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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Seeking eternal sunshine

It's raining again, as the Supertramp song says. I don't mind particular kinds of rain—especially soft summer rains that make you want to run through the puddles in your bare feet. But this endless rain and fog that descends every spring wears me down.

One week from today, 35 Hokes (give or take a few college-age nieces and nephews) will descend on Pensacola Beach, Florida. We were supposed to be among them (kicking that total over 40). Prudence required that we skip this spring break trip. It's too bad because the kids absolutely have a ball romping on the beach with their many cousins. And a Bushwacker from the Sandshaker Bar sounds pretty good right about now. But one of the problems with huge family vacations is that there are too many personalities involved.

I love to mingle with people, but I'm also somewhat of a loner. When we were there in 2002, I blew the minds of my sisters-in-law because I took a morning to visit old Pensacola by myself to take pictures. I didn't invite them along because I wanted to be alone. I needed to be alone. So I jumped in the car and rolled the windows down (I'm not a fan of A/C) and spent a fabulous morning exploring this waterfront town that was founded in the 1500s.

I've been dreaming of my ideal respite—it would only require four days. I would drive alone down to the Outer Banks (Avon), get a small beach house and spend my days reading on the beach, writing in my journal and snapping a few photos.
I long to sit in my beach chair, dig my feet into the sand and lean my head back to feel the sun's warmth on my face. I want to smell the salty ocean air and feel the peppermint sting of the water as I dive in to cool off. I wouldn't fight my unruly curly hair and would bring nothing but bathing suit, shorts, T-shirts and sandals. No fancy nights out, just quiet.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote so beautifully of spending time alone in "Gift from the Sea." I should re-read that book. My mom gave it to me when I was first married and told me it would mean different things to me at different times in my life. I'm sure she's right.

Is it so awful to want to spend time alone? Sometimes I just need to be rejuvenated. Being alone for a while, indulging in my passions, rejuvenates me and makes me a better wife, better mother and better person.

"In my mind I'm going to Carolina…" — James Taylor

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Saying we're sorry

I've been reading with great interest about the testimony before the 9/11 commission. I was surprised and even moved by former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke's simple apology about the failure of himself and the government to prevent the attacks. If only more people would recognize the value of apology and forgiveness.

You'll have to pardon my preachy tone, but it's the Easter season. As any decent Catholic does at this time of year, we seek to unburden our hearts and souls by asking forgiveness for the wrongs (sins) we've committed. Although I'm a bit lax at engaging in reconciliation (formerly known as confession), I recognize that there are times when we have to relieve ourselves of the burdens we carry. I've always found the Jewish Day of Atonement more suited to my sensibilities. It's a beautiful thing to go directly to the people you've wronged throughout the year and ask for their forgiveness.

What's got me thinking about this today is that apologies are not something you'll often find in the media. That makes an article in this week's Editor & Publisher even more astounding.

Rick Mercier, of the Fredericksburg, Va., Free Lance-Star writes: "We're sorry. Sorry we let unsubstantiated claims drive our coverage. Sorry we were dismissive of experts who disputed White House charges against Iraq. Sorry we let a band of self-serving Iraqi defectors make fools of us. Sorry we fell for Colin Powell's performance at the United Nations. Sorry we couldn't bring ourselves to hold the administration's feet to the fire before the war, when it really mattered.

"Maybe we'll do a better job next war."

His apology is simple and yet carries so much power. That it was printed in a small newspaper and was crafted by a young editor and writer does not diminish its power—it strengthens the message that the media have dropped the ball. We've failed the people, whether they care or not, in the coverage of this war.

SPJ is about to host its second annual Ethics Week April 24-May 1. For the second year in a row, the week takes place amid allegations of reporters lifting quotes, plagiarizing material and manufacturing sources. "Our first effort at devoting a week to the consideration of ethics was either very well timed or very poorly timed, depending on one’s perspective. It was the week that Jayson Blair resigned from The New York Times and that two Salt Lake Tribune reporters lost their jobs because they had a secret deal with a national tabloid," states SPJ's Web page on Ethics Week.

And so we come back to consider the issue of ethics. I invite you to attend a half-day workshop sponsored by the Cleveland Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists on Saturday, May 1 from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Lakeside. We're going to discuss, in Socratic form, ethical issues and hear from a FOX/Tampa reporter who's efforts at being ethical have landed in her court with Rupert Murdoch. I invite everyone to review the SPJ Code of Ethics to remember that our job is to: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and, perhaps most importantly, to be accountable.

Monday, March 29, 2004

What a difference a week makes!

I've got a great feature assignment, an editorial consulting job for a magazine, marketing work for a major event and one other possible source of (frequency) work. What a difference a week makes!

