Building a vocabulary… one mistake at a time

A few years ago, while working at a PR agency in New York, I was assigned the unenviable task of finding state-specific statistics about the prevalence rate of prediabetes. As far as anyone knew, such data did not exist – but that didn’t stop our company from pouring countless billable hours into trying to dig some up anyway.

I never came across  that information directly, but I did find something almost as good: a study that estimated the number of people with prediabetes based on two sources: prevalence rates of type two diabetes; and the rate at which prediabletes develops into type 2. Apply some basic state population data to all that and – viola! One highly questionable projection as to the number of Georgia residents who have high blood sugar.

When I explained all that to my boss, he grew impatient. “So you mean, the data was extrapolated?” he asked. He said the last word extra slow, as if to draw attention to the sad fact that I didn’t know it existed.

I don’t know how I got through 30 years without once using “extrapolate,” but I suspect it had something to do with skipping college statistics to pursue an English minor that I never bothered to finish. I don’t feel so bad about either part of that equation because, as the story goes, neither statistics nor English would be of much use to me today. Actually, I wish I avoided them both and just took more creative writing courses instead. Because that might have saved me from having another “extrapolation moment” this past week when I was talking to my former professor about the book I’m trying to write.

“Here’s the problem,” I began, as I sat down in his office earlier this week.

I surprised even myself with that opening because I actually had no idea what my problem was – assuming, of course, that it was limited to just one.

“I want to use the material I have,” I told him. “But I want there to be more to it than just the travel stuff. I want there to be a few levels. You can read the story for pure entertainment, but there’s something bigger underneath.”

He nodded.

“I DON’T WANT TO WRITE A BEACH READ!” I yelled for no reason in particular. “I hate those! I mean, it can be funny, but I want to say something too. You know?”

Incredibly, he did know.

“So you want it to be layered,” he said. “We call that ‘layered.’”

“LAYERED!” I agreed. “That’s what I want!! Is that a thing? A writing thing? Layered?!”

It is, in fact, a “writing thing.” And I should probably do myself a favor and take another writing course so that I can learn this term, plus a few others and save myself some goddamn air.

“Layered! I like that!” I said again. “And it goes with the title I have: Exit Row.”

“What’s the layer there?” he asked.

“Well, the exit row of a plane,” I said. “But it’s also a play on death row. Because when I was in New York, I wasn’t really living. I was just going through the motions. When I decided to leave, I didn’t know if things would get better, but at least I felt like I moved in the right direction. From death row to exit row.”

You’ll have to wait for the book for the full explanation, but in the mean time, feel free to read into that little gem. Or should I say… feel free to extrapolate.


I’ve been out of college for twelve years, which means that my former teacher is under no obligation to buy me coffee and suffer through my ramblings about book titles and literary devices. But he did it anyway for no real reason other than he wanted to. It was a great kindness that I repaid by locking the man out of his house.

Unlike the many times I did such a thing to myself, I take full responsibility for this mishap. After all, my teacher only asked me to hold his office door “for a second” while he shuffled a hot cup of tea between hands. I took the liberty of doing that plus removing his keys from the lock and then, mid-rant about not wanting to write a romance novel, absentmindedly put them in my coat pocket. I was two drinks into a Bumble date in Olde City when I received an email from him asking if I had any idea where they might be.

“They are in my pocket,” I replied. And I can’t say that anyone other than my Bumble date was particularly surprised to learn that.

If there’s a silver lining to this situation, it’s that I returned the keys to my teacher at his woodworking shop – a place I always wanted to visit. I always knew he made beautiful things, but it’s way more impressive to see the process first-hand. (Check out his work here.)

Since I was already being such a pain, I decided to toss in a bit of unsolicited advice about how he should mark up the price of his furniture up by 30 percent.

At least that much,” I said. “Look at this – it’s amazing! You’re charging Crate & Barrel prices for something that’s one-of-a-kind and handmade! The customer you want will pay more for something like this. They’ll pay whatever it costs.”

He looked unconvinced.

“Let me put it to you this way,” I said. “My coat costs more than that end table. The same person who buys an overpriced parka, will buy your handmade furniture.”

See how that logic works? Extrapolation at its finest.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.