Category Archives: writing

Top 6 Posts of 2017

Well, kids, looks like we made it through year 1 of the Cheeto flea, and that alone is worth celebrating. But even better would be to forget about him altogether. As you run the highlight reel of the past year in your mind, acknowledge the not-so-great stuff, but give priority to the good things — the people, places, and events that gave you a lift. I’m reminding myself as much as you on this one. I think of myself as a positive person, but I’ve been noticing that I can get focused on the one bad thing sitting amongst all the good stuff. So I’m going to try to keep an eye on that in 2018. I’m also feeling like my tank is empty, and, yes, I had a big year (as the posts below will attest), but most of the big things are past, so I also wonder if it’s real or a habit? I will keep an eye on that, too.

But for now, it’s time to look back a bit, take a deep breath, and head out to 2018.

6. The big news of the year was getting the kid launched, and it was official with this post. In the process, there were highs, lows, lots of wine, and a few moments of full-blown panic. But the deed got done with Mission Accomplished.

5. I reread this one, and thought, damn, that’s good! I’ve been feeling less than inspired lately to write. In keeping with my positive theme, I’m going to recall the words of a painter friend many years ago, when I was hit with my first case of writer’s block. I had just finished a bunch of essays and thought, now I’m ready for the next thing. But I wasn’t. The faucet had nary a trickle. He told me not to worry — I was merely filling up again. So, I’m going with that. Don’t know how long the filling will take, so be prepared for reruns if you’re a long time reader and for cool old stuff if you’re new. In any event, this piece reminded me that, yeah, I still have some writing mojo. Happy Anniversary.

4. That this one is in the top 6 makes me laugh. I thought it was just me, but apparently this was something a lot of people could relate to. For the love, Leave the Curtain Rods.

3. Because I have memory issues, er, I mean, I live in the moment like Eckhart Tolle. I’m a super advanced human, I swear. Anywho, I thought this one was about Cheeto flea, but it was more subtle than that. Either way, it never hurts to remember It’s a Marathon not a Sprint.

2. I just reread this one, and it reminded me I have a blog to finish about bystander intervention. Also, it reminded me that Life moved with me to my new apartment and is still sitting in my chair, giving me the look, and motioning me to get her another drink. Happy new year, bee-atch! Dammit!

1. Oh, Celine. I hope where ever you are, you have all the happiness you deserved when you walked among us. Goodbye My Friend.

So there it is, friends. I wish you all you healthy, hopeful new year. We can totally do this. We always do.

Writing Excavation

Before I get into my blog proper, I need to detour one second for this brilliant tweet from @DrAndrewThaler: “Folks, I think we need to start coming to terms with the idea that the rapture happened and only David Bowie and Prince made the cut.”

And now back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans: While packing and decluttering before I moved, I went through my filing box of writing. Oh what a treasure trove of the good, the bad, and the incomprehensible, masquerading as mastery. Here are some of the more interesting (humor me) highlights:

This one I like — I’m not a natural-born poet, brevity being rather foreign to me. However, I do have my moments. I used to take a bus to the train to get to a 7 am meeting in Boston. One thing writers are good at is turning an unpleasant obligation into art, or at least something more palatable.

Early spring bus ride, 6:20 am
The light is so nice
It’s the planet and the sun
We’re doing the tilt.

I found a lot of random notes about possible essays from when Lucas was little. Which either shows my unbridled optimism or delusional tendencies — I had no time or energy to write an essay, but as they say in yoga, intention counts. This one made me smile:

When Lucas was about 8, he played soccer. His coach Giuseppe was from Italy and had a pretty heavy accent. We used to laugh that his son who was also on the team and a great player was the ringer — the kid probably had been kicking a ball around before he could walk. The rest of Lucas’s team was pretty much what you’d expect from a group of rag-tag, half-hearted 8-year-olds. The better teams always thought they had the game in the bag until Giuseppe’s son started weaving his way around them as if they were standing still. I also loved the way Guiseppe told the kids that “practeeks” would help them win. Short of having a wine flask to help take the edge off sitting through 8 am practices in 35-degree fall weather, the Italian imported ringer and the practeeks got me through.

In an unmarked manila folder I found a thin, plastic see-through record, a 45 size, but a 33 rpm. If you are younger than 35, this sentence may make no sense to you. Kind of like this one makes no sense to me (randomly found on a celebrity gossip site): Javi and Briana rub their romance in Kailyn’s face. Who are these people?

