By Laura Moore

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When I say my son screams, I don't mean he surrenders a polite little yelp appropriate for someone who is 30 inches tall. 

I mean he reaches into the deepest boughs of his body, and bursts into a show-stopping, glass-shattering screech that causes everyone within yelling distance to stop and stare.

Most of the time, it isn't a mean scream. He isn't red-faced, foot-stomping mad. He isn't catapulting tears from the rims of his eyes. He isn't waving his fists and lowering himself into the "I can't believe you're not giving me what I want" squat.

He is screaming because people laugh. He is running through halls, raising his arms, opening his chest and shrieking fearlessly until he has everyone's attention. Then he claps his hands, laughs and shrieks again. Sometimes he runs into circles of strangers, screams and looks up at their open jaws--making sure every last one of them is paying attention--before continuing his regiment, waiting for them to say how cute he is, waiting for them to laugh, waiting for them clap back. 

Invariably they do. 

And his huge, open-mouthed, eight-tooth grin splits across his face shortly thereafter.

See, this process thrills him to no end. He loves the attention; he craves it. Unafraid of strangers, unintimidated by people who are much older and taller, and curious about new spaces, our little Z is fascinated by how the world works, and excited to have discovered the fact that his voice has the power to stop it, to make people listen, to inspire them to smile, to get them to drop their guard, to wave their hands like a child.

Worried about disturbing the peace, we tell him to stop each time he does it, but something inside of me always feels bad when we do. In a world where he is so tiny, a world where he has no words--at least none that he uses regularly enough to count as vocabulary--that show-stopping scream is the only power he has.  It's his only means to get others to listen, to change the mood, to shift the tone, to pause life, to reach out, to make friends, to make people happy.

And that is what he does time and again when he locks eyes with others, when he flashes his two bottom teeth, when his dimples sink into his plump little cheeks and his blue eyes glimmer like sapphires. He, and his horrendous shriek, light up even the saddest of rooms, and as I watch him, as I see him pull out the charm, as I run--two steps behind him--and observe the way his tiny little self fills up the world, I can't help but imagine who he will become. I can't help but wonder which words will follow his scream. I can't help but fall in love all over again with his sweet, little soul. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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I've recently been sucked into the Buy-Sell-Trade (BST) Facebook group world. For those of you who have managed to avoid its lure, the concept is quite simple. It's an online garage sale where people can do just as the name suggests: buy things, sell things or trade them.

Most of the time, people follow the same protocol. They post a picture, provide a quick description of the item (featuring all of the pros, cons and why it's being sold). Then they assign it a price and tell you whether the transaction will occur at an agreed upon location, or if you must drive over to the seller's house and pick it up yourself. 

Occasionally, people ask for advice about gift ideas, where to vacation, or who the best veterinarians, doctors, or contractors are. And they alert people of, and inquire about, strange happenings: booms, sirens, missing animals or criminal activity. Even though the BST site is not designed as a crime stopper destination, the group in my community has such an active network, I'm quite convinced the peeper-in-the-ridge would have been caught had the police followed the live-streaming comments popping up on the page.

Outside of these uses, people also post ISOs (in search ofs), to see if someone wants to part with an item they're looking for, or if people know where that thing could be found. From rental properties to kitchen benches to toddler swim trunks, exchanges have been made, goods have been recycled and money has been saved and earned. There's no fee to join, no store-front mortgage or advertising fee to pay, and no cut to give up to consignment stores. Prices can be lower because all of the profits go to the seller, so it's a win-win all the way around for everyone, except maybe for businesses who lose a new sale on account of a BST transaction.

While most of the posts seem reasonable, two days ago, on a buy-sell-trade site that is open to every single person living in the state of Ohio, I saw an ISO that stopped me dead in my tracks. When I initially read it, I actually laughed out loud: belly laugh, pulsing shoulders, the whole nine yards. 

