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Friday, April 30, 2004

Mornings will never be the same

I have to swallow hard to choke back tears this morning. The man I've woken up with for 15 years is leaving. It seemed only fitting that I jump in my car to listen to the final half-hour of Bob Edwards' "Morning Edition." Aside from having his smooth baritone wake me daily, the car was where I listened to him most. I had nowhere to go, but just decided to drive. It was the right place to be.

So many have expounded on the virtue of his style far better than I. Instead, I'll try to describe what his radio presence meant to me....

In his final interview with Charles Osgood, Edwards described Osgood as the alpha and the omega of his Morning Edition career, having first interviewed him on Morning Edition nearly 25 years ago. I viewed Bob Edwards as the alpha of my day. He is the thinking person's broadcaster and his calm demeanor and measured delivery is precisely what I expect from my morning newscast. It will never be the same.

I first began listening to him periodically while in college. Admittedly, I wasn't smart enough then to know that I should have listened daily. Once I began working, he traveled with me on my morning commute. There were more than a handful of times when I would say aloud, "That was a great story!" I'd say it to no one at all, except myself, as if verbalizing my approval could somehow be telephathically sent to NPR in Washington.

As my children grew they, too, became familar with Bob Edwards. While driving them to school in the morning, we would listen to terrific stories. Only then I would say to them, "That was a great story!"—wanting them to understand good journalism when they hear it, or read it. Our Wednesday morning ritual was that I drove the boys so they could listen to Bob Edwards and Frank DeFord.

And there was the weekly roundup of Congressional activity with Cokie Roberts. My sister and I loved to give it a, "Good morning, Bob" a la Cokie, which would always get a rise out of my dad. Cokie and Bob were such a part of my weekly routine that I felt as if they were colleagues. As an aside: When I was 22, I interviewed Cokie when she came to speak at Hathaway Brown School. I was terrified and excited to interview her. I was told by her handlers that I had 20 minutes—20 minutes with Cokie. Where do you start? But she laid a gentle, motherly hand on my leg and said, "It's OK, we have about 45 minutes." That was very cool for a seasoned news veteran to soothe the angst of a completely starstruck cub reporter. I'll never forget her kindness.

When news of Bob's reassignment hit in March, I received a frantic e-mail from my mom. "Can you believe this?" she wrote, with a tinge of sadness, but far more anger. My parents are only a few years older than Bob and news of experienced professionals being driven out of their jobs is a topic that hits a little too close to home for them. But mostly, my parents will miss the sound of the contemporary they came to know and trust over many years and through many ups and downs. As will we all.

So long, Bob. Look forward to hearing you again soon. Make sure you stop in Cleveland on your book tour. Legions of fans will be waiting to see you.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

This girl's life—with boys

I tease my husband that when we got married, I was the one with the toolbox. It's no lie. I did have my very own tools, thanks to my dad who made sure his girls were independent and prepared for anything. It's been a running joke in our house ever since. Need something assembled, programmed, fixed...go see mom. I've spent every Christmas morning putting toys together, whether it's a Little Tykes play set or Playstation 2. At Ryan's second birthday, Danny was in the kitchen kibbutzing with our friends and I was putting Ry Guy's trike together. (Danny was razzed about that for weeks.) And it doesn't stop there.

Take this morning, for instance. Ryan and Patrick were headed out at 8, ditching the bus in favor of riding their bikes the nearly 3 miles to school. Just as Patrick headed down the driveway, his bike chain popped off. "Mom!" And so there I was with my coffee mug on the sidewalk, still in my PJs and a bike turned upside down so I could fix the chain. I sent them off with a kiss and a "gimme some love" and headed in to start my day, greasy hands and all.

I like being self-sufficient. It's a good feeling to know I'm not afraid to get my hands a little dirty if necessary. I'm sure my dad instilled that in me long ago. My sister, Jen and I are what my grandmother calls, "Gzdynia." I'm not sure how to spell it, but it's Ukrainian and it basically means good, capable, strong girls. I have two brothers, but when it came to certain physical jobs, my dad always called Jen and I. "Girls, come help your dad cut down this tree." And so we'd traipse outside and sling a saw, carry wood or simply hold the ladder for dad.

Few women sit around and dream of raising a bunch of boys. I know a few who wish, out loud or in private, that they had a sweet little girl to mold. But, God gives you what he does for a reason. And he saw fit to make me into a "boy mom." As such, I've learned things I never dreamed I would. I know about Under Armour (actually, if it wasn't so expensive, I'd buy it for everyone in the family), the subtle difference between football cleats and baseball cleats (no matter, they are all expensive), the daily lineup on ESPN (Is it me or is Tony Kornhieser THE most annoying human being on television?), when the NBA (July) and NFL (last Saturday) drafts are held, how to buy an athletic supporter for an 8-year-old (OK, that's an experience), that I want nothing whatsoever to do with mouthguards (yuk!), and that boys really do care about things like socks (don't even touch Ryan's footies).