And so my time to blog today is at a minimum. Just wanted to share this story from the weekend:

As the youngest of three boys, Michael tends to get all the hand-me-downs from his older brothers (if they last that long). Yesterday, he and I were home alone and I realized that he wasn't riding his bike. When I asked why he wasn't riding, he threw up his hands and yelled, "Mom! Would you look at my bike. Riley ate my helmet!" Indeed it was a sad sight. His brothers (believing they were bikers from the Gravity Games) pulled off the cover of his bike seat leaving nothing but the hard plastic and his kickstand had been pulled off.

We headed to Target to get his bike fixed up and buy a new helmet. While wheeling through the sporting goods aisle, a mom with a little guy in the seat asked whether she should buy her son the tiny bike or the 16-inch bike. I gave her my opinion and then realized, I'll never have training wheels, the tiny bike, the high chair, car seats, strollers, etc. again. I don't want to have any more children, but driving home I suddenly felt sad. That a HUGE part of my life had past.

I've had various baby things around my house for nearly 12 years and it's come to an abrupt halt. Michael starts kindergarten in the fall. Certainly, there are things I won't miss (diapers, potty training, middle-of-the-night feedings, wrestling a toddler into a stroller, car seat, high chair). But the sweetness and scent of little babies is a joy like none other. Motherhood, quite frankly, is what I do best.

I've had absurd people say to me, "You look like a mother of boys." What the heck does that mean? Do I look like a boy myself? Do I look as if I'll strap on the pads and run a few plays with the fellas? I'd like to think that if I had a daughter, I would be just as much a mother of girls. Of course I always thought I'd have a daughter. I had some great girl names—classic names—Anne, Clare, Jane and Kathleen (we'd call her Kate, a very strong female name).

I think what the "boy mom" people are trying, and failing miserably, at saying is that I seem to have the energy for a bunch of boys. And that, of course, is the truth. I watch more than my fill of SportsCenter, Cavs, Browns, Indians, college and little league/CYO games, have the ability to identify most construction vehicles and can create a Lego masterpiece with the best of them. But I would have loved to share a tea party, "Little Women" and dress up with a little girl. I get my little girl fixes from my niece, Natalie, and my best friend's two little girls, Emma and Grace. And I go home glad to know that I don't have to trip over microscopic Polly Pocket shoes and wrestle with hair things.

I'm happy to keep up with my boys (although it's doubtful whether I'll ever be able to keep enough food in the house for their growing appetites). I'm proud of their individuality and I'm happy to be home to share my day with them.

And so the news of incoming work this week is sweet since my efforts to spend more time with them is paying off. I can put a full-time job out of my head at least for a few more months.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Preserving the back story

Every so often I panic about computer meltdowns, not because of the down time, but because I have some wonderful correspondence from people that I would be sorry to lose. It has no value in terms of work, it's simply e-mails that are close to my heart—from friends and family sharing good news, congratulations on my new business and "nice job" from someone who appreciated what I've done.

I'm not a famous author and doubt I ever will be, but I'd like to preserve this correspondence since it represents special moments in my life. Maybe when I'm gone, my children and grandchildren will look back and say, "We're so glad to have this memory of her."

After I conducted my weekly backup this morning, I started thinking about how, or if, today's literary greats are preserving their correspondence. Is it more difficult in our electronic age? Certainly, people don't send handwritten correspondence as they once did.

I am enthralled with the back story of people's lives. That is the source of the most interesting details. What were the relationships that fed their minds/souls? Did those closest to them suffer as a result of their work? Where did they draw their inspiration? Was the work easy/hard, fulfilling/exhausting? Were they aware of what they were creating at the time?

The answers to these and many other questions are often found in their letters, diaries and journals. I have a book with copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald's letters to his daughter, Scottie, his beloved (but mad) wife, Zelda, and his lover, Sheilah Graham. Scott had so many problems, with drinking, poor health, his wife's spiral into madness. But he was also capable of great love and all of this is found in his letters.

"It is very quiet out here now. I went in your room this afternoon and lay on your bed awhile, trying to see if you had left any inkling of yourself," Scott wrote to Sheilah in January 1940.

One week before he died in December 1940, Scott wrote to his daughter, Scottie after sending her a fur coat that once belonged to Sheilah. He urged her to write thank yous promptly. "A giver gets no pleasure in a letter acknowledging a gift three weeks late even though it crawls with apologies…."

I have an entire book of unpublished autobiographical writings of Virginia Woolf. Known as "The Monks House Papers," they were kept safely in the possession of her husband, Leonard, but when published revealed her sensitivity, her self-consciousness and her vulnerability in ways that her novels and other writings rarely did.

