Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Just a Thought: The Big Wow 
Janice Lane Palko 

As you probably already know, Steve Jobs, the founder of the Apple empire died on October 5. I knew who Jobs was, but unlike many others, I didn’t idolize the man. I appreciate what he achieved, and I love my iPhone, which I sometimes call my second brain as it carries so much information that I don’t have to remember. As much as I liked his technology, I didn’t give much thought to its developer on a day-to-day basis. However, with Job’s passing, it has been almost unavoidable not see and hear about the details of his life. With the release of his biography on October 24, entitled Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, even more details will most like will make news during the coming weeks. The book has already received rave reviews, and many describe Jobs as a “bundle of contradictions,” “strangely fascinating,” and “brilliant/flawed/brutal and creative.”

While that will probably compel me to read the book, there is something else about Jobs that intrigues me more. After his death, his sister, writer Mona Simpson, composed a beautiful eulogy for the brother she did not meet until she was 25. If you are not familiar with their story, Jobs was given up for adoption. His biological parents, Syrian student Abdulfattah Jandali and coed Joanne Schieble, were unmarried when he was conceived, and they gave Jobs up for adoption. Jandali and Schieble later married and had his sister, Mona. The New York Times published the eulogy on October 30, and if you missed it, you should read it in its entirety. In it, Simpson speaks of their relationship:  

Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

She concluded her eulogy with how Jobs died:  

Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it. He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place. Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night. He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again. This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude. He seemed to be climbing. But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later. Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times. Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them. Steve’s final words were: OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.

Steve Jobs, who some have called the Edison of our age, who consistently dazzled the world with each technological advancement, who was a visionary, was wowed on his deathbed. There have been some reports by Isaacon that Jobs, who was a Buddhist began to seek God: "I remember sitting in his backyard in his garden one day and he started talking about God," recalled Isaacson. "He said, 'Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don't. I think it's 50-50 maybe. But ever since I've had cancer, I've been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of – maybe it's cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn't just all disappear. The wisdom you've accumulated. Somehow it lives on.'" Isaacson continued, "Then he paused for a second and he said, 'Yeah, but sometimes I think it's just like an on-off switch. Click and you're gone.' He paused again, and he said, 'And that's why I don't like putting on-off switches on Apple devices.'"

I don’t know the state of Jobs soul when he passed away or whether he ultimately came to believe in God, but I believe his final words offer us all great hope. Upon his transition from this life, his last words were not: OH NO. OH NO. OH NO. They were WOW--three times. The man who wowed the world was wowed at the time of his death.

When I read this, I immediately thought of the Bible verse from 1 Corinthians: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."

Like Jobs, more than 2,000 years ago, shepherds gazed off into the distance and were wowed. As we celebrate this Christmas, my prayer for us is that we may once again be wowed by the wonderment of Christmas and again be greeted with THE BIG WOW at the end of our lives.

Published originally in the December 2011 issue of Northern Connection magazine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Size Does Matter—At Least, When It Comes to Writing 

As I was making pancakes over the weekend, I remembered something from when I was a kid. Many years ago, while my mom was making me pancakes, a drop of batter fell into the skillet, making a teeny pancake the size of a fingernail. My mom put it on my plate as a joke. I thought that miniscule flapjack was adorable. (OK I admit I’m weird, but I remember playing with the pancake all day.) We really weren’t too poor for toys that I had to play with food, but the size of the pancake entranced me!

Who says size doesn't matter?

The With the holidays in full swing, that little pancake got me to thinking about how just the size of something can make it appealing. (Cue the off-color jokes.) Ever been to Las Vegas during the holidays or seen the decorations in Rockefeller Center? They decorate with enormous ornaments. They take common Christmas objects and explode them in size. How about a life-size Nativity scene?

Another technique for enchanting is to take an item and shrink it. My kids, when they were little, loved playing with Micro-Machines and Quints (teeny quintuplet baby dolls). You may remember Liddle Kiddles if you grew up in the 60s and 70s—another set of micro dolls.

Honey, I shrunk the focus

Shrinking or enlarging something can also aid your writing. One effective technique is to dramatize a large, pivotal scene by focusing on a small part. In my writing classes, I often cited Wally Lamb’s hit novel of the 90s, She’s Come Undone. In the book, there is a rape scene of the main character, Dolores Price, which is a key turning point in the book. Instead of relating every gory detail, Lamb drives home Dolores’s distress by describing how she just keeps digging her nails into the dirt while being assaulted.

Anybody see my strawberries?

Enlarging something very small is also a great device—especially for revealing a character’s nature. Who can ever forget Captain Queeg’s outsized concern for the quart of strawberries in the classic The Caine Mutiny?

So if you have a scene which seems a bit sickly or weak perhaps, a dose of Viagra or that Miracle Reducing Pill might just be the prescription for what ails your writing.