Dec 26

My New Merit Badge Quest

merit badger personal questJosh McCoy, 14, made headlines earlier this month by earning all 135 Boy Scout merit badges. It took him three years to get them all, ranging from American Business to Woodwork, from Disabilities Awareness to Pioneering. He isn’t the first to accomplish this feat (252 Boy Scouts have also accomplished this in the organization’s history) and he probably won’t be the last. So I wonder, if he can do it then I can do it, right?

First of all, I’m just way cooler than a 14-year-old. I’m a grown up. I have a college degree. I have a great job at I live on my own and don’t need my parents’ permission for things. I have an advantage in awesomeness. Plain and simple.

Second of all, I don’t see any reason why I can’t do it eventually. Sure, I don’t have a summer camp to help me. I’ll probably have to find instructors for some of these badges, or perhaps spend a year back home in Hawaii to tackle some of them, particularly the water-based badges (there isn’t exactly easy access to a lake or ocean in St. Louis). So, it will probably take me longer than three years to get this done, but I’m not going to let that stop me or scare me out of doing this.

Third of all, I think it would be cool, as a woman, to go after and to accomplish the requirements in each of the merit badges. I was never a Boy Scout, for obvious reasons, so I couldn’t really do this when I was younger. I also think that many of the skills associated with these merit badges are fascinating and worthwhile to learn. As I learned in fourth grade, “Reach for the stars. You won’t always get them, but you won’t end up with a handful of mud either.” Stars or mud, here I come!

So, I’m gonna do it and get all the merit badges! Consider it a new life quest or pursuit, versus a New Year’s Resolution or an abundance of free time. Adventure is fun, and I could use a little more adventure in my life. I am sure this will take me longer than a year to complete because I still have a job to go to five days a week. I anticipate this will take me 10 years, and within this time I am sure the Boy Scouts of America will add a few more new merit badges to conquer. In the meantime, I’ve outlined the rules for this life quest/adventure of mine and devised a few immediate steps to get me started, such as picking the 10 merit badges that I’m going to complete first.

My First 10 Badges

The Plate

  1. First Aid
  2. Personal Fitness
  3. Cooking
  4. Reading
  5. Pets

The Dock

  1. Emergency Preparedness
  2. Personal Management
  3. Citizenship in the Community
  4. Athletics
  5. Fingerprinting

Merit Badger Rules

  • Five badges will always be on the plate at any one time.
  • For the five badges on my plate, I can complete the merit badges and their requirements simultaneously and in any particular order. Meaning, I don’t have to complete the First Aid merit badge before starting any of the requirements for the Personal Fitness merit badge.
  • After I complete a badge on my plate, I will then choose the next one from the dock. After choosing from a badge from the dock to move to the plate, the next badge on the dock will be chosen at random from a jar.
  • Before starting any the requirements of any merit badge, I am to read the pamphlet first.
  • For each merit badge, I will find five news articles related to the merit badge topic and submit them to
  • I am not allowed to use or its resources to complete any of the requirements for any badge, with exception of the rule listed above.
  • The definitions of “troop,” “patrol,” “family,” “scout” and “counselor” will be fluid, depending on the badge and requirement. Obviously, I am not a scout and I do not have a patrol or a troop, so I will choose who will fit those definitions on a case-by-case basis.
  • When I am required to explain or to discuss something, I will write in up as a blog post. When I am required to discuss something, I do have the option to do a video instead of a blog post if I so desire.
  • When I am required to demonstrate something or to participate in an activity, then I will take photos and/or shoot video as proof of the demonstrate or activity
  • When given the choice among several requirements, I am to choose meeting with someone and/or visiting a location over the other choices since these are more difficult and time-consuming than most other requirements.
  • When given the choice among several requirements, if all the choices are equal, then I can choose whichever requirements I am most interested in completing.
  • There is no timeline to completing this venture or to complete any specific merit badge.

What’s Next?

Now that this is announced and out there in the world, I will get started on reading the pamphlets for my first five merit badges. I need to choose my six books for the Reading badge, schedule my doctor and dentist visits for the Personal Fitness badge, and document the proof of my cat Flop-a-Set for my Pets badge.