A woman, who was clearly sick of weeding her various gardens, notified this 8,557 member community that her husband got overly ambitious with flowerbeds on their two-acre property. She was tired of the work, and in search of individuals who would be willing--for fun--to come to her house, remove the plants and grade over the area so she could spread grass seed and reduce the amount of work. She wasn't offering any money. She wasn't asking for landscaping recommendations. She wasn't selling bouquets of flowers or hand-woven wreaths. She was blindly asking strangers to come to her house and do yard work for free. 

It was so amusing to me that someone would actually sit down and write this post that I choked on my coffee, and re-read her words at least a half a dozen times. I waited for the sarcastic comments. I waited to see that her account had been hacked by people who wrote  for The Onion. I waited for the circus to unfold, but the only thing that unraveled was my cynicism.

Much to my surprise, within minutes, the woman had reasonable responses. 

Lots of them. 

Responses that were not mocking her or soliciting business. People were referring her to a garden group where individuals actually look for the opportunity to dig up free flowers. Droves of other people extended the offer to come themselves. As of this morning, 24 comments streamed on the page, and most of them were from perfect strangers who were "emoticon/exclamation point" excited to drive across town so they could dig up her vegetation, grade the land and help her prepare for seeding.

It turned out that the only jerk taking interest in her post was me.

As I stared at the stream of offers--as I considered the genuine excitement exuding from responders ready and poised to swoop in and save her unwanted plants--I realized the immense interconnectedness that exists around me. 

I realized that the very things that often bother us, that have no more use to us, that seem horrible and burdensome for us, could very well be a blessing for someone else. They could very well be the thing that our neighbors most want to have and most want to do, but because we assume others think the way we do, we destroy those things, we dismiss them, we throw them away. 

And so in honor of Earth Day--and in honor of the woman who solicited free landscaping services--I am going to make a better effort to ask and not assume. To reach out before I toss. To open my mind. To connect. To offer. To accept. 

I'm going to do a better job of being part of a community, a community that gives and takes, a community that asks and receives, a community filled with tiny opportunities crouching down beside the weeds. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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When I see an injustice, something inside of me snaps. 

I can feel a physical response immediately: my face heats up, adrenaline diffuses throughout my body, and an insatiable urge to intervene overtakes my brain.

Even when I should keep my mouth shut, I can't. 

Something inside of me is wired to speak up, to speak out, to take some sort of action to help a person who has been wronged, even if it is none of my business.

Unfortunately, this impulse can often lead to post-good-samaritan regret when the offender snaps back, or the victim defends the offender, or I simply realize it was a offense that didn't deserve the attention. Sometimes it is just not my place to scold someone who skips in front of another person in line, or intentionally drives the wrong way down the street, or calls someone a terrible name. 

Sometimes, I need to let it go. 

But at other times, speaking up--even if you don't have all of the facts--still seems like the right thing to do. 

A few years ago, when I was working as a server in a restaurant in the Short North, I looked across the street and witnessed a man thrust a woman against a brick wall, hold her up off the ground and proceed to scream at her. I called 9-1-1 immediately and the police were there in minutes. When the cops confronted the couple though, the woman claimed they were "playing," so the officers let them both go and everyone involved seemed pretty annoyed that I notified authorities. 

As I watched the couple depart--and the police write up the report--I felt a mixed bag of emotions. I worried--for a second--that perhaps I overstepped the line by picking up the phone, but even now, looking back, at no point did the man's actions seem playful, and every time I consider the woman's defense, it seems borne of fear rather than truth. So even if I did over step the line by thrusting myself into a situation that didn't involve me, I still contend it was the right thing to do; I still contend that over-stepping was the better mistake to make.

