfully well is he makes us think. He makes us ask ourselves questions such as the following: What would happen if we revisited our own pasts with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and could clearly see the things we’ve said or done that may have been hurtful or have to examine and scrutinize again and again the choices that we’ve made in life?

Dickens’s brainchild allows us to live vicariously through Scrooge. He had to endure a harsh wake-up call for the sake of us all.

The truth is, when we read the novel, or when we see the film, we are reminded of our own capacity to make small and big mistakes in our lives. We cannot help but glide across the cold, night air with Scrooge as he watches the shadows of his life pass before him, and we are reminded that he represents us.

Moreover, it doesn’t matter how many times I read the book or watch the film (and most especially, at the end of the musical version with Albert Finney), I cry. His change is our change; we have become a part of him, and he has become a part of us. We have been redeemed.

Do yourself a favor and read the book—or watch one of the films. Its timelessness and perfection make it a ghost story that will remain a classic for years and years to come.

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On a side note, writing A Christmas Carol was good for Dickens’s career and for the Christmas holiday in general. The notion of Christmas as a special, commercial, and magical time of year can be attributed to his artful imagination. You can thank Dickens for promoting Christmas as “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time,” as was stated by Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in the text.

Christmas, as it is now, can be attributed directly to Dickens. And it all started with an old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge.

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“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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Our family last year at Ford’s Theatre seeing A Christmas Carol.

One other note: If you live in the Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan area and you have not seen A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre, you are missing one of the best treats of the season. My husband and I went years ago, and last year, we went with our children. We all thought the stage production was absolutely fabulous.

If you don’t live in the area, I highly recommend the musical version of Scrooge with Albert Finney and Sir Alec Guiness. For classic, non-musical versions, try A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott as Scrooge, or the older version with Alastair Sim.

Why I Can’t See “Titanic” in 3D

Dear Readers,

So it’s here: “Titanic” in 3D. It’s been 15 years since we’ve seen the film on the big screen, and now it’s back as that mogul James Cameron tries to lure film buffs to return to theatres to see it in a new way. The James Cameron 3D way.

I’ve discussed “Titanic” with many of my friends and students. It typically goes like this.

“Professor Verni, don’t you want to see ‘Titanic’ in 3D?”

“No.”

“Why not?” they ask. “You’re a romantic. It’s one of the great love stories in the movies.”

This is certainly true, but apparently, they don’t know me well enough to understand how I am the epitome of a “hopeless romantic” as opposed to simply a “romantic.” The “hopeless” in the words means that we are hopelessly hopeful there will be a happy ending, that love will conquer all. “Titanic” does not give us a happy ending, not for Rose and Jack, and not for many of the other passengers who died on that tragic evening. It’s a film I was happy to see once, not twice, and not again, in a 3D kind of way. It’s way too much for me to handle. There’s just too much sorrow and agony. There’s enough of that in the real world, and I, for one, am pretty sure it will just depress me.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one to rail against a film. “Titanic” was brilliant. It deserved the awards it won. It was an amazing piece of work, it’s just that, as Celine Dion’s “heart can’t go on,” my poor heart can’t take it again.

And yet, the irony is, I can watch and have my heart broken over and over again as I get involved in films like “The Bridges of Madison County,” or “Out of Africa,” or “The Thorn Birds.” Good grief. I’ve cried many tears over those movies…and will continue to do so every time I click through the channels and see one of those films playing. I stop and watch, absolutely mesmerized. I can’t help myself.

But “Titanic” is so desperately sad. Nevertheless, I will endorse it in this manner: If you never had the opportunity to see it back in 1997 on the big screen, you may want to indulge in this wreck of broken hearts and disaster in the theatre. It is a movie worth seeing. I just can’t put myself through it again.

With my apologies to James Cameron,

Encouraging the Longer Reads: An Educator’s Dilemma

Here’s a typical day in either my magazine writing or feature writing class. It usually goes something like this:

Me: “So, today your assignment is to read a classic and masterful example of profile writing as we prepare to write our own profile pieces. The article is called “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” and was written by Gay Talese in 1966. The article ran in Esquire magazine and is still regarded as one of the finest profile pieces ever written.” http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ1003-OCT_SINATRA_rev_

Then, the students usually look at the length of the piece and say things like…

“Wow. This is a L-O-N-G piece.”

“How many pages is this? It’s kinda long, isn’t it?”

“Exactly how long is this article?”

“How long will it take me to read this?”

It’s long. I get it (and I know how long it is, folks). It’s brilliant. So, who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Who’s afraid of a lengthy story?

I thought I was on an island for a little while, scratching my head and then second guessing myself – was this article too involved for them to analyze? I quickly slapped my face and got it together. No. It’s perfect, I thought. Do not deviate from the game plan. Besides, it’s already on the syllabus. I must encourage students to read these longer articles. I must force them to step away from the brevity of texting, Twitter, and Facebook. They must delve into these substantial pieces.

On Saturday, May 28, an article in The Washington Post written by Paul Farhi appeared on my doorstep and helped validate my beliefs. The article is entitled: “Up from the pit of pithiness on the Web: While others tweet, some think the next big thing will be long, thoughtful prose.” Oh joy of joys! The article discusses a wonderful website that I’ve now linked to through Scribe Links on my blog called Longreads.com, a site created by Mark Armstrong (longreads.com). He posts articles that are over 1,500 words and there are a variety of articles and stories to read—all on the lengthy side. And guess what ladies and gentlemen? “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” is among those listed. (For more on this Washington Post article, visit thewashingtonpost.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx to register and read it). I’m enamored with this idea of a site promoting longer reads. As Armstrong notes, it’s perfect for people who want substance when they are commuting, waiting for a plane, on a car ride, waiting for the bus, etc. And, it’s perfect to read on a Kindle or an iPad (and even suitable for those of us reading on computers who are not in transit).

Not everyone wants information in a quick and easy way. People are still reading long books like The Pillars of the Earth, The Help, “…And Ladies of The Club”, and Bleak House. It’s still being done. Likewise, folks might like to plunk themselves down with a longer journalism story, fiction or creative non-fiction piece, or even an interview or historical article. Longreads.com is there for you when you need that kind of stimulation to entertain you when you’re in-between books or you forgot to pack something to read on that trip on the subway across town.

So, fall feature writing students B-E-W-A-R-E. There may be quite a few long reads on the syllabus, but trust me, they are all worth the (long?) investment of your time.