Back to my see-through record. It does play on my record player. (Yes, I have one, read all about it here: Put the Needle on the Record). The record is called “Star Track: Stephen Saban’s Greatest Hits,” and has excerpts from interviews by the “hottest” 80s stars, with a slant toward comedians: Judy Tenuta, Julio Iglesias, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry, Steven Wright, Emo Phillips, Lily Tomlin. I listened to it, and it’s pretty incomprehensible — there is no theme or organization, just famous people saying random things. It says “Details” at the top, which I think means it was from the hip, happening 80s magazine of the same name, which I did not subscribe to. So the mystery remains: why was this (presumably) in a magazine, who the hell is Stephen Saban, how did I get this weird thing, and for the love, why did I keep it? Was it one of those, “Oh, this will be worth a lot on eBay in the future!” moments? We may never know as I threw it away, but was fun to find.

There were many painful attempts at fiction and interview notes from when I spent a few months as a stringer for a weekly local newspaper. Neither genre is my forte, so that’s part of the pain. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded that being a young writer is what it is — bombastic, obvious, overly earnest, and just plain bad. But I had to write all that stuff to get where I am now: bombastic, obvious, underly earnest, and less bad.

And I’ll leave you with a deliciously bad piece of writing. Here is the winner of the 2017 Best Unoriginal Sentence: Hers was a beauty that was best seen through drunken eyes.

Thank you very much.

First and Lasts

So it’s Tuesday, the day after I usually post, and I will tell you that this is the first time I forgot to post. I thought of it over the weekend, perused my usual half-baked ideas, and then it all fell out of my head as Monday came and went. But I will cut myself some slack; I’ve been experiencing a lot of “lasts,” what with the kid heading out to college in 9 days. I’m determined not to get all hand-wringing and empty-nest mopey on you — that’s not my style, but I have been surprised by the little things that have hit me. Grocery shopping and realizing I don’t have to buy those specific apple/grape juice 6 packs anymore. Or at least not for a few months. Which is great, because half the time the store is out of them anyway. 

All that is cluttering up my noggin, which, let’s face it, has never been a bastion of reliable memory preservation. Add in North Korea and Cheeto flea having a toddler screaming match, where the toddlers have access to nuclear weapons, and hate groups assembling under the guise of free speech, and I’m pretty much toast over here. I actually had the thought last week that this might be it, but North Korea is standing down for now, so I live to forget another day. 

But I refuse to give in to despair. For one thing, my grandparents and dad had a pretty frightening, shitty time of it in Holland during WWII, and my other grandfather, when he had food at all in his childhood, ate primarily salt pork and beans and lived well into his 80s; it’s in my genes to keep going. For another, there’s plenty of positive things going on. People are working to make things better and there are countless acts of kindness going on all around us all the time. Yesterday, I was canoeing on a quiet river, and the beavers and birds I saw going about their bird and beaver business reminded me there is a balance. That, and life on a quiet sleepy, river might be a good plan B. 

So, once the kid is launched, I will take a deep breath and continue to contribute the best I can. In the meantime, I’ll keep forgetting things, but I promise to do it with peace and hope. 

Active Bystander Intervention Workshop in Boston Area

I want to spread the word about a great active bystander intervention workshop that I took a few months ago. I’ve been trying to make a clever blog out of what was a very insightful and useful experience. But with the kid graduating, and end of the year school activities, and teens hanging about the house more, I’m more scattered than usual, which is actually a little frightening. I’ve been sitting with my computer on my lap for 2 and a half hours, and this is what I’ve accomplished so far:

  • I was compelled to obey an urge to listen to The Motels — the entire “All Four One” album — on my record player.
  • I moved two big boxes out of the way to search for the vinyl, but didn’t find it.
  • Instead, I found Loverboy’s first album, David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust,” and the Cult’s “Love” album, and plucked them from the bin to listen to.
  • I spent 5 minutes looking for the power cord to the record player, cursing freely until I found it right next to the player.
  • I put the Cult record on turntable, only to walk away and download “All Four One,” on my iPhone.
  • I listened to every song and sang every single word.
  • I listened to “Only the Lonely” twice.
  • I then finally put the needle down on Cult’s “Love.”