Photo via dmuth

Jul 31

Facebook Pages Better than the Website? Fans Think So

fans prefer facebook pagesEvery Thursday, I will republish my best articles from Since Technorati redesigned its website and is under new managements, tens of thousands of articles that were previously published on the site are no longer available. I have been given explicit permission to republish my work on my own website.

When talking to 1000 social media users about how they felt about liking brands on Facebook, market research firm Lab42 found that 50% of them said that the Facebook page is more useful than the website. Sure, that statistic can be interpreted to mean that social media users prefer the social media profiles of brands to the website, or that social media users just like them better. However, the key word is ‘useful’, and no one has yet taken the time to figure out why Facebook pages are considered more useful, or how to make one’s website more useful than before.

Lab42 also found in this survey that the biggest motivators for liking a brand on Facebook were promotions/discounts, free giveaways, and customer loyalty, in that order. Brand websites rarely have the first two, and are primarily “brochureware”, bland marketing jargon that’s meant to sell the visitor on the product or service. Judging from the biggest motivators for liking a brand, most social media users are already sold on the brand and its product or service. On the one hand, this should make it easier for brands to learn about their customer base, since it seems that the Facebook fan base would reflect who’s buying the product and service. On the other hand, Facebook fans using the pages in this manner could make it difficult for brands to up sell, or even buy at all, since it seems that most fans are only buying when there’s a discount, or are just grabbing the free stuff.

This is further shown in this survey, where almost half of social media users said they liked a brand, but had no intention of buying from that brand. The reason? They only wanted free stuff (52%), or they like the product and can’t afford it (46%), or they only liked the brand to help out a friend (24%). Perhaps Facebook pages are best at giving consumers the best of their world; a free product or a great coupon. So, how do brands get the best of their world, whether it be from Facebook or from the website?

The biggest thing that I would recommend is business blogging. Stop all the brochureware on your website, and put something on there that’s actually for the customer and about the customer. Consider that over 44% of small businesses don’t even have a website! Also consider that even though 60% of businesses have a business blog, 65% of them haven’t updated in over a year! No wonder people don’t find them useful! There’s nothing there for them! And these statistics don’t include those that do blog regularly, but only update about new products and company updates. Customers don’t care about that. It’s no surprise they’re going to Facebook to get a free sample or a coupon. At least a free sample or a coupon gets the customer what he or she needs to solve their pain point.

The next thing to do to make your website more useful, after you have the business blog, is to create a resource center. This resource center can include white papers, ebooks, webinars, articles, free content that will actually help prospects and potential customers move through your buying process and actually consider your for something more than a discount.  The best thing about a resource center? It’s free, and you can actually learn more about your prospects, what they actually need from you, all while building trust and a customer relationship. After all, the number one thing, from the Lab42 survey, that brands could do to get more likes on Facebook (and retain them)?

More giveaways!

Oh look, you have all this awesome, engaging, relevant content that’s for free that you can share, content like buying guides, how-to’s, tip sheets, checklists. You know, stuff that will not only help customers, but will go much farther in nabbing and retaining fans than a coupon or a free shirt.

Do those two things, and you can actually improve both your website and your Facebook page. Sounds easy enough.

Jul 24

What Do Small Businesses Do on Social Media?

social media small businessesEvery Thursday, I will republish my best articles from Since Technorati redesigned its website and is under new managements, tens of thousands of articles that were previously published on the site are no longer available. I have been given explicit permission to republish my work on my own website.

A new survey from email marketing software firm VerticalResponse found that 43% of small businesses (100 employees or less) spend at least six hours a week on social media, with seven percent spending over 21 hours a week on Facebook, Twitter, and such. The survey also found that two-thirds of small businesses are spending more time on social media than they did a year ago, suggesting that more small businesses are either realizing or actually seeing the benefits of social media marketing.

Facebook and Twitter are still the most popular networks that small businesses are using, coming in at 90% and 70% respectively. Although LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest are touted as must-use networks in social media marketing, a majority of small businesses, according to the survey, don’t use these sites at all. Of all the things small businesses could do on social media, it turns out that finding and posting content takes the most time, followed by learning and education (presumably this means learning how to use the social network, the survey isn’t clear) and analyzing efforts. The least time consuming task was responding to questions.