This week, however, took the cake as far as boy stuff goes. My husband and boys talked me into watching American Choppers on Discovery. I've sunk to a new low. If you've not seen the show, it's about a father-son, custom motorcycle shop in Rock Tavern, NY. The business is Orange County Choppers, as in Easy Rider-style motorcycles. At first, I resisted. But they were pleading with me to give it a chance. And so I plopped on the couch and watched. It was hilarious, watching the banter between father and son in the business as they fabricated a retro bike for Jay Leno. Aside from the comedic antics of father and son (Paul Sr. has the hugest pipes I've ever seen!), the show had a certain creativity that spoke to the creative in me. Young Paul Jr. was creating a chopper motorcycle for the talk-show host by pulling inspiration from a vintage bike Leno already owned. And he brought to the process his own unique vision of what this bike could be. He has quite a talent. So now, I guess I have to tune in with the Danny and boys to watch this show weekly. I do draw the line, however, at "Cops," which I found out (because Mikey always squeals) they watch when I'm not around.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Wells of inspiration

I'll probably jinx myself by saying this, but I've never experienced writer's block. I guess I'm a firm believer that you can find sources of inspiration all around—in a child's smile, in a glorious golden sunrise, in a wink from across the room, in the sounds of beautiful music. It's a matter of opening your heart to the possibility.

Having an open heart is not always an easy state to maintain, but it's where I've found a well of inspiration. And, difficult as it may seem at times, I'd like to keep tapping into that well.

But there are other sources of inspiration deep within that are best seen when reflected by others. I have a good friend, Lisa Best, whom I've only known for a couple of years, but who already feels like such a terrific pal. We share many things in common including—three boys, husbands named Dan, a low maintenance outlook and an adventurous spirit. Lisa and her family moved to New Jersey last summer and it was hard not seeing and talking to her daily. But she remained close and always called or stopped by when she was in town.

She and her husband made the decision to move back to Bay Village this spring. It's hopefully the last of their moves for a while (they've moved five times in eight years). Dan is leaving a great job in New York City, but they decided it was more important to raise their kids in the place that felt most like home.

They were in town over the weekend for the Cleveland Marathon. Lisa had been training for the past nine months for this event. She had trained for the Columbus Marathon, but was unable to run because of an injury. She really wanted to do this. And so we kept her boys on Saturday while Dan drove her downtown. She was so nervous she was trembling. I gave her a big hug and wished her well.

I thought about her a lot on Sunday, hoping her jitters had subsided. It rained in the morning and I know she said she preferred that to the blazing sun. Finally, at 6 Sunday night she called me from her dying cell phone to say, "I made it!" She sounded incredible...inspiring. She ran that marathon in four hours and 31 minutes. "I felt stronger the last three miles than I did the first three. We passed all these guys who were bent over puking," she said, laughing. I couldn't have been happier for her. She set this goal for herself and she did it. Her friends and family were right with her. Her brother and sister ran portions with her. Another good friend ran from mile 15 to mile 21 with her. And she said she saw Dan and the boys along the way, most critically at mile 25 and then again at the finish.

On Saturday Lisa met my new neighbor, Patty, who is also becoming a fast friend. The three of us clicked instantly as we talked about our (collectively) nine boys, three Dans (Patty's husband is also named Dan) and our love of running (though I've never trained for a marathon). Lisa has a knack for making everyone feel so welcome and so important to her. And so she's inspiring in that way, too. She inspired me to write this morning.

I think we tend to surround ourselves with people who bring out the best in us. As an adult, it's so much harder to develop close friendships. They're harder to maintain because of all the distractions of family, work and home. But they are SO worth the effort in the end. And I find that I draw gallons of inspiration from those friendships. They bring out the best in me, even though I do have a friend who says those qualities I attribute to my friends were present in me, all along. "They merely hold up a mirror to let you see who you are, and you've enjoyed the reflection." Maybe so. That just makes the effort all the more worthwhile.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Meeting of the mind—and heart

I may have planned my career leap for a while, but I'm glad it didn't happen any sooner because I'm not sure my heart and mind would have been ready for it all.
But I am ready now, and it's because I had no plans, no set path. I faced my fears and uncertainty head on and found that I could survive—and even thrive. And that's what I feel this week. For the first time in years, I feel as if I'm truly thriving, embracing all that life has to offer.

My heart and mind have made friends and no longer feel like enemy combatants. As a result, my relationships have improved, my spirit has improved, my writing has improved. And I'm learning to trust a little more—in myself, in God, in my loved ones. That's a big leap for me, one who felt so compressed, so tightly wound that I feared one tug at my heart and my world would unwind.

The thing is, my heart has been tugged in many the love and support of my family, my colleagues, my friends. And chaos wasn't the result. Instead, I'm basking in the realization that they will accept me no matter what. I'm feeling a little pollyana-ish about life these days. That's a big improvement over being afraid of life—both success and failure, living and dying.