In his book, "American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson," historian Joseph J. Ellis wrote, " (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) sustained a fifty-year friendship that culminated in the exchange of letters in their twilight years that most historians regard as the intellectual capstone to the achievements of the revolutionary generation." Ellis suffered his own character attacks about his own experiences. But his book is a great read. Will George W. Bush and Bill Clinton engage in e-mail correspondence? What the heck would those two have to say to one another?

Perhaps my favorite of all literary exchanges was that of Henry James and Edith Wharton. I have a book of their letters from 1900-1915. It so intimately chronicles one of the great friendships, James often writing from Lamb House, Wharton from rue de Varenne or The Mount, and their support of each other's careers and lives.

"But the great thing is that we always tumble together—more and more never apart; & that for that happy exercise & sweet coincidence of agility we may trust ourselves & each other to the end of time." — Henry James to Edith Wharton, 8 February 1910.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Passionate leadership

I had the good fortune last summer to attend the Ted Scripps Leadership Training presented by SPJ. Even though I've always felt I had leadership qualities, there have been many moments in my career when I felt, quite simply, that my "style" was not the norm, that I didn't fit the mold of a leader. I don't really know how to define that mold other than to say it didn't fit me.

It's because I'm a passionate person. I can burn white-hot on issues I care about, an emotion that is not always greeted with enthusiasm. Leaders are supposed to be cool, nonreactive, diplomatic. I can be, but not always. And I really struggle with that... I don't want to overreact or be defensive or hear my voice getting shrill or find my hands shaking. Honestly, that happens to me when I'm passionate about something. The reason I feel badly is that I've been made to by others who think I don't react well. And it's worked. When I'm emotional, I mentally flog myself for having reacted so strongly.

But in the past two years, several things have begun to change how I view my passion. First, I'm getting older and with that comes a certain degree of emotional maturity. I also had my Myer's Briggs done and learned that I am an INFP (introversion/intuitive/feeling/perceiving). My first reaction was, "I'm no introvert!" But I learned from my counselor that introversion in the Myer's Briggs represents where you draw your inspiration, motivation, etc. In that case, it absolutely fits me. I'm my own worst critic and the only person capable of motivating my actions. I also learned that Abraham Lincoln was an INFP, no shabby company there. So when my husband asks why I want to change the world, I can simply reply that I am of the same inner stuff of Abe Lincoln. I'm sure Mary Todd probably asked the same question of Abe.

More importantly, I learned that my feeling (or passion) was not a curse, but a blessing, something I needed to embrace and channel to use in positive ways. The Myer's Briggs personality types reflect our gifts if we choose to use them well.

The second realization of my leadership gifts came during the Ted Scripps Leadership Training, where I and my colleagues took the DiSC Profile (Dominance/Influence/Steadiness/Conscientiousness). In a roomful of journalists, there were many who fell into dominance (the Ds as they were known). I was not one of them. I was part of the second-largest group—I (influence, though I'm not sure why it's lower case in the title). The DiSC definition of an I is someone who has an emphasis on shaping the environment by influencing or persuading others.

An influencer's tendencies include: contacting people, making a favorable impression, being articulate, creating a motivating environment, generating enthusiasm, entertaining people, viewing people and situations with optimism and participating in a group. Folks, that's me in a nutshell.

While I may be gregarious and persuasive and self-assured, I also can be emotional, impulsive and obstinate. (I just love that word. Reminds me of a line from Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Lady Catherine de Bourgh says to Elizabeth Bennett, one of the great literary heroines, "Obstinate, headstrong girl!" Love it, that's me at times. Just ask my parents.)

The point is, the leadership conference reinforced in me the notion that I do have something to offer, and that something is my passion. I wear it on my sleeve and there are those who think it improper. As I get older, I'm learning how to put it to better use. I'm a work in progress, no doubt. But I care about a great many things and if I were to lose my passion—for life, for words, for creativity—well, that would be very sad.

I'm nearing the end of two years as president of the Cleveland Pro Chapter of SPJ. It's been a tremendous learning experience. I hope I've brought enthusiasm, energy and, yes, passion to the organization. I know that I've learned a lot from so many people and am better for having them in my life.

A good organization has leaders of different kinds—the quiet, cool, diplomatic leaders are a good balance to those with white-hot passion. You need the relationship-builders and the task-masters. You need risk-takers and the more cautious leader. There's room for everyone at the table.

My colleague, Allison Conte, wrote far more eloquently on this subject in the January 2004 COSE Update. Her cover story, "You Gotta Have Heart," talks about the need for emotional intelligence in good leadership.

As for me, I'm taking my "vigah" (as JFK would say) on to the national level of SPJ by co-chairing the National Freelance Committee. It's my passion that has taken me to this point and each day I learn to embrace it as my gift. I encourage you to embrace yours.