Six hours a week is a lot, and many small businesses are struggling with the work load and the time it takes to manage multiple networks. The survey doesn’t say a whole lot on how small businesses spend these six, eight, 12 hours a week, but there are good ways to spend that time. If you’re spending this much time on social media, and want to be assured that you time is well spend, then here are the things that small businesses ought to be doing:

  1. Responding to Questions – This is a must, especially since there are much larger companies who ignore, and even delete, questions and responses from fans on Facebook and other networks. It’s a little worrisome that small businesses spend the least amount of time on this, as it means that either there aren’t questions to respond too, or questions are going unanswered for too long. If there’s any engagement from fans or potential customers on social media, then always make them a top priority.
  2. Building Relationships – Surprised this wasn’t on there, which means it either wasn’t asked, or small businesses are treating social media too much like another avenue to push a marketing message. Think of the 50/50 rule when it comes to sharing content: 50% your content, and 50% other people’s content. Yes, other people’s. Retweeting, repinning, and resharing other people’s stuff helps them as well as you. You provide more value to your own followers while making a connection with the person who’s content you are sharing. Make sure social media is used to participate in a conversation, not just to take one over or to start one. It shows that you are listening.
  3. Analyzing Efforts – This is also a must, but analyzing your social media marketing efforts is much more than counting fans and mentions and comments. Actually, those numbers don’t mean all that much. What really counts, when analyzing your social media marketing, is how much traffic social media drives to your site, how many leads are coming from social media, and how many of those leads you’re turning into customers. After all, those are the things that keep businesses going. If anything, small businesses need to be measuring their success on social media. If not, there’s no way to know if you’re wasting your time.
  4. Defining Goals – Small businesses need to spend time figuring out what they want out of social media in the first place. These goals need to line up with the core needs of the business, and need to be more specific than “increased brand awareness” or “increased customer engagement.” What’s a good goal for social media? Something specific, and targeted toward the needs of the business, like “have 10% of our leads come from social media” or “have 100 people sign up for our webinar” or “get 50 more subscribers for our blog by the end of the month.”

Jul 19

Poetry Saturday: Light Ray Divergence

I wrote many poems in my physics class during my junior year of high school. I have several poems about physical concepts, or inspired by my time sitting in that classroom. I should find that poem I wrote about how nice a day it was outside, only to find myself stuck indoors.

I feel like this poem was an odd attempt at a love poem, but I don’t know for sure. I didn’t write too many love poems during my few years of intense poetry writing. I’m not the type to get mushy. I wasn’t in love either during that time, which probably made a different. Too bad for my fiance. No poems for him. But he does get Valentine’s Day cards, birthday presents, and dinner, so I think it’s a fair trade.

Light Ray Divergence


Your light is incident to me

and the reflection is congruent.

We are similar

as your light strikes me.


I am a plane mirror;

what I show you is undistorted

It is proportion.  It is truth.

I reflect your light.


But it doesn’t reach your eye.

somehow, you don’t see

the Laws of Physics

the regular reflection of rays.


Your light is incident to me

and the reflection is congruent.

I saw a virtual image:

you at the critical angle.

Jul 17

Honesty as a Competitive Advantage, Upcoming Necessity

Extreme Trust Honesty as a Competitive AdvantageEvery Thursday, I will republish my best articles from Since Technorati redesigned its website and is under new managements, tens of thousands of articles that were previously published on the site are no longer available. I have been given explicit permission to republish my work on my own website.

Trust is an increasingly valuable commodity when it comes to doing business, one that some try to take advantage of with fake social media reviews and other strategies (old and new) that are meant to fool customers; however, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers Ph.D argue in their latest book it won’t be long before the only successful businesses are the ones that are extremely trustworthy.

Their book, Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage, says that the rising levels of transparency in society will mean that businesses will have to protect customer interests proactively. By investing in ways to preserve reputation and to build customer relationships, businesses will develop the extreme trust necessary to survive a world where the social domain and the commercial domains are constantly colliding.

“In the future, companies will have to do this because of competitive pressure,” Peppers said. “If they don’t do it, someone else will.”

Peppers also said that the book is fundamentally about how business will change because of technology-driven innovation, and described extreme trust as the “inevitable evolution of business over the next generation or so.

We can probably think of many examples of how different companies and industries treat their customers as transactions, how they try to make money off of people instead of working with them to earn their profits. Below are some of the book’s most noticeable examples:

  • Banks will soon have to stop relying on overdraft charges, because so many of them are based on simple customer error.
  • Credit card companies will have to coach customers on avoiding excessive borrowing.
  • Cell phone providers will have to help customers find the cheapest calling plans for their usage patterns.
  • Retailers will have to remind customers when a gift card or rebate card has gone unused or may be lost.

“[It’s up to] companies to decide whether they understand that they have two goals now: make money this quarter, and figuring out how what they do and what they say is going to affect the long-term value of a customer,” Rogers said. “Long-term value is determined today.”

What makes a trustable company, versus one that will simply do what it says and follow the law? Peppers and Rogers say that a trustable company will do three things:

  1. Do Things Right
  2. Do the Right Thing
  3. Do the First Two Proactively

Customers would be willing to pay $11 more a month for a mobile phone company they actually trust,” Rogers said. “[A trustable company will] keep you posted on what’s good for you about the business, and offer things that are valuable to you instead of making you search for everything from scratch.”

Therefore, current tactics used to develop trust, such as fake social media reviews and black hat SEO techniques, only tarnishes a company’s long-term ability to gain trust for a small-term (if any) financial gain. Even though falsehoods can happen (like someone spreading misinformation or even leaving a bad, yet real, negative review), doing things so well that loyal customers come to your defense is a much better way to go.

“Social media takes care of [a falsehood or negative review] by burying it with more accurate data,” Rogers said. “There are simply not enough lawyers to take everything off the Internet.”

“Customers want to be treated the way their friends treat them,” Peppers said. “The real solution is social credibility. As long as you have cultivated a reputation in advanced for being trustable, people will value your business and mourn if you go out of business.”

The book may be considered a must-read for anyone leading an organization, but it is also a must-read for any consumer who wants to be a consumer of trustable brands, and not just another transaction. The only way for extreme trust to be the way we do business in the future is for people to demand it now, and to take it away from those who make their money by taking advantage of their customers.

“There have been radical changes in the last five years. This is not a fad,” Rogers said. “There will always be more interconnectedness and never less. This is the way we will have to compete.”

Jul 12

Poetry Saturday: The Glass of Monkeysweep

This is a poem that I remember clearly! During P.E. class my sophomore year of high school, we were required to choose different sports to participate in during class. For part of a semester, one of the sports I chose was ultimate Frisbee. We learned the rules of the game, how to throw a Frisbee, and part of the class was play games and compete in teams.

The inspiration for this poem came from a great catch that I made during one match. I was wide open near the end zone (no one covers me ever when I play sports), and the person throwing the Frisbee (I don’t remember who) had no one to throw it to but me since everyone else was blocked. He threw it. It was a big Hail Mary, and I caught it! Points for our team!

The “monkeysweep” referred to our victory move we did when we scored a point. We would take the Frisbee and “sweep” is across the grass, hence the name. “Buns” was our team word for the short pass when we were open, so we were supposed to shout that word when we were ready for a pass. “Weiner” was our word for a long pass. I’d like to think that I didn’t shout, “Weiner,” when I caught the big Hail Mary, but I can’t guarantee that. After all, I was the only one open, so I might not have had a choice.

The Glass of Monkeysweep


Taste the victory of green

in the glass of monkeysweep

pour in that touchdown wine

and toast to green’s triumph


Buns! Buns! Buns!

A short pass to the other

Vwip, vwip, vwip

stealthy through the defense


Weiner! Weiner!

The pinnacle of the game

Hail Mary to the end zone

Throw it out there, long and hard


The jargon of the Ultimate

the win spun on a disc

Taste the victory of green

in the glass of monkeysweep

Jul 10

As of Today, 10 Percent of Social Media Reviews Will be Fake

fake social media reviewsEvery Thursday, I will republish my best articles from Since Technorati redesigned its website and is under new managements, tens of thousands of articles that were previously published on the site are no longer available. I have been given explicit permission to republish my work on my own website.