Okay, so I’ve actually accomplished quite a bit. But this still isn’t a clever blog, so I’ll just be practical and helpful instead. The bystander class reversed a life-long feeling I’ve had that as an introverted person (when I’m with strangers — if I know you, I’m a big loudmouth), I could never be useful in this kind of situation. Rona Fischman is a terrific facilitator and taught me how to work with my natural reserved inclinations and that everyone has something to contribute to help keep our world respectful. That’s pretty damn amazing.

Active Bystander Intervention

This is a two-part class, given on two consecutive Monday nights, June 19 and June 26, from 7 pm to 9 pm. Learn active bystander intervention techniques to reduce the impact of aggressive social behavior. If you see someone being bullied, how can you help? How can you do it safely? How can you help without the risk of making things worse? The program also includes techniques for interrupting everyday social aggression with people you know, as well as preparation for acting with strangers. The cost is now $60, but you can get a 20% discount to friends of past participants (that’s me) with the promotional code “B_friend”. Click here to register.

I have to go listen to Loverboy now.

 

 

Thank You, Mrs. Gerzanick

This week is national teacher appreciation week, and by a sad coincidence, my very favorite teacher passed away last week at the age of 90. She was one of those teachers who changed the lives of many kids, including mine, and I was lucky to have her for English my sophomore and senior years in high school. I sent her random thank yous well into my adulthood; the last one in 2007 included a copy of my just-published book, and I was so proud to send it to her and thank her again.

I had no idea how old she was when I was in her class, but when you are 16 you have no idea how old anyone is nover the age of 20. Her hair was fairly gray by then, so I placed her age-wise somewhere between my mother and my grandmother, leaning more towards my grandmother. When I did the math today, though, I realized, it must have been all that teaching that had made her gray; she was only a few years older than I am now when I had her.

Remembering her in that lens makes her even more remarkable. She had this boundless, restless, passionate energy in the classroom that I can’t even come close to on my happiest, most well-rested, excited day. It kept her in constant motion during class, from one side to the other, front to back, to the blackboard and back around. She challenged, cajoled, gently chided, and encouraged us to be better, stretch further, think clearly. She inspired me to make her proud. The day she said, “What does this word mean? Who had the intellectual curiosity to look it up?” was the day I vowed to have the intellectual curiosity, and it’s remained with me to this day. Even now when I’m reading a book and curled up on the warm couch, maybe getting sleepy, I am occasionally tempted to steamroll past that word I don’t know. But I hear her voice, and I damn well look it up. Actually remembering it a few pages later is the greater challenge, but that’s not Mrs. Gerzanick’s fault.

She did give out praise when we earned it, and if we didn’t get it a lot, it was our fault for not working hard enough. Her bar was high, but it was not impossible. B’s were pretty standard. Dialing it in got you a C (and you never did again). And on a miraculous few occasions, you worked hard enough to get the A-. One friend remembered her statement of praise, “Very guuud” when you made an insightful comment or had the intellectual curiosity to look up a word. She’d draw out the “good,” and it felt like winning a gold medal.

She drilled good grammar and style into us, and the bible was required reading — the grammar bible that is: The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (yes, the E.B. White who wrote Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little). I still have my second edition copy from that class. I haven’t used it as a reference for a long time because it’s a part of my writing DNA — she made sure of that. Her mantra, “be succinct” became mine, and the way she chirped, “If the letter C you spy, put the E before the I!” made you remember the rule.

But she was much more than a gray-haired grammarian. While she was pushing us to be more than we thought we could be, she also captivated us. Her constant movement dispersed the smell of her particular perfume and created a constant jangling of the 3 or 4 bracelets she wore every day. But the best days were when she wore what we dubbed the green leather biker dress. By today’s standards it would be a conservatively cut dress, but the fact that it was made of leather, green leather, stopped us pretty much in our tracks. We had never seen its like, and living in working class town, we generally associated leather clothing with bikers.

There are so many things I could say about how good a teacher she was, but the story that stands out most in my mind was the paper I wrote about Joseph Conrad. I could not get my head around Heart of Darkness. I hated that book and I hated him for writing it so that I was forced to read it. This was coming from a girl who loves to read and was willing to struggle though Shakespeare and wrestle with the Canterbury Tales without complaint. I dreaded having to write the paper on the book, usually something I looked forward to. Miserable, I went to the library for research on Conrad to see how I could possibly pull this off. This was the college-level English course offered in high school, and I knew better than to dial it in. She had drilled into us you couldn’t simply say you hated a book or didn’t like it. You had to say why and it better be good. Mostly I hated how he went on for pages describing a sunset or an afternoon sky. Strunk and White would definitely not approve. But how do I write a paper on that?