I suppose I hope I will feel the same way--regardless of how it turns out--each time I look back at what happened last Friday. While trying to buckle my son into his carseat, I heard a loud crash, leaned out to investigate, and saw that an SUV had slammed into the sedan parked behind him. My first instinct was to snap a picture, but when the driver turned around and made eye contact with me, I decided to lean back into the car instead. I thought for sure he'd own up to his crime and leave a note, but when I saw him driving past my window a few seconds later, I realized he was fleeing the scene. 

I tried to steady my phone with the hand that wasn't holding my baby, but my fingers were too slow; the man got away.

Everything inside me wanted to scream.

It was entirely unfair. It was immoral. It was unexpected, even though I suppose I should have expected it. 

I wanted to vomit.

Once it all registered, I grabbed my baby, exited my car and carried him over to the sedan. Even though deep down I knew I would find nothing, I still hoped there would be a note; I still believed in human decency. When I saw nothing but damage, I felt nauseated imagining the owner of the car walking outside and realizing he or she would begin the weekend as the unfortunate victim of a hit-and-run. 

I ran back into the daycare center to see if they had a security camera and to report the incident to the administrator. Unfortunately, their cameras only captured images of who walked in and out of the door, not who drove into their lot, so the only thing we could really do was wait for the owner of the sedan to come outside so we could explain what happened. He emerged a short time later, and as soon as I passed along what I had seen, I left to feed my son. 

The police called later that evening and asked me to email a follow up statement. I agreed, of course, and as I sat at the computer and typed, I felt heat filling my chest just thinking about the man who got away, thinking about my decision not to take that initial picture, thinking about every last detail of the crash. I wondered whether or not the man spent even one second reflecting on his crime, worrying about the victim, or feeling guilty about his actions. I wondered what he told his child who had to have been jarred from the collision, and whether or not he had any anxiety about me--the witness--speaking up, or if he just assumed he'd get away with it, if he assumed he could bury his head in the sand and I would just turn the other way. 

Regardless of what he did or didn't think though, the following Monday when I returned to the daycare center, I saw what I believed to be his SUV sitting there, roughly 50 feet from where the accident occurred a few days before. The moment I spotted it, I stopped in the middle of the round-a-bout drive, put my car in park, pulled out my camera, and snapped a photograph of the back: license plate, damaged bumper and all. Seconds after I took the picture, the man who owned the car walked through the doors, carrying his daughter, and for a brief instant, I made eye contact with him.

He greatly resembled the driver I had seen the previous Friday, and as we connected, I felt his unease. I felt his discomfort. I felt like he recognized me, but I didn't know if that was real, or if it seemed that way because I wanted it to, because I wanted to believe that even if he didn't do the right thing--he at least understood his crime, he at least felt bad for what he had done--and seeing me reminded him of the smear he smudged on the timeline of his life. 

But I suppose another part of me doubted my instincts. Another part of me feared the one percent uncertainty that I felt. Another part of me worried that by turning him in--when I was only 99% sure--I could potentially create a horrible situation for an innocent man. I thought it was him--I really did--but I wasn't positive. How could I be? I saw him from two cars away. 

As I considered all of this, the man strapped his daughter into his car, and I pulled around, parked, and collected myself. He drove past me, and turned out of the lot, but I continued to sit there, processing, reviewing, analyzing.  I continued wondering what made the driver who hit that car let go, what made him leave; and I thought about what made me hold on, what made me stay. 

And there, in my mind as I processed it all, I continued seeing the car that got hit, and the world I've given my son. I continued seeing two things I wanted to be better than they are today. I continued hoping that I would be strong enough to teach my little one to speak up--to speak out--when he has something to say, when his words could help authorities do the right thing.

And so even though I was nervous about accusing that man of something I was pretty sure--but not positive--he did, I pulled up the image anyway. I typed up the note. And I gave someone else the power to figure it out. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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I am terrible at writing titles.

I'm reminded of this at least once a week when I sit down to write my blog, and EVERY TIME I prepare a story for submission, but I was specifically reminded of it on Monday when I prepared to submit an essay I've poured my heart into for the last three months. The essay tells the most important story I've ever told about my life, and writing it was not only empowering, but therapeutic, liberating, and terribly important for me.