According to a recent study by tech research firm Gartner, 10 to 15 percent of social media reviews will be fake by 2014. With growing emphasis and credibility on social media as the “new word-of-mouth”, its crucial that we be able to trust the opinions we find on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

“With over half of the Internet’s population on social networks, organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors and solicit ‘likes on their Facebook pages,” said Jenny Sussin, senior research analys at Gartner, in a news release.

Gartner found in this study that the nearly all of the fake reviews are coming from people who were paid to provide that positive review, whether that payment in cash, coupons, or other promotions. In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission determined that paying for positive reviews without disclosing that the reviewer had been compensated equates to deceptive advertising and would be prosecuted as such. Even so, many companies are seeking out fake reviews in the hopes of making a few more sales or getting a few more hits on the website.

How do you ensure that none of your reviews are fakes (and can be 100% trusted as a true reflection of what your customers think about you)? Here are a few tips:

  1. Don’t pay for reviews – Earn those reviews, especially since the FTC is cracking down on fake reviews and even pursuing litigation with two Fortune 500 companies caught paying for fake reviews. However, it is okay to ask your customers to take the time to write a review, as long as you don’t compensate them for taking a positive stance, or control what the reviewer says in anyway.
  2. Respond appropriately to the bad reviews – It’s tempting to counter or to cover up those bad reviews by encouraging or paying for an onslaught of good reviews, but that course of action only shows that you’re unable to improve and to take criticism as a business. Instead, note those bad reviews and make changes, perhaps even responding by saying you’re going to do something about whatever was wrong. Also consider that you can’t please everyone. If a reviewer just says the food was terrible, simply accept that not everyone will like the food you serve.
  3. Encourage honest reviews – There are many ways to get your current customers to write great reviews for your business without paying for them. For example, create case studies and blog posts highlighting your best customers. This way, the reviewer not only gets attention for being a reviewer and a great customer, but potential customers can honestly see and hear what your business can do. You can also let your customers know where they can write a review for you by taking control of your Yelp or Google Places page. By keeping your information on those pages up-to-date and telling your customers about them, they are more likely to go to those pages to write a review.
  4. Delete Fake Reviews – If you’ve paid for reviews in the past, then remove those reviews from your pages at once, or at least disclose that these reviews were paid for. Fake reviews only ruin the credibility of your business, and if you’re caught with fake reviews that lack the disclosure, you could lose a lot more than your customers.

Jul 05

Poetry Saturday: What Blue Doesn’t Tell You

I had hoped that I had something American or Patriotic that I could share during Independence Day weekend, but I couldn’t find anything that stuck out. So, I figured a poem about the color blue would be just fine. I do have a poem about the color red, but I didn’t want to share that one yet. I don’t really have any poems about the color white, but I do have one or two about snow. Those are better suited when there’s actually snow on the ground.

I don’t know why I wrote this poem or what inspired it. I’ve always liked that there are so many synonyms for each of the colors, but I don’t think that’s the main reason or the only reason why I wrote this poem, if it’s a reason at all.

What Blue Doesn’t Tell You


Aquamarine surfs in harbor

not telling where to catch the waves.


Cerulean adds pigments to the water

but doesn’t show the midnight how.


Cyan fiddles with the lights

keeping certain things in darkness.


Sapphire sparkles with shimmering glee

knowing why the dolphin smiles.


Navy leads the cadets to battle

cause and enemy left unknown.


Cobalt tortures the baby blue

picking for the answer’s sky.


Why such the unusual blues?

Blues thought’s bear no admittance.

Jul 03

There is a Plan B for Birth Control and Health Care Plans

birth control healthcare plans

Every Thursday, I will republish my best articles from Since Technorati redesigned its website and is under new managements, tens of thousands of articles that were previously published on the site are no longer available. I have been given explicit permission to republish my work on my own website.

