The Elements of Riley

My favorite little book on English usage is Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” I’ve used it a lot through the years in my teaching. There is a lot in there about misspelled homophones and multiple meaning words. In my graduate program I used to work at the Cerritos Community College writing center where I was hired to help entering language students correct basic usage and composition errors on their papers. They were required to spend a given amount of time in the writing center and I would sign them off when they’d seen me a few times. It was a great job for a 26 year old thinking about becoming a college teacher. I got to see what a lot of the job would consist of. Working with people so closely was nice too. After correcting some of the same mistakes over and over by the hundreds, I had developed little doodles and vocabulary to help them see the correct way to spell homophones like to/too/two. I don’t have a way o doodle here “stream of consciousness” but I’ll try and remember some of the ways I used to teach these. I still use some of these little ideas to teach these homophones to my 4th graders.

to is a preposition. It announces where you are going. “I am going to the store.” It has one “o” unlike the other two spellings. too is a modifier of degree. I taught this one by saying when it’s explaining there are “too many” you don’t use just one “o” you use “too many o’s” or “2” o’s as opposed to one. Get it? It’s simple and cheesy but when you are starting out in college or anything you do as a serious writer, these little tips are golden and they were always appreciated. I made handouts and I copied a LOT of them. The final word that sounds the same but is spelled different is the number. two, the number, is spelled with a “w.” I would coach them to memorize the spelling of the number first and then use the trick of “degree” being too many “o’s.” And that’s how I would teach the homophones of to/too/two.

Deny Opposition

If we spent less time trying to prove to other people we are worthy, we’d be more productive and valuable citizens of the world.

I reblogged this photo on tumblr.

Being internally driven is a gift. If you don’t have it, you may never get it. On the other hand, you can foster the notion can you not? Practice denial of the judgment of others. It’s a positive trait.

I chose this photo for my post because I think it’s easy to get caught up in pleasing others. There is a place for that but the core is just you. From cradle to grave you walk alone. Life shouldn’t feel like a cosmic interview all the time. The reality is, we all live in poverty. We all wish we had more.

Be smart and thankful and you’ll be way happier than most. But most of all, define your notion of success and then measure your own progress toward goals. That, and never feel like you have to prove shit to anyone but yourself. As you achieve your own goals, you’ll just be better no matter what anyone thinks.

This is a response to the Daily Post’s one word prompt: denial.

Travel Lightly Down Life’s Road


It’s indescribable how the future changes things.

This week’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “indescribable.” Use the actual word in your post or just base your post on something that defies description.

If you’ve ever kept a diary you’ve probably experienced looking back at something you wrote in the past that has changed in meaning. Perhaps you were nervously anticipating an upcoming challenge that turned out being no big deal at all. Or maybe you were sounding your trumpet about an event that now, later in time, seems to have lost it’s sheen.

At 46, I could never explain this and I don’t know why I’m trying to do so to people younger than me. It’s less important to define everything and more important to define those universal themes that have stood the test of time for ones life. Like the photo above I found on Tumblr, we can’t see the track ahead clearly. The forest/city/town that we’ll see down the tracks will likely defy all current description. The best advice I can give as you travel through life is to take it easy and believe all things do change.

How the Face of Poverty Helped me Grow Up

Poverty is something most young people can’t comprehend until they experience it or even just see it. Seeing it transformed me on a trip I took to Mexico at age 18. I was forced to grow up in an instant (or a series of instants).

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “When Childhood Ends.” Write about a defining moment in your life when you were forced to grow up in an instant (or a series of instants).

This is me graduating with my first degree, AA General Education. That's my Grandpa with me. My experiences at a Tijuana orphanage at 18 influenced my desire to be college educated.
This is me graduating with my first degree, AA General Education. That’s my Grandpa with me. My experiences at a Tijuana orphanage at 18 influenced my desire to be college educated. I’ve gone on to get two more degrees and a teaching credential. Every day I seek to help children of all socioeconomic backgrounds as a teacher.

When I was 18, I went with a group of Southern California kids and adult leaders to give food and supplies to an orphanage in Tijuana. I had the opportunity to give a child a bike. The place was actually situated behind a dump. It was regular practice for the kids there to trash pick for food and other items. The leaders gave me a rebuilt bike to give to a boy who they told me had just discovered his parents stabbed and dead in the dump. It was sobering and sad.

I learned a lot on that trip. As an OC brat, I took a lot for granted growing up. That experience really made me grow up in an instant. I saw that security was not granted for everyone as it was for me. Poverty is real. I think all children growing up in the lap of luxury with Disneyland right in her/his backyard should spend time in poverty. It made me thankful for my parents and my family. It made me realize that I was always just a couple paychecks away from being in poverty myself and that I needed to invest in myself in college and savings to ensure a life far from poverty. I also learned that Tijuana poverty is far below any poverty I had seen in Southern California all my short life.

When in the Valley, Look to the Mountaintop

I would call my second year as a Pizza Hut Manager a valley that I rose to a mountaintop from. I left teaching because I was overwhelmed and the result was a valley I thought I’d never rise above. I control my destiny, I decided where my career would go, twice.

The Daily Post writing prompt: Describe a time when you quickly switched from feeling at the top of the world to sinking all the way down (or vice versa). Did you learn anything about yourself in the process?

Damien Riley Jet Propulsion Lab WrightwoodFrom 2000-2002 I managed the Pizza Hut in Dana Point, California. I had 10 years prior experience there and I was bilingual and highly educated, perhaps beyond necessity. They took me in and made me a manager. The first year was exciting, it was different from teaching and I liked that. The second year was drudgery. I couldn’t make the numbers they set for me and I didn’t have much time off. I felt lower than low. I was living alone and dreading each day walking into the place. I think they could tell as well. After some highly revelatory personal experiences, I knew that teaching was for me so I quite Pizza Hut, started subbing and within months has several interviews. In August of 2002 I was hired as a 5th grade teacher, I was 33.

I think what makes me proud of my valleys is that I looked up at the mountaintop and I didn’t let despair take over. This is an important life skill: When down in the valley, look up at the mountaintop. If you can see it, don’t take your eyes off it as your destiny and you’ll get there. I’ve been a public school teacher now for 16 years. ALL my experiences, especially the valleys make me the great teacher people recognize today.