I tried to think of a title idea early on, but I hated everything I came up with, so I decided to save it until the end. When I finally finished the 200th hour of editing and sat down to prepare my document for upload, I stared at the working title--at the commonplace, uninspiring word at the top--and I realized it was horrible. It didn't, in any way, capture the power of my piece, or the depth of my journey. It failed to provide an enticing hook, to add another layer, to adorn my work with a shimmering crown.

So I brainstormed for hours. I tried on different hats. I ventured down a variety of roads. None of them fit, however. None of them suited my purpose. None of them felt right. 

But the essay was due, so I settled. 
left the name: "Home." 
Then I clicked "upload" and ultimately, "submit." 

I thought the action would produce relief, but my anxiety only grew. The terrible title remained with me, punishing me for my lack of wisdom, reminding me that I really needed to get better. 

I tell my students how important titles are when they name their assignments "Narrative," "Memoir," or "Literary Analysis." And I think about their importance myself when I base my decision to read or not to read on the titles I see when I look at a book, skim through a journal, or scan a list of news stories popping up on various feeds.

But no matter what I know about their importance, I still struggle to write them, to piece together efficient, illuminating language that layers rather than summarizes my work. I still struggle to whittle ideas into a single dash, into a witty flip, into a metaphorical masterpiece. By the time I get to the end, I'm spent. I've given my all to the story, and it seems like betrayal to capture the whole thing in one, two or three words. It feels manipulating to tease the readers I want to touch, and just plain wrong to trick them or to scare them, or to over-promise the world.

But I know I need to improve. So I set out today to confront my weakness head-on, to take steps to get better. I read a dozen articles about blog post titles and as one might suspect, success in that arena relies more on marketing principles than it does poetry. Since I'm less concerned about clicks than I am about my literary pieces, I shifted my focus part way through, turning my attention instead to the art of naming short stories and novels and creative nonfiction. 

In a post titled "Choosing the Right Name for Your Story," Mississippi writer John Floyd sets out rather practical advice. He takes works that have already achieved fame, and categorizes them under identifiers such as: a popular expression (Something's Gotta Give), a play on words (Live and Let Die), a hidden meaning (Catch 22), a title that comes from an existing work (The Sound and the Fury), a person's name (Forrest Gump), a place's name (Cold Mountain), a possessive (Angela's Ashes), an association of ideas (Misery), an event or activity (Waiting to Exhale), a memorable line from a story (To Kill a Mockingbird), a phrase that has rhythm (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), and a phrase that is simple (The Godfather). 

When I read his categories and their corresponding examples, the process seems logical and straightforward. I understand why the various works fit the categories and how each of the titles themselves capture, deepen or advance the essence of the stories they name. Even more, I can see how referencing that list might help me test out my titles, but I didn't feel like the list inspired me to write my own. 

So I continued digging and though I found several articles related to the topic, the one that resonated most appeared on a Quick Tips PDF listed on the University of Minnesota's Center for Writing page. After identifying the function of a title and establishing the creation of it as a process, this page proceeds to share Richard Leahy's "Twenty Titles for the Writer" exercise (Leahy's original document is on JStor). 

I'll be honest, when I initially approached the list, I assumed it would be cheesy, cliche and impractical--just like so many I had already seen--but the minute I dug in, I realized it was exactly what I needed. Leahy provides tangible ways to generate names, and even if it might be enticing to stop with one of the prompts, he suggests that writers proceed through every step. That way, they'd be able to choose from a list of twenty possibilities.

Jackpot. 

As one who is often stiffed by the process, having Leahy's exercise at my fingertips felt invigorating, and I knew--the moment I read thought the list--that it would not only edge its way into my writing life, it would land in my classroom as well. Students also struggle with titles and I frequently feel ill-equipt to help them. Now, I can offer a process, a way in, a way to explore possibilities and discover something they might not have otherwise considered. And--as I continue to muddle through it all myself--I can add to the list. I can think of new angles. I can imagine new layers. 