Those fears are still there, but I'm discovering the faith I need to keep them from running and ruining my life. I've been giving a lot of thought lately to souls. Today's Washington Post has a great piece about the late columnist, Mary McGrory: "a great writer, an abundant soul and a hell of a gal."

And here's a parting thought for the weekend, courtesy of Anna Quindlen:

"People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is cold comfort on a winter night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've gotten back the chest X-ray and it doesn't look so good, or when the doctor writes 'prognosis, poor.'

"Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines…. Get a life in which are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you."

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Addicted to the blue glow

I can't sleep. Had too much coffee tonight. Caffeine or no caffeine, I don't seem to need much sleep these days. There are just too many good things to read. My brain is a bit on overdrive and I think I'm just going to roll with it for now. It's invigorating. I'm drawn to the blue glow of my laptop at night like a butterfly to a blossom. And so I devour articles I never seem to have time to read during the day...The New Yorker, Washington Post, New York Times. You'd think I would at least turn on a light. But no, I'm sitting in the dark, which is silly because I don't have my contacts in and can't see without hovering close to the screen. Surely this cannot be good for my already weakening eyesight. I leave the light off because I'm always thinking I'll just skim a few pieces and head to bed. Good writing is like a drug and when I'm enraptured, I can't seem to pull away from the magnetic blue glow. And so I read, hoping that sleep comes soon....

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Best and brightest

Poynter's Leading Lines column has some terrific information today about encouraging the best and brightest in our nation's newsrooms. Although the thought of working at a daily still holds allure for me, I also quickly come back to the main reason I'm on my own—I keep my own hours, choose projects that interest me (typically of more magazine length) and have the flexibility to stretch my writing muscles in different ways.

I once had a conversation with a daily journalist who looked askance when I mentioned that I missed the excitement of a newsroom. "Are you crazy? You miss being overworked, underappreciated and underpaid?" When you put it that way, I think I'll stay where I am, thank you.

But that doesn't mean I lack concern about the state of the profession. Last April, Cleveland SPJ co-sponsored a visit from Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard University. I did a lot of research about the Nieman Fellowship before his arrival and nearly flew out of my chair with excitement at the possibility of what it offers journalists. Nine months of study at Harvard! Bring the spouse and kids along. I couldn't think of a better, more enriching opportunity.

So it was with great interest that I read Giles' comments about attracting and keeping leadership . He wrote: "Rare is the journalist who is encouraged to seek advanced education in the law, the sciences, economics, or medicine. Those fortunate enough to win Nieman or Knight fellowships do so on their own motion, often with reluctant support from the front office where the thinking is that the newsroom cannot spare their labors for the nine months of an academic year."

Most of the solid journalists I know are infinitely interested in the world and how it works, in how information is delivered and how to deliver it better, and in learning new things and sharing those with the world. The perception of journalists is that we are cynics. I prefer to view us as frustrated idealists. We see problems with the world, and our own organizations, and we want to point them out so people can fix them.

As an independent, I'm not going to get sponsored to pursue any of these exciting opportunities. After all, my front office is the homefront. But I'm hopeful that I can make my own enrichment. I hope I can see things for myself, read about people, places and cultures and create my own fellowship of sorts by surrounding myself with engaging people, willing to share their knowledge. And I hope that venturing just beyond my comfort zone will lead to creativity and personal development.

As an aside, I laughed out loud when Gregory Favre of Poynter subtitled his column, "Who is Lou Grant?" It simply can't be that an entire generation of journalists doesn't remember that show. At 36, I'm still fairly young, but I remember watching both Lou Grant shows as a kid. I wanted to be Billie, the sassy red-headed female reporter on the drama. And I've been told I have a certain Mary Tyler Moore-quality about myself. In fact, I've even promised an MTM moment on Fifth Avenue in NYC in September. You'll just have to be there...

Monday, April 19, 2004

Book lovers

As promised, Jen and I spent two hours pouring through 32 rooms of books at The Book Loft in German Village on Saturday night. The warm night air welcomed extended browsing at the outdoor tables. She and I laughed together as we chatted about sisterly stuff and found ourselves picking up the same books over and over.

What makes you pick up a certain book? Is it an evocative title, a mesmerizing cover, a favorite author, or the memory of something so sweet, you clutch the book close, hoping its contents will allow you to savor the moment long after it has passed. For me, it's a combination of all those things. So, with that in mind, here's what I picked up.

Ernest Hemingway "The Short Stories." I had to have this because he's one of my favorite writers. His prose is so moving and yet so simple. What interested me in this particular collection, billed as "the definitive," was that it includes some of his earliest pieces and traces his development and maturity as a writer. That's something I'm keenly interested in at this point in my writing life.

"Summer at Gaglow" by Esther Freud. OK, this one I picked up for the cover. It's a vintage photograph (1913) of three young women in long white gowns in a garden. And it reminded me of a dream I had as a little girl. It's one of those generational family stories by the author of "Hideous Kinky," so I thought I'd give it a try.