Happiness is…
Dancing in the living room with young Master Michael. How sweet it is…

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Coming together

Had a great meeting (the first of many, I hope) with two members of the Press Club of Cleveland. For years there has been a rift between Press Club and SPJ. Our foursome chuckled a bit over breakfast at Ruthie and Moe's at the notion because, for the most part, it predates our involvement with our respective organizations.

As it happens, the two organizations used to co-host an awards event. The falling out, it appears, was over who got the money for the event. I'm sure it's far more complicated than that and I'm sure there are many who know the story better than I. Quite frankly, I don't care. And so the rift endured for years and through many organizational evolutions.

But we're in a different time now. A time of coming together. Creative people throughout Northeast Ohio are realizing that we have social and intellectual capital that can only be leveraged for the greater good by working in communion with one another.

That leads me to another of my involvements—Northeast Ohio Communication Affiliates (NOCA). What began as the Cleveland Ad Association's efforts to stem the outward flow of key accounts from Northeast Ohio to the big agencies to the east and west of us, has evolved into something perhaps more meaningful to a larger audience.

Even though we all consider ourselves "communicators," it's become quite evident that we don't know what each organization does. So we're educating each other about mission, our membership, our activities, our strengths, our weaknesses and our future needs. There is so little time and resources available to many that it behooves us to work together.

It's as simple as the printers from the printing association asking why publishers don't keep printing in town. I know of at least one publisher who made a conscious decision to print his publication in town as a direct result of that early NOCA meeting. It's an educational process.

The PR folks want to know why journalists can be so hostile or ambivalent about their pitches. Well, have you asked an editor what he or she needs? Are you pitching them essentially the same story over and over? And do journalists and editors understand what value you bring to the table? It's about communicating, folks.

SPJ is not the end-all, be-all organization. We certainly have our communication guffaws. But we are doing our best to reach out to other groups. We did that recently with a Shop Talk event co-sponsored and planned by National Writers Union. With the help of co-conspirator, Sandy Woodthorpe, we were able to bring a unique group of freelance writers together to discuss projects and going rates. And we talked a bit about what each organization does for its members. If you're interested in the results of that event, please send an e-mail to me or Sandy ( and we will forward you a copy.

The best part about these collaborations is that we're not only building community, we're building relationships. And relationships are the thread that bind our community together. There's been enough fractious energy in this town. And so we're working our way down the path of collaboration. It may be a bit unsteady, but the fun and the meaningful experiences happen along the journey.

In the spirit of collaboration, I invite you to visit Ayad Rahim's blog. Ayad, a journalist and native of Iraq, will be leaving at the end of March for Iraq to report on events one year after the fall of Sadaam Hussein, hopefully for the Wall Street Journal. He will be posting regularly on his blog as well and I hope to invite him back to speak to SPJ and friends upon his return. Godspeed, Ayad.

My word of the day: luminous. Please, use it well and use it sparingly. Its sound and its meaning are far too beautiful and poetic to be used often.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Power of visualization

Was out on a run this morning and was so lost in thought I almost got hit by a car. Not good. (Note to self: Come back to reality when crossing streets.) I know a lot of people who strap on the headphones and jam to some thumping, inspiring music while running. I, however, prefer to listen to the music in my head. Running gives me the chance to run through ideas, conversations, possibilities, dreams, blogs, stories and, yes, music while burning off the sometimes-destructive excess energy that tends to build up in me. I take ideas through to some conclusion (sometimes logical, often not). If only I could take notes while running. I'm a killer multi-tasker, but not that good.

While I'm running, I'm engaged in visualization. Call it mindfulness while exercising. I imagine myself achieving certain things, pushing myself toward realizing my goals. Takes my mind off of the actual physical task of exercising. Although there are certain risks, as noted above.

I've been doing this consciously since high school, unconsciously probably all my life. In 1984, the summer before my senior year in high school, I stayed up late every night to watch the USA woman's volleyball team play in the Olympics in LA. I mastered my spike by watching the players and studying their steps, their arm movements, their jump and the position of their hand as they smacked the ball into an opponent's face. Mentally, I would take myself through those same moves. When camp started, I was much stronger and did a better job of playing the front line.

I've seen my kids use similar techniques. My son, Ryan, played his first year of CYO tackle football last fall. His dad (no stranger the game) worked on drills with Ryan throughout the summer, while Ryan ran with me to build up his endurance. The result was astonishing. Come time for football camp, he was far better prepared physically than most other kids. He studied the playbook (which was rather large for fifth grade) every night and earned a spot as the starting running back. He played well and strong because he prepared well and visualized himself running with the ball into the end zone (which he did nine times during the season).

Patrick is very fond of baseball. When he was five he wanted to toss a basball and hit it by himself. He didn't want anyone to show him how. I watched from the window as he stood in the corner of the yard known as home plate. He would toss and swing, toss and swing, over and over. He mastered the move (rather difficult for a 5-year-old) because he visualized himself making contact with the ball. And Michael. He may use a combination of visualization and out and out moxie. At 5, he taught himself to ice skate. I skated along next to him, but he didn't want or need my hand. He would do it himself. And indeed, he did.