And there, amongst the stacks of reference books and my despair, I hit pay dirt.

I learned that his publisher paid him by the word and English was his second language. Ah-ha! I had him. I wrote in a fever, arguing that the payment had encouraged him to write more than was necessary. With gleeful detail I provided examples of how his awkward wordiness was due to writing in his non-native language. When we handed in our papers, everyone was groaning about how hard it had been — the book hadn’t won many of us over, and I regaled them with my tale of vanquishing this unpleasant writer with his own life story. My classmates were generally impressed, but the euphoria soon gave way to anxiety. I clearly had gone out-of-bounds of the assignment. It was less a critique of his work and more a justification for why I hated Heart of Darkness. Granted, a researched justification, but still. There was a general consensus that my gamble might not pay off.

When she handed back our papers a week later, everyone was waiting to see what would happen. Would I get the C for dissing a writer and a lecture about going off the grid? Would I just get the B and call it a day? Every week when she handed back the papers, she called out one or two as examples — mostly good, but occasionally she used one as a cautionary tale. That week she called out my paper — I wonder if she knew she had us on the edge of our seats in anticipation. When she proclaimed it a good paper, very original, and worthy of the coveted A-, I was euphoric and felt like I had gotten away with something. It wasn’t until later that I realized she had accomplished her goal. I had still made a trip to the library and actually worked to learn more about him, even though it was more like a private eye trying to dig up dirt. Indeed, I probably worked harder than if I had just shoveled words to support a more basic “man vs. man” or “man vs. nature” theme. Even later I learned that Conrad was one of her favorite writers. So not only had I gone off the grid, I had uniformly dissed her favorite writer. And she gave me the A- anyway.

So here’s to you Mrs. Gerzanick and to all those like you out there, working to inspire us to be better human beings, to have the intellectual curiosity to look up the word we don’t know, and to show up and do our best. Thank you.

 

Hamster in a Blanket

My friend George told me there’d be days like this. When I spoke with him 3 years ago about starting my blog, he knew me well enough to know I can get too focused on always bringing my A-game to my writing, or at least die trying. Having done social media for his fabulous knitting and crochet pattern business 10 Hours or Less, he also knew some days I’d be lucky to get out of bed and get dressed, never mind post some quality writing that will make people laugh and cry and give them a push to get their own ass out of bed. Some days a B or even B minus-game will do.

George is a wise man, and today is one of those days. So I give you Marble, the amazingly cute hamster in a blanket, because that is all I got this week. Oh, and hey, I’ve been doing this blog for 3 years — thanks for being a part of it.

Marble2

Week Two

It was kind of a rough week. I don’t recall the last time a president’s executive order increased my work load in hospital communications. So you can blame the Cheeto for this short post. His nonsense took up most of my energy this week having to write something to calm employees and patients about the immigration ban. Meanwhile, inside I felt like an old school journalist, sweating under deadline, in a cloud of cigarette smoke, and wishing for a Mad Men-like flask in my drawer. The week did end well, though, with a family gathering for my son’s birthday, and a Planned Parenthood meeting at a friend’s house. Some quality family time and political action does a girl good. I learned a number of things at the meeting:

  • Planned Parenthood provides Pap tests, breast exams, birth control, HIV testing, health care for men and women, and more.
  • In many communities, especially rural ones, Planned Parenthood is the only safety net provider of family planning.
  • I need a group, a glass of wine, and tasty snacks to help me write political letters. A while ago I had put in a reminder to myself to write to my US representative Katherine Clark about something. So, I thought I’d finally do that as well. When I pulled it up on my phone, it said “Thank Katherine Clark for not going to the inauguration.” Um, yeah, so clearly I can’t be trusted by myself to get the job done. In addition to asking her to keep funding Planned Parenthood, I was sure to thank her for all she was doing. Better late than never, I suppose.

So, that’s all I got this week. That and the photo from a long ago, far away vacation (back in September) with my sis and bro-in-law on Hilton Head island. That is my current happy place.

If you’d like to help keep Planned Parenthood funded, go to www.istandwithpp.org/call .