"Unearned Pleasures and Other Stories" by Ursula Hegi has a great story behind it that maybe I'll share one day in some form. This slim collection intrigued me because of its title and its subject matter: the problems of love—familial, parental, conjugal and emergent.

"The Good Men: A Novel of Heresy," by Charmaine Craig first attracted me because of the title, and then because of the photo of the positively gorgeous author. But what made me buy the book was the author bio. "Charmaine Craig was studying medieval history as an undergraduate at Harvard when she read the fourteenth-century testimony of Grazida Lizier, a young woman tried by the inquisition against heretical Christians in medieval France. Craig was haunted by the document, and when she entered the MFA program at the University of California at Irvine, she decided to write a novel based on it." If a subject grabs you that tightly, if it seizes hold of your heart and your brain, you've got to be able to write about it well. We shall see.

And finally, I picked up a book simply titled, "Prague," by Arthur Phillips. There's a great story behind that one, too. "Really an old-fashioned novel of ideas…very funny…likley to leave you aching, too," wrote The New Yorker. Sounds like my kind of story. It's the story of five American expats living in Budapest, but believing their counterparts in Prague have it better. I sometimes dream of living abroad…maybe in Tuscany where the light, I'm told, is luminous.

My sister has a tremendous amount of books, so I asked her to scour her many bookshelves for some good stuff (who knows when I'll get back to Columbus). So she also sent me home with Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (I've seen the film), "Bread Alone" by Judith Ryan Hendricks, John Irving's "The Fourth Hand" and "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls," by Mary Pipher. This last selection she told me is a poignant read. "Even though you don't have girls, you'll find yourself in this book," she told me over coffee.

Of course the next big question is what to read first. I think I'll try … "Prague."

Happy reading!

Friday, April 16, 2004

Road trip

I couldn't have picked a better day for a road trip. It's one of the first warm days, the sun is shining and there's a liberating, summertime feeling in the air. In an hour I'll be headed for Columbus for the SPJ Region 4 Conference and a visit with my sister. This is one of those fine days that remind of the classic college road trip.

The spring of my sophomore year at OU, we jumped into my roommate's car and drove to Port Clinton to stay with another friend at her dad's lake house. It seemed as if we drove all day just to get from Athens to Port Clinton, (I'm sure we got lost once or twice.) but it didn't matter because we were having a ball.

When we arrived it was dark, but we could hear the sound of Lake Erie waves crashing on the shore. One of the girls was from Dayton and had never seen Lake Erie. The next morning she woke us all up saying, "Oh my God, it's huge! It's like the ocean!" She had no idea of the lake's size. Of course, we also learned of its fury that weekend when a cold front moved in and we found ourselves surrounded by three feet of water and trapped. No matter, though. That was the fun and excitement and spontaneity of a college road trip.

This weekend isn't quite the party girl weekend (which is just fine with me). Instead, I'll say hey to my SPJ colleagues, help out with a little mentoring and spend the rest of my time with my mom and sister, catching up, laughing, buying books and just doing girl things.

So I'm packing my favorite CDs—a rather eclectic mix that includes Allison Kraus, Billie Holliday, James Taylor, Dave Matthews and Diana Krall—and hitting the road.

See ya!

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Life in technicolor

There's a saying posted on the back of Brennan's Party Center along I-90 that (this week) reads, "To live is rare. Most people exist." I've driven by that saying every day this week and it haunts me. I don't want to simply exist. I want to live life in technicolor—breathing in its aromas, seeing its beauty, touching is wondrousness and believing that I was meant to embrace it all.

But there's a terrifying side to embracing life in such a manner. In order to really feel, to see life in all its vivid glory, you also have to open yourself up to its deeper pain. That's where I've hesitated. And that's where I've failed.

How is it that we go through life never really feeling and never really giving our all? How do we change that mentality when holding back has been so much a part of who we are? Thomas Merton said, "The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little." I fear that I've not tapped into the joy in life because I'm too afraid and too consumed with keeping all the emotion inside of me in check. And I'm discovering that that's not the way I want to live my life.

I fought so hard to be able to do what I'm doing with career today. And I think it's because I've realized how many things I've given up in the interest of not rocking the boat or doing the safe thing. As a result, I haven't been true to myself.

In college, I was going to be a foreign correspondent. I was going to see the world. That was more than 15 years ago. I don't have a passport and I've yet to see much of anything. Hell, I haven't even been to New York City! I have my beautiful family and I wouldn't trade them for anything. But I realized that I can't keep pushing my needs aside. Instead, I'd like to bring my loved ones along on my journey. I want my children to not be afraid of dreams, feeling, emotion.

My mom and I had dinner the other night after seeing the Passion. Perhaps we were both feeling a little like confessing. She shared with me some of her unfulfilled dreams and I realized she was telling me not to let go of mine. You were meant to see and do so many things, she told me.