So now I'm using visualization to see myself as a successful independent writer. I've been a published writer for 15 years, so I guess you could say I have been successful. But I'm pushing my skills, more determined than ever to write on a higher level and for a larger audience. Like my boys, I'll also add a healthy dose of moxie to my vision.

On a completely unrelated note: I love to read and hope to share with you from time to time the books beside my bed. Currently, I'm re-reading "On Writing Well," by William Zinsser, which is actually on my desk. I started reading, "The History of Salt," but it's not holding my attention. Good prose is like food; I need it for survival, finding nourishment for my soul in words and stories. And so I perused my bookshelf of all-time favorites last night and pulled down Henry James' "The Portrait of a Lady" for a re-read—my oxygen.

"I cannot live without books." — Thomas Jefferson

Monday, March 22, 2004

Ode to copy editors

There's not much to be said about the period except that most writers don't reach it soon enough.
—William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1998

I describe myself as a writer and editor, but I often wonder if you can effectively be both. I work hard at both, though rarely at the same time. As a freelance writer, I have several colleagues I like to review my work. I think it's important to have that extra set of eyes and their input always strengthens my work. In turn, I give the same level of care and attention to those who ask me to edit.

There are two people to thank for teaching me the skill of editing. Ellen Walker was a chain-smoking newspaperwoman (in the spirit of traditional newspapermen) who put the fear of God in me, but also made me into a reporter. She took a chance on a young girl with five measly clips and taught her the ropes about being a reporter—asking the right questions, the impact of good photography, filling in the holes of the story, finding the larger issues at play. I am forever grateful to her for giving me my start. She had the ability to make me feel as if my chosen profession could not have been more ill-suited. And just when I was near giving up, she would come to me from behind her typewriter and say, "You nailed it, kiddo. Well done (while exhaling a steady stream of cigarette smoke)." It was just enough encouragement to keep me pushing harder. I wanted to make her proud of me.

The other editor, Brenda Lewison, was far more refined and her way with words is truly inspiring. I've seen her take copy that was pretty good and make it spectacular, with a simple shift in emphasis or stronger word choice. She was a born teacher and I'm grateful for the many hours in which she shared her passion for words with me.

I quoted the great William Zinsser at the beginning of this post. His book, "On Writing Well," is required reading for anyone who uses words (which is just about everyone). I've read my copy, now with yellowed pages and Post-It notes protruding from pages with my favorite passages, at least three times and think it time to read again. He's a writer's writer, but understood well the impact of a good editor.

"What a good editor brings to a piece of writing is an objective eye that the writer has long since lost, and there is no end of ways in which an editor can improve a manuscript: pruning, shaping, clarifying, tidying a hundred inconsistencies of tense and pronoun and location and tone, noticing all the sentences that could be read in two different ways, dividing awkward long sentences into two short ones, putting the writer back on the main road if he has strayed down a side path, building bridges where the writer has lost the reader by not paying attention to his transitions."

I've heard it said that a good editor can make a mediocre writer great, but a mediocre editor can make a good writer bad. I think that's true and I've seen it in my own career. As a writer and editor, I have immense respect for the audience. I think we owe it to them to deliver the very best, no matter the medium.

I'm often struck at those who snoot their noses at copy editing, many of whom reside in the business world ("that's only for newspapers" I've heard one consultant say). Well, I don't care if you're writing a newsletter, a sales letter, an annual report or a thank you letter, good grammar and clear writing will always prevail. I know the CEO of one large publicly traded company who writes amazingly well in his annual report. During our kids' baseball game recently, I asked about the quality of his annual report. "I do my own writing," he responded. I told him it was uncommonly good. He said if you're CEO of a company and you can't communicate well, you don't deserve to be CEO. I couldn't agree more.

One of my favorites places to visit on the Web is the Poynter Institute,even if it heavily emphasizes newspaper (while I work in magazine). Friday's post had a great piece titled, "Is Anyone Editing Their Copy?* Copy Editors take the fight against error and inaccuracy from print to the Internet. (*But shouldn't it be "his or her copy?)." It recommended several blogs on copy editing: Prints the Chaff, A Capital Idea and Copy Massage.

It also had a top 10 list that I love and have shared with my colleagues at my former job, where I was managing editor and asked to review all manner of words. It was signed simply, "With love, from Wendy."