Last Friday, the White House announced that there will be no wider exemption for religious groups regarding the Affordable Care Act, which requires that “preventative care” be fully covered, with no co-pay, under new insurance plans, and the Department of Health and Human Services accepted recommendations that put all forms of contraception in that category. Beginning August 2012, new insurance plans must fully cover women’s preventive care, which now will include yearly wellness visits, breastfeeding counseling and equipment, and screening for gestational diabetes, domestic abuse, HPV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and HIV, in addition to the birth control and sterilization. This latest announcement grants only a one-year waiver they can apply for while figuring out how to comply with the law. Naturally, the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops is against the new regulation, particularly the clause on birth control, as it conflicts with Catholic tenets.

As Reverend Peter Laird presents in his counterpoint, “The position of the Catholic Church on artificial birth control is well-known, though not always well-understood. Our teaching is founded in a conviction that every human act is meant to witness to the truth about God and man…The church does not consider birth control a right of health care, much less a good for human flourishing, because pregnancy is not a disease.

The new regulation does come with a “conscience” clause, an exemption that applies to non-profit employers that have the “inculcation of religious values as its purpose, that primarily employ fellow believers, and that primarily serve people who share its religious tenets.” This defined exemption would not include Catholic hospitals and probably won’t include Catholic Charities and Catholic institutions of higher learning. Thus, the new regulation has not been well-received by the Catholic community.

However, research from the Guttmacher Institute shows that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church, compared with 99 percent of American women who have used these same methods at one point in time. The statistics aren’t much different. It’s fine that Catholic doctrine is against birth control, but with so many Catholic women violating this part of the doctrine, the church really ought to expend its energy on reaching out to its members instead of retaliating against the federal government. The study does not specify how many of these women are aware that using birth control is against church doctrine, so it’s impossible to determine how many are using birth control in spite of church doctrine, or because they don’t know that it’s against church teachings. It’s also possible that Catholic women are choosing to violate this part of the doctrine in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, and the confronting the choice of violating the church’s stance on abortion.

I don’t fault the church and other Catholic organizations for not supporting the federal regulation, but I don’t’ see how it jeopardizes the overall mission of these organizations, or the essence of being Catholic. I’m sure being Catholic is much more than avoiding birth control, like being a person for others and living simply. Plus, the new federal regulation says that all health plans much cover sterilization and contraception. That doesn’t mean that a woman will, or must, access that free contraception. As Laird says,

“Absent sufficient regard for rights of conscience, the birth control mandate will force all men and women — and all employers — to carry health “benefits” that violate the sincerely held religious convictions of many.”

I don’t deny that these benefits violate the religious convictions of many, but doesn’t it only count if those who believe such participate in this violation? Does mere availability automatically equal a violation all its own, even if no one took advantage of this availability? This regulation presents an opportunity for the church and Catholic employers to make its community aware that the use of sterilization and contraception is against church teaching.  Of course, another option is to revoke health insurance for all employees, but no one needs to be that drastic here. If anything, the regulation allows for the accommodation of non-Catholics at Catholic employers while encouraging Catholics to follow church teachings. As Laird puts it:

“Organizations such as Catholic universities and hospitals, social-services agencies and Catholic Charities, because they serve people without regard to religious affiliation, would be forced to provide contraceptive and sterilization services. In other words, we would have to stop being Catholic if we wanted to serve all men and women, as Jesus did. It would also require Catholic organizations to employ only Catholics, which may be at variance with both federal and state discrimination laws.”

After all, Catholic employers cannot legally exclude non-Catholics from its workforce, and Catholic Charities certainly wouldn’t exclude non-Catholics from its services. Therefore, there’s no imposition or forced adoption of Catholic teaching. Also, the regulation only stipulates the provision of them in health care plans, not necessarily by the institutions themselves. This means a Catholic hospital or clinic can refrain from carrying birth control and providing sterilization services to the people they serve. This would also mean that any non-Catholic that works in these places, that wishes to use birth control, would have the choice to do so. This regulation doesn’t infringe on the Catholic identity of institutions in anyway.

Why must this issue of birth control be treated as such a black and white issue? This issue of sterilization and contraception seems like an opportunity for religious education and tolerance instead of the religious intolerance that it’s perceived to be. Overall, this federal regulation doesn’t say that Catholic teaching is wrong, or that Catholic institutions cannot be Catholic institutions. It doesn’t stipulate that birth control must be offered to all who walk through those doors. It just needs to be part of the health care plan. Good Catholics can still be good Catholics by not using that part of the plan. Non-Catholics can still have this choice available to them if they wish. Just because the choice is there to choose birth control doesn’t mean that one must, should, or will choose birth control.

Jun 28

Poetry Saturday: Under the Syringa Tree

“Syringa Tree” is such a specific reference, one that I cannot remember (are we surprised at this point that I can’t remember doing many of these poems). My first instinct was that I was referring to a species of tree mentioned in Wangari Maathai’s memoir, “Unbowed,” but I knew that wasn’t right. I read that book during my junior year of college, and I know I wrote this poem in high school. Most likely my senior year of high school, based on the format, but I’m not entirely sure.

I did a quick Google search, and “The Syringa Tree” is a play about childhood under apartheid. I didn’t read the play and I haven’t seen a performance of the play, so I know I didn’t get the idea of the tree from there. I’m not from Africa and I’ve never been to Africa, so I know the reference isn’t from a personal experience with an exact tree or with the species. I’m dumbfounded. Why would I write this poem and reference this tree? I wouldn’t even know what a Syringa tree looked like if I saw one.

Under the Syringa Tree


Good work, good moral

and good luck


from the fallen leaves,

broken branches,

and withered roots

of the Syringa Tree


Ignorance is bliss.  And when the truth is hacked to the ground right in front of you, it’s all difficult to salvage.  From under the Syringa Tree, we saw the loss of comfort.


Late lilacs blossom

lavender, brightly,

after a winter

of hibernating strength.

Together, in one

the flowers grow

in soil cluttered

with the giant kudzu,

the fat outreaching one

with an overbearing green


through manipulation


Kudzu battles

the rival Dandelion





There’s only one

Syringa Tree,

one set of lilacs

for all to share.

They fight

for the credit

of the lilacs


Lilacs fade

and shrivel

with stolen credit

and stolen time;

The pleasure

of the flower



Gust to gust

puddle to puddle

winds and monsoons

were tough to trek

time and time again;

But under the Syringa Tree

leaves, branches

and roots

have protected

the underlings



fostered by rings

of an extended legacy


the fruits of labor

in koa bowls

and golden trophies


Cutting the grains

of harvest,

sharing the gold

under the Syringa Tree,

fun and company

under the Syringa Tree



nurtured by

the Buddha

the native gardener

the distant hope

the rival dandelion

and all-knowing doc


But now,

the Syringa Tree,

gnarled by drama

wrinkled by stress

and tireless labor

of previous sunsets,


and grew

a most honorable name,

only to have it

eventually slandered

by senior woodcutters

and junior poachers

of a selfish gain


Senior woodcutters

who squabble for wood.

Wood that doesn’t

matter in the long run

yet benefits all

in the short.

And through the skirmish,

hack branches.


Junior poachers

looking for

every advantage

to help themselves,

to feed their inane mouths

and bask

in stolen sunlight


We now fight for the lilacs,

the same lilacs

we used to share

and grow together.


The underlings are losing

the Syringa Tree

he blossoms no longer

the same lilac





Lovers to Come

Journeys to Go:


and lost

The rich savannas,

a balanced circle,

and prosperity



except the foes


The previous season

oversaw glory

of a new kind

and a fight to defend

a clean match up


But soon squandered

is tomorrow,

under the Syringa Tree

the lilacs are lost

The underlings

won’t be there much longer.

They will wither too.

dried spirit,

dried young’un spirit

deprived of an energy

even hose far from

the Syringa Tree

could use


And by then

more than the lilacs

will be lost


But the whole tree.


Just a stump will sitt,

trying again to rebuild

what the kudzu

and the senior woodcutters

and the junior poachers



Branches severed by the human hand never regain their original shade.  The comfort under the Syringa Tree will never have the same breeze nor will the lilacs bloom in the same radiance.  The Syringa Tree may survive but will never grow greatness again.

Older posts «