So how did I lose all of that purpose and joy in life? How did I become mired in fear, isolation, loneliness? I think it's because I wanted stability above all else. And in the end, the path I chose was traditional, stable, honest. I don't regret that path, only that I didn't bring my inner self along for the journey.

But my inner self is emerging of late. And I think it's largely due to my reclaiming what I want out of life. My new force is both exhilarating and terrifying and aggravating. And I won't put her back into her bottle. I can't. The trance has been broken. My mom looked me in the eye and told me that she and my dad were so worried about me becoming this hardened woman, incapable of emotion and unable to feel. In the end, I realize, that is my biggest fear—to simply not feel.

And so, painful as it may seem, I'm tiptoeing into the spring of life, hoping to experience its joy and ready to accept its pain. I owe it to shower the people in my life with love. Mostly, I owe it to myself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Cringing during the press conference

President Bush is having a press conference tonight, only the first major one since Dec. 15. I have an incredibly difficult time watching him, but I force myself out of sheer morbid curiosity, a touch of patriotic duty and a childlike delight in watching him operate off-the-cuff.

Growing up, my father (a card-carrying Democrat) would always shush us children when the president was speaking, regardless of party affiliation. I think he did it out of respect for the office, and so I will bite my tongue when W says something stupid, like "We've had a tough week (in Iraq)." But it will be hard. Responses like that make me want to give the guy a paint shaker. He brings out a real aggressiveness in me and I'll have to mutter my tart remarks under my breath so my children grow up respecting the office, if not the man.

There are so many questions to be asked. First among them? How are we going to get out of Iraq and to whom are we going to turn the country over? Editor & Publisher has a list of 13 questions that are good for starters. Let's hope the media holds Bush's feet the fire tonight. And, just for giggles and grins, let's hope he strays off the talking points.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that somewhere, someone in the Bush administration is tracking a number in hopes it stays below 1,000 and I'm not talking about the president's approval rating. It's the number of US casualties.

If you'd like an interesting perspective on what's happening in Iraq by one who is actually there, visit Ayad Rahim's blog "A View from Here." Ayad presents in interesting perspective on everything from food to hostages, and relationships with his family and the relationship between Americans and Iraqis. Don't be dismayed by his many dashes and halting writing style. I don't know Ayad well, but I've talked to him a few times and he writes the way he talks. He's very engaging. My son, Patrick asked me just last night if I knew anyone from Iraq. I told him about Ayad and he was earnest and focused when he asked if I would find out what it was really like in Iraq. He's very interested in what's happening with the war. He's also the kid who, as I tucked him in to bed the night of Sept. 11, 2001, asked me if he had to forgive the terrorists. I couldn't respond...

Monday, April 12, 2004

Empathy and good journalism

I just finished reading Anna Quindlen's column in Newsweek and simply muttered aloud, "Wow."
She recalled interviewing a New York couple who, in 1981, lost their 6-year-old son, who vanished on his way to the schoolbus stop. "I have often thought about the effect the Patzes had on me as some reporters have brought disgrace upon the profession. And it has made me wonder whether good journalists always have that moment in their background, the moment that merges humanity and story in an indelible way. Or the opposite: are the frauds always of character, not craft?"

Most of the writers I know and really respect have a story that changed how they see the world and others. Try as we might, sometimes the subject of our stories touch our hearts as well as our pens. And it's not always the big story. Quindlen talks about Tom Brokaw's interview with a young black woman who decided to march in the streets of Americus, Ga., during dangerous racial unrest there. "I'm often asked to name my most memorable interview," Brokaw says, "honestly, I always bring up that young woman. I was just 25 at the time and she taught me so much that night."

I spent a Saturday night a few weeks ago with the children and sister of a woman who was recently deported to Venezuela. The mother's presence was physically felt in their Lakewood duplex, the smell of her cigarettes still hung in the air. Her 12-year-old daughter was fighting a headache and tears while talking about seeing her mother in jail. Her 5-year-old little brother, who is autistic and not wholly comprehending of the situation, was infinitely curious in the contents of my purse, in touching my hair and asking about my own kids. I didn't mind at all. He was a little boy missing his mother and unable to verbally express his thoughts. So I gave him my tape recorder to play with and showed him pictures of my 5-year-old little boy. As I was finishing the interview, the girl started to cry and shake with the anguish of knowing she was alone in this world. And the mother in me wanted to give her a hug and smooth her hair and tell her she will live and she will do great things with her life, it's what her mother would want.

This young girl's mother lost her battle to stay in this country. More surprisingly, she made the gut-wrenching decision to leave her children in America where they can live a so-called better life. I couldn't imagine being faced with that choice. It was hard not to put myself in her shoes, not as a writer, as a mother and as a human being.

"All this makes you wonder if journalism schools should teach not just accuracy, but empathy. But the truth is, you really get that by covering stories, not studying them, by imagining yourself in the place of the people you interview. Still (Stan Patz) he clips the stories out of habit. The original impulse is gone: 'To create a history for Etan.' If you're a reporter I leave you with that image for those times when you think what you do is fleeting. The closest thing this man has to the body of his son is the body of your work. If that doesn't make you want to do better job, then find another job."