1. We care deeply about accuracy and credibility.
2. We're here to help; we're not the enemy.
3. We're detail-oriented -- because readers are.
4. We have wide-ranging interests and expertise.
5. We ask questions because we don't have all the answers.
6. Ours is a difficult craft and we're working hard to improve. We know you're trying hard, too.
7. We love a good story. We're excited about good work. We're all journalists, after all.
8. We love to show grace and humor under pressure.
9. We fix mistakes, but we don't rub them in your face.
10. We might often be thought of as anonymous, but we never want to be voiceless.
11. We're often the people who carry a vision through to the end.
12. We accept the responsibility of being the last line of defense.
13. We do our very best work when we collaborate with our colleagues throughout the newsroom.
14. And as this started out as a Top 10 List, it's obvious that we can't write short either.

Happy writing—and editing!

Friday, March 19, 2004

Living down fear

I don't think there's a worse feeling in this world than being fearful. I went through a phase of my life not so long ago where fear very nearly crippled me. The stress of fear manifested itself in me physically and it took nearly a year to recover. I still fight it back sometimes, in the late night or early morning hours, but I'm hopeful that I'm winning the battle.

After I became physically sick, I sought the help of a counselor who taught me about mindfulness—being aware of whatever is happening inside and around me and the determination to initiate change when appropriate.

One of the greatest tools in combating fear is writing your thoughts. Think of it as giving yourself permission to let go of those fears. This blog is my latest method for combating fear, fear of being laughed at for my innermost thoughts. But here I am, writing it out and it looks ridiculous even as I see the words.

I use mindfulness daily. One of my most-effective work habits is cleaning my house. (No, I'm not obsessive-compulsive. One visit to my house affirms that fact.) The joke in my family is if the house is freshly cleaned, mom has a deadline fast approaching. It's true. To others it may appear that I'm procrastinating about work in favor of cleaning the house. But I use mindfulness while cleaning to help focus my thoughts. While I'm dusting and running the vacuum, scrubbing and mopping, my mind is not occupied with what my hands are doing. It's reviewing all the notes about a particular assignment. It's rearranging paragraphs, constructing ledes, organizing thoughts, developing sidebars and creating context. I'm not able to magically sit in front of the computer and begin. I have to go through this process first to get my head focused. And when I do sit down, the story is very clear in my head.

Most writers I know are keenly aware of time, or the fleeting nature of it. Mindfulness also has an application in the workplace. Saki Santorelli suggests using green dot stickers placed over your watch or clock (ideally both). Whenever you get the urge to look at the clock, you see instead the green dot and should take a moment to take a deep cleansing breath and relax. You'll be surprised how often you watch the clock—it can be as many as 50 times a day. Instead of triggering the reaction to tighten up even more, the green dot serves to remind you to relax, take a deep breath. Try it. It can transform you. Here are some of Santorelli's other suggestions:

Ways to Reduce Stress During the Workday
1. Take a few minutes in the morning to be quiet and meditate. Gaze out the window, listen to the sounds of nature or take a slow, quiet walk around the yard.
2. Take a minute to quietly pay attention to your breathing while your car is warming up or your coffee is brewing.
3. While driving, become aware of body tension (how tightly are your gripping the steering wheel, are your shoulders raised, is your jaw locked and stomach tight?). Consciously work at releasing/dissovling that tension. What does it feel like to relax and drive?
4. Decide not to listen to the radio and be alone with your thoughts.
5. Stay in the right lane and go 55 (OK, that's a hard one).
6. After parking at your workplace, take a moment to orient yourself to your day.
7. While sitting at your desk, monitor bodily sensations and tension levels and consciously attempt to relax.
8. Use your breaks to truly relax, rather than to simply pause. Take a five-minute walk.
9. Change your environment at lunch, get away from your desk.
10. Try closing the door (if you have one) and take some time to consciously relax.
11. Use everyday cues in your environment to center yourself—green dots on clocks, booting your computer, phone ringing, etc.
12. At the end of the day, pay attention to the short walk to your car. Take deep breaths and listen to the sounds outside your office. Can you walk without feeling rushed?
13. While in your car, make a conscious transition from work to home. Take a moment to simply be.
14. Before getting out of the car, take a minute to come back to the present and orient yourself to being with your family.
15. Take the few minutes to change out of work closes when you get home. Say hello to each family member and, if possible, take a few moment to be quiet and still.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Support of many

"I need other persons to make me human." —Archbishop Desmond Tutu

If there's one thing I've learned in this life, it's that you can't go through life without the support of friends. I've never had very many close friends (probably the product of having moved so much as a kid). But I'm blessed today to have the support of an incredible network of fellow creatives. Truly, I am touched by their genuine interest in what I'm doing, their willingness to make a contact on my behalf and their confidence in my ability, even when my own is waning.

We are all in this creative venture together and can do so much for our community when we collaborate.

So in the spirit of collaboration, I'd like to tell you a bit about my links posted to the right. All are things which I care about deeply. For starters: I care deeply about the news and world events. I read the Washington Post daily (it's my home page) and have fantasized about a career there since I first saw "All the President's Men." I am never far from NPR. Who can do without Google these days? And I've recently discovered, which is a portal to many news outlets and can be customized.

The organizations that are vital to me as a writer are the following: Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Journalists and Authors and Poet's and Writer's League of Greater Cleveland. If you have one tool in your writer's belt, make it Writer's Market online.

My passion for reading and books is overwhelming at times. So many books, so little time. Here are some of my favorite book stores: Faulkner House Books in the French Quarter (Pirate's Alley—great name!) in New Orleans. I spent an entire day there back in June 1997. My husband went back a year later on business and told the owner that I was interested in some new southern fiction. He remembered me and sent my husband home with two signed books from southern writers and his business card with fond greetings. Bellissimo!!!

My sister, Jenny, who is my soul sister and blood sister, lives in Columbus. No trip to the capital city is complete without an excursion to The Book Loft in German Village—32 rooms of books—scrumptious! And then there's Edith Wharton. She is, quite simply, my favorite author of all time. (I'd say Ernest Hemingway is a close second.) You haven't read her, you say? Try "The House of Mirth," a truly terrific tragedy with many parallels to today's society. If you don't know Edith, she was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for "The Age of Innocence" (May 1921). And her biography by R.W.B. Lewis also won a Pulitzer Prize for biography in the mid-1970s. I received a copy of this biography on Dec. 25, 1995. It opened the door to truly great, timeless fiction. It is inscribed thusly:

Here is your own copy of Edith! Read and re-read it as often as is necessary to draw the inspiration for your own talent.
Love, Dad"

And that's where my love of words was born, and I do mean born. My father has it and has shared it with me from the moment I was very young. Of course, I've also included Cleveland Public Library, Smithsonian Insitution and the Library of Congress in my list. While Jenny and I were on a getaway to D.C. about six years ago, I stood overlooking the reading room of the Library of Congress, dreaming about the great book I would research in that room. We then followed the sounds of music down a hall to a room filled with artifacts from George and Ira Gershwin. My sister, the music teacher, sat at George's piano and dreamed of writing and singing music. It was an inspirational trip.

I have blogs and Web sites of friends—of course there's John Ettorre and his Working with Words blog; Jack Ricchiuto and his Designing Life Web site and blog; Jim Kukral and his many blogs; George Nemeth's Brewed Fresh Daily; Jonathan Browing of Brown Ink Design (he and I collaborated on an Addy award-winning annual report about autism for Bellefaire/JCB); and Steve FitzGerald of, who gave me an assignment that reminded about the good we can do for society.

And finally, for fun, I've included Field Stone Winery and Vineyards. I met the owner/vintner John C. Staten at the first-ever Heinen's/WVIZ World Series of Wine. He had the absolute best petite syrah I have ever tasted. He's a minister to boot! His home in Sonoma featured the front porch that was the site for the infamous Bartles and Jaymes commercials with the two old tucks. And if you're looking for value, who can pass up Two-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's.

I love yoga and have been remiss in practicing. Jennifer Karabinus runs Yoga-Tree in Ohio City and is a fabulous instructor. If you're going to indulge in chocolate, why not go for the best. I first interviewed Ines Rhener owner of Sweet Designs Chocolatier on Madison Avenue in Lakewood, a year ago when she was named a NAWBO Top 10 Woman Business Owner. You haven't tasted real chocolate until you've had hers. My kids love to visit and sample from her incredible selection—marzipan and dark chocolate, yum! And my cousin Jamie's wife, Laura O'Brien, and a number of other women own a unique gallery in Rocky River—Silverthorne Gallery. I'm always interested in supporting fellow creatives.

Thank you to my many fellow creatives for supporting me and reminding me that it is all so good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

"It's the merry-hearted boys that make the best men!" — Irish proverb

Happy St. Paddy's to all my Irish family and friends!

One of my greatest joys as a mother is seeing my children's sense of humor developing. That's probably because it so closely mirrors my own. Enjoy the day's merriment and remember, the greatest laugh is one that is shared.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Breathe and blink.

Those are my words of advice to anyone seated at a desk right now. Sounds simple, but think about how often you sit and hold your breath while your mind is otherwise engaged. It took me six months of counseling a year ago to remember to breathe and to remember that I was supposed to enjoy life. I've always been filled with joy. I was given the Sunshine Award in junior high. My teachers always told me that my smile was contagious. So what happens as we get older? What makes us forget joy? Is it the stress of trying to be something different? Is it the competition we find all around us? Is it the realization that we're really NOT in control (a big issue for a control freak like myself)?

I see stress on the faces of many beloved colleagues and friends. Those who are suffering the physical ailments of stress—ulcers, hives, depression, panic attacks, sleeplessness—all around me. Experts tell us to simplify our lives. How do we do that in today's environment? I really want to know. I have a house, two cars, three kids, a dog and a stack of bills. But I don't live frivolously. My family tries to vacation every year, but most likely won't this year. We drive two used cars and our house is very average. We recently made the decision to transfer our kids from parochial school to public school, a move that we all agree is best for the family. I left a full-time job to pursue a business from home and be here when my kids get home from school. We pride ourselves on having limited (under the national average) credit card debt. All these things are supposed to simplify our life. But have they?

Monday, March 15, 2004

"Who is it in the press that calls on me? … Beware the ides of March." — Julius Caesar and the Soothsayer in William Shakespear's "Julius Caesar."

The soothsayer's warning sounds so foreboding. And yet, the ides of March was a common expression simply signifying March 15. There were many ides as I've found.

Ever since eighth-grade English literature class with Mr. Stanton (when I first realized how hilarious Shakespeare was), I've not been able to pass this date without an acknowledgement to the Bard. It's always good to go back and reread Shakespeare for sheer appreciation of his command of language and dialogue.
If you're pressed for time and can't pick up Shakespeare's plays or poetry, l would recommend renting Kenneth Branagh's, "Much Ado About Nothing." The beautiful Italian countryside and spectacular cinematography will make you forget the snowy forecast and the witty dialogue between Benedict and Beatrice is the stuff of magic.

Another of my favorite Brit movies at this time of year is "Enchanted April." I watch it faithfully every March to boost my spirits and get me to spring. Who among us doesn't appreciate the dreary feelings brought on by the never-ending London rain? Indeed, who can resist the lure of an Italian villa near the seaside?

Ah, wanderlust! I have it in great abundance, but unfortunately lack the means to indulge my fancy. (I also have a great love for English words, such as fancy, vexing, etc.) I've been many places in my mind. When super sleuth Nancy Drew was in Kenya investigating the "The Spider Sapphire Mystery," (vintage!) I was right along side her. I'm sure I can feel the sun on my skin while walking a beautiful lane in Tuscany. And I can smell the bread baking at a Paris boulangerie and the fields of lavender in Provence.

And in my mind I can speak fluent French. In reality, I can't speak a word of it. Spanish was my chosen second language. At one time, I spoke it well. But like many things, it requires practice. My late grandfather spoke fluent French beautifully. I always fancied myself his favorite granddaughter, but the one thing I could not do (and my younger sister could) was converse with him in French. It was a beautiful thing to observe. I had to have my sister teach my how to pronounce Champs Elysees. (Shawn Zeelee Zay) Oh, to have the opportunity to practice….

Friday, March 12, 2004

"We work to become, not to acquire." — Eldard Hubbard, author

I've always had a journal, although I've not written faithfully in quite some time. And so the time has come to start my blog. I'm not sure where this will go each day, but I feel compelled to write. I recently started my own freelance writing business from home and for all my careful planning, I have to say I've gone about it all wrong. I have no nest egg to draw on, no solid clients to the pay the bills and no confirmed assignments from magazines. I have only my wits (which I fear I may have misplaced) and my ideas to push me onward.

And so I go into my office each morning having sent my three guys off to school. I'm very busy, you know. My desk has neatly arranged colorful folders, giving the appearance of lots of work. And indeed, if half of my prospects come through, I would be very busy (and hopefully have enough money to pay back some of my line of credit).

And yet, for all my concern about lack of work, I find I'm sleeping quite well at night (aside from the weekly dreams about public humiliation and inadequacy). I'm where I'm supposed to be right now. Does that make any sense? Not to my husband, who fears we will have to sell the house and downsize to pay the bills. It makes perfect sense, however, to three people—Ryan (11), Patrick (9) and Michael (5). Mom may be at her computer, but she's also here and accessible and that means the world to them and to me. And in a way it means a lot to my husband. He just can't help worrying—he's a bottom-line individual.

People always told me that starting my own business would work out for the best, that I wouldn't skip a beat or that there are plenty of ways to manage. I'm still trying to figure out if that's true. Maybe. It's still too early to tell.

I am grateful to have the chance to at least try. And so we'll give this blog a try. You may find a mix of things here. I'm going to shamelessly promote my work with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). I'm president of the Cleveland Professional Chapter and co-chair of the National Freelance Committee. You'll read about our efforts (under the steward of John Ettorre) to bring together the many members of Cleveland's creative class. And you'll read about my passion for improving and protecting journalism.

My boys will enter from time to time. They are the source of all things good in my life and I find endless inspiration in their antics. And Riley, my yellow lab pup who keeps me company day in and day out, also will make appearances here. And I'll share what I've learned about writing, business, marketing and trying to live a balanced life.

And so I'm off on another adventure.