Instead of dreading the act of titling, when I finished sifting through the materials this afternoon, I felt empowered. I felt inspired to embark on the process. I felt prepared to dive in, to swim around, to overcome.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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As I drove my son into swim lessons this morning, I spent the entire commute brainstorming ideas for a hoax-y blog post. 

The radio blathered on about good pranks and kitschy corporate marketing efforts, and I felt the urge to unfold my own little fib until I began flipping through the stations and heard a pair of radio personalities discuss April Fools jokes gone wrong. 

The female voice mentioned her favorite blunder, which occurred in 2002 when a Hooters waitress won a beer sales contest and instead of getting the Toyota she was promised, the restaurant gave her a "toy Yoda." The waitress wasn't amused. Enraged that she didn't get what was "earned," she headed straight for nearest law office. In the end, the franchise had to issue her enough cash to buy the vehicle, and sadly, that's probably the last time they did anything "funny" at work. 

Oddly enough, I couldn't shake this silly, insignificant story from my mind. I couldn't get over how bothered I was by the woman's actions. It seemed absurd to me that someone would feel so entitled to a prize--which seemed, at the outset, like a comically impossible incentive--that she would actually sue her employer. While a car might be a perfectly reasonable prize for businessmen who get rewarded with Caribbean vacations and other flashy things, I've never heard of a restaurant being so generous. 

A free dinner: yes. 
A car: Ha. Something sounds fishy. 

I'm fairly sure most of my peers from the serving days would agree that such an announcement would have warranted a "yeah right" the minute our manager offered it. Nevertheless, even if it the incentive was realistic, it shouldn't have been the sole reason she was busting her tail to sell beer. She should have been working hard; it was her job. She was being paid to be on her game. Besides, the more beer she sold the more money she made anyway. The prize was just a bonus. 

My blood pressure rose as I sat in my car thinking about the woman, hypothetically lecturing her about hard work, pride and humor. When I actually began talking aloud, I stopped myself. Then I decided, instead, it would be much healthier to sing along with Adam Levine, Mumford & Sons, and who ever else managed to creep up on the playlist. All along though, my mind was elsewhere, stuck on the Hooters waitress, stuck on our self-serving, litigious society, stuck on the fear that we're taking ourselves too seriously, fear that we're becoming so thin-skinned we're losing our backbone for practical jokes, fear that we're so overworked and exhausted, we no longer pause to laugh. 

Yes, for a few minutes--during the walk to the parking lot--that woman thought she won a car. But when they handed her the Yoda, she didn't lose anything. She never possessed the vehicle; she possessed a stack of tips. When the hoax was revealed, she still had everything she had before. They didn't hurt her. They didn't steal from her. They just made a joke. Though it might have been over-the-top and ill conceived, I'm sure the efforts were birthed with good intentions; I'm sure they just wanted to make their employees laugh. 

And in my opinion, that's not a bad thing.

I don't want jokes--even the dumb ones--to go away.  I don't want us to grow so entranced with the seriousness of life that we forget to giggle at our stumbles. I don't want us to be so fearful of misstepping that we neglect to step at all. Despite our hyper-seriousness, I want us to hold on to our capacity for joy; I don't want us to evolve it away.

In the midst of my worrying though--in the midst of my fearing that the whole human race was turing into stoic robots--little Z squealed from the backseat for no apparent reason. He started laughing and babbling and carrying on like everything in the world was utterly hilarious. As I listened to him amuse himself, my worries dissipated, and I realized laughter was still in tact with the newest generation. It's still ingrained into the most basic aspects of our humanity. It's still very much stitched into our souls. 

And while that realization didn't make me laugh, I must admit, it certainly made me smile.