Friday, April 09, 2004

In my rooms

Because I've moved around so much, creating a space that feels settled, like home, is so important to me. I've taken great care to create a room of my own, as Virginia Woolf espouses. I first read her book when I was living in a tiny little house, working from the basement with kids toys surrounding me and wishing I had a beautiful space to create.

I got that space to create in my current home. It's the fourth bedroom, a small room with a nook into which my desk sits comfortably. It faces east, so the mornings are filled with sunshine. Even though we've lived in our house for seven years, it wasn't until this past November that I decided to really make this room my own. I unloaded the extra desk that held coloring books, crayons and markers, and decided to paint.

The walls of my office are what I would call spring green, the color you only see at this time of year as the shoots of flowers and leaves begin to emerge from slumber. This green doesn't last, it changes to a less-vibrant shade as flowers mature. But while it's here, it's as fresh as the spring breeze on my face. I brought in a few plants, too, so I could feed off of the oxygen living things provide.

I'm fortunate to have another space of my own in my house. Just below my office is the living room. I remember when I first looked at the house, I could never have imagined filling that room with furniture. But I knew I didn't want to just fill it with whatever I found. I took great care in finding things that were meaningful to me. And there would never be a television in there (although I do have a stereo).

The first purchase was a 1920s Windsor secretary that I found at an antique store. I had my eye on it for a couple of weeks and when I received a freelance check, I plunked the entire amount down on this piece. It was an exhilarating feeling, but it wasn't impulsive. I'm not an impulsive buyer and I'm not very fond of shopping, either. It's my favorite piece and holds all of my most-treasured books. Actually, I have stacks of books throughout my house.

The walls of my living room are painted a color called whitecap. It's a terrific color that changes with the light from near-white to stormy green to pale blue. It gives the room a bit of moody feel that suits me well. The furniture is mostly ivory (which astonishes people who know I have three boys). My favorite is the overstuffed rocker we bought when I was pregnant with my youngest. I spent many sleepless nights nursing and rocking him from the comfort of that chair. It's like an old friend, we know each other's shape well. Every Sunday morning, the boys know they can find me there sipping coffee, reading the paper and, weather permitting, enjoying the sun pouring in. Even my big guys still like to sit in the chair with me and rock.

And on the walls are largely photographs of places I've never been, though my desire to travel to see them myself is overwhelming. Family and friends have shared their photos and their experiences with me—the Cliffs of Mohrer, the Cotswolds, the Greek island of Mykonos, Rome, New York City. I do have photos I took while in that crazy, creative colorful southern city of Savannah. And I have the black and white photographs of the boys sitting on the rocks in the mountains of West Virginia. I've been meaning to put together a collage of photos from my Pensacola trip several years ago. And I have Margaret Bourke-White, one of my personal heroes. My sister gave me a coffee table book of her photographs for Christmas one year and it's simply inspirational. I picked up her autobiography, "A Portrait of Myself" at a library book sale and promptly asked the librarian if they planned to restock the book since her story is of great importance to young women.

Last night, while the guys watched the Cavs in the far more masculine family room, I curled in my favorite overstuffed rocked, with my feet dangling off the arm and read my book and nurtured the creative thoughts swirling in my head. Time spent like that almost feels decadent, given our often-hectic lives. But it was just what I needed to dream of wonderful things.

I pulled my copy of "A Room of One's Own" from my secretary and found a note tucked inside. (I love to put such wonderful notes inside books.) It was from a former magazine editor of mine. It read:

"April 27, 1997
Dear Wendy,
How nice that you now have a room of your own! Did you ever read Virginia Woolf's book on that subject? It's actually an expansion on a series of lectures she gave. I'm sure you are tired and still very busy getting settled, but the big push is over. Having moved quite a few times, I know the stages well. I'm sending you lots of good thoughts. May you have many, many years of happiness in your new home. With a smile, Brenda."

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Fast friendships

Last Saturday a new family moved into our neighborhood, just across the street. We had heard the rumors that the family had a fifth-grade and third-grade boy. My two older guys were anxious to find out. Sure enough, the moving van arrived on Saturday and they were itching to go over.

I told them to give the family a chance to settle in and then they could go over. That lasted until Monday after school. The boys, without telling me (which is a problem for the overprotective mom in me), went to their house and introduced themselves. And every day this week after school they have been inseparable—playing hoop, playing on the swing set, skateboarding, talking and becoming good friends—fast.

I envy their ability to say, "Hey, you like basketball? Who's your favorite NBA player?" and instantly bond. Adults could learn a lot about making friends from kids. It's not something we do easily as we get older. If we work in a particularly close-knit environment, we'll develop work colleagues for a while. And there's the parents of your kids' friends who definitely enter your circle. But I'm talking about true friends—the ones who will tell you when you're being an idiot and be the first to congratulate you on a success.

Clearly, I've never really had a best friend, except for my sister. It all stems from one incident in junior high. I was on the track team in ninth grade. Unfortunately, I developed early (a curse for a 14-year-old girl with braces). My "friends" would tease me often and one day they just stopped talking to me. This went on for two weeks. It was horrifying. I cried to my mom every day. It got so bad that my mom called one of my friends' moms and asked what was going on. It turns out that it was all a big joke—"Let's see how long we can go without talking to Wendy. We didn't mean to hurt your feelings." What?! It broke me and caused me to never trust female friends again.

This is not to say I don't have female friends. I do. I've formed a good friendship with many of my fellow moms, particularly those who also have three boys. But I'm very reserved in talking about personal stuff. I'm terrified of opening myself up to that kind of hurt again. I had good friends in college, but I knew my life was going in a very different direction. My Long Island roommate wanted to marry well, my Pittsburgh roommate married a guy that neither I nor my husband could stand, and the rest have scattered to the wind.

I read the book, "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" and howled with laughter at the antics of the four crazy southern friends. But when I rented the movie version, I sat and cried endlessly. I realized I had no person who shared my history and I suddenly felt very alone. My sister, who is four years younger than I, has always been around, except for those years when first I was in college and then she was — eight important, formative, challenging years. I also realized how closed off I am to people, even those closest to me.

But there's hope. I've recently found a great friend, one who understands my soul as well as my flaws, and who illuminates my better side. One who encourages me to be a better person and in turn makes me WANT to be a better friend, wife, mother and writer. In very short order, this friendship has become priceless and has filled a void I thought would never be filled. I'm so grateful at this stage in my life to have found someone so incredibly giving. And so maybe I'll try a little harder to let others in to see what my new friend, who already feels like an old friend, sees.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

What blogging has given me

Starting this blog was one of the scariest things I've ever done. I just didn't have the confidence that I could do this or that anything I had to say mattered to anyone. I'm happy to report that it now comes more naturally to me and I care less if what I say matters to anyone. It matters to me and I guess that's where the blog has saved me.

Every weekday around 11 or 11:30, I sit at my laptop and let the words flow. I don't always know what I'm going to write about or how it's going to come together, but somehow it always does. I spend a lot of time on my posts, sometimes digging in the bookshelves to find some reference or another, and I spend a lot of time reading and researching on the Internet. Often the ideas wil begin just as I awake in the mornings. I'll have several thoughts rolling around while I'm still in that dreamlike state where I'm not quite awake, but not asleep. It's my favorite time of the day because I'm feeling refreshed and creative. In a way, when writing assignments were sparse, the blog has provided me an avenue to keep writing and researching on a daily basis.

Assignments are really picking up and that's a good thing. It's good because now I can continue to work as an independent, confident that the bank won't foreclose on my house and confident that maybe now my husband can rest a little easier.

But the increase of work makes my daily blogging ritual a little more difficult. I can't spend the time in the middle of the day because I'm busy with deadlines. That's OK, I guess I'll just have to shift my time to blogging in the early morning or in the evening.

I'm encouraged by those who have read my blog and encourage me to continue. Thank you for all your kind words. I hope I won't disappoint or, worse, become irrelevant.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Odds and ends

Deadlines are looming, so I've not much time to blog today. I received an e-mail this morning from Ayad Rahim who has arrived safely in Baghdad. Check out his blog to learn about his trip and his observations.

Congratulations to the investigative reporting team at The Toledo Blade on its Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, the team was slighted in a ridiculous move by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review because The Blade is owned by the Block family, which also owns rival newspaper Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. SPJ hopes to invite Executive Editor Ron Royhab, who got his start at The Lorain Journal, and the team in for a special program. Stay tuned for details.

Ever wonder what happens during the Pulitzer judging? Read Keith Wood's Pulitzer Juror's Tale.

Hot off the presses, I've received the working list of programming for the Society of Professional Journalists National Convention in New York City Sept. 9-12. Without revealing all the dirty details, there are sessions on: making the jump to national freelance writing; working in a war zone; covering Wall Street to Main Street; blogging; press freedom around the globe; 2004 TV election coverage; Journalism under friendly fire with Bill Moyers; and free press vs. fair trial (Tyco trial coverage). There's so much more, including the following headliners: Walter Conkrite, Brian Williams, Tom Curley and Clarence Page. And, yes, this year they have actually included women as panelists.

Local author Sarah Willis is getting lots of ink and air these days. John Freeman did a nice review of her book, "A Good Distance" in Sunday's Plain Dealer. And she and Dee Perry had a lively conversation on today's Around Noon program on WCPN. I'm interested in her book, but she talked about something else of great interest. She has an east side writer's club... a safe place to share writing and ideas with comrades. I love the idea of having this sacred space of trusted colleagues and friends who offer useful advice. Maybe I'll start one on the west side. Or maybe Sarah wouldn't mind a west sider in her group…

Finally, this is a week of meetings so imagine my glee when I saw this month's Inc. magazine in today's mail with it's cover story screaming, "Escape from Meeting Hell: 15 ways to make meetings productive, creative and even fun." Can't wait to read it. But it's back to deadlines.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Women of faith

I have two role models for practicing my faith—my mother and my maternal grandmother. When you talk about good people, these two are salt of the earth. They are very devout Catholics, but in a nonpreachy way. And they have both had "issues" with the teachings of the Catholic Church. (What Catholic hasn't?) My grandmother nearly left the church during the late 1950s, early 1960s over its teachings. And she was incensed that my parents were to remain outside the communion rail during their wedding because my father was not Catholic (he was Methodist and later converted). Today, at nearly 83, she sings in the choir at St. Bartholomew, volunteering to sing at all funeral masses. I get tears in my eyes whenever I hear, "How Great Thou Art" because I hear my grandmother's beautiful soprano voice.

My mom practices her faith very quietly, almost serenely. And yet I know she also has struggled with faith. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer. She was operated on Feb. 1 and I had my youngest child the next day. It was an incredibly stressful time for my family, especially for my dad. I remember my grandmother saying, "But your mother has done everything right." She walked daily, never smoked or drank and was a person of faith. Ultimately, it was her faith—in God, in her own inner strength, in her family's love and support and in her doctors' care—that pulled her through and continues to do so.

And so I walked into the movie theater by myself on Saturday afternoon to see "The Passion of the Christ." I had my mother on one shoulder, my grandmother on the other. I had been reluctant to go, for fear of my emotional reaction. I had the same feeling about "Schindler's List." But I was so glad I saw that movie and, ultimately, I'm glad I saw "Passion."

It was hard to sit through the scourging scene as Jesus' flesh was torn from his body by the Roman guards' whips. But what broke my heart and caused the tears to flow nearly constantly was the beautiful, heartbreaking, luminous expressions of Mary, his mother.

I've always prayed more to Mary than anyone else. I've sought her guidance as a wife, mother and woman. Certainly God and Jesus made tremendous sacrifices for humankind. But Mary … I think hers was the greatest sacrifice, that of her son. What made the movie so emotional for me was watching her grief and her helplessness. There's a brief flashback after Jesus falls while carrying the cross. Mary remembers him falling as a young boy when she could run to him and shower him with kisses. As she recalls this moment in Jesus' youth, she realizes how he needs her now. She runs to where he has fallen and says, "I am here." Three simple words that mean so much. Any mother can relate, but I think it's especially touching for mothers of sons.

The women—their incredible faith—struck me in this film. It was the women who trusted in Jesus, the women who spoke up for him, the women who tried to comfort him. From Claudia, the wife of Pontius Pilate who offered Mary and Mary Magdalene towels to mop up Jesus' blood after the scourging, to the wife of Simon, who although he wanted no part of the crucifixion even though the guards insisted he help Jesus carry the cross, was encouraged to do so by his wife who called Jesus, "a holy man."

But in the end, it was Mary for whom I wept. She endured what no mother should—the public beating and death of her son. And yet she accepted it as God's will. And so it is her faith that is the ultimate model of self-sacrifice, love and grace.

Friday, April 02, 2004

In need of a retreat

Maybe it's the fog that's blanketed Lake Erie's shoreline that has me feeling low today. It happens every spring. I live about a half-mile from the lake, which is wonderfully invigorating most of the year. But in spring it can be a downer. Drive just a few miles inland and the sun can be shining a temperate 65 degrees. But along the shore the sun is unable to pierce the thick fog, keeping my little Bay Village in a gray haze for weeks.

The payoff comes when the lake temperatures begin to climb and the fog burns away. Come fall, it can be chilly inland, but the warm lake extends our summer days and nights just a bit longer. Even with the ups and downs of living near the lake, I wouldn't trade locations. The whitecaps and the noisy crashing of waves in fall and the icy protrusions of winter are awe-inspiring and tend to feed my creative spirit.

If I can make it a few more weeks, I'll be rewarded with blue sky and water and the lucious green of the trees that hang over the cliffs of the beach. By then Honey Hut will be open for the season and we can enjoy our favorite orange blossom ice cream. Yum! Just thinking about it makes me feel better.

I recalled a vivid memory driving along 480 this morning. It was at least eight years ago when I was first freelancing and Ryan and Patrick were very small. I had an overwhelming desire to get in the car with them and drive south until it got warm. Sorry as it sounds, I was nearly in tears. I was feeling very run down, worn out, used up. I kept thinking that if I could just see and feel the sun, if I could just close my eyes for a bit, I would be all right.

Reason and resources kept me from making that drive. Instead, I bundled up the kids and drove to Marblehead. It was cold, but the sun came out on our drive. We packed PB&Js, juice boxes and cookies and had a picnic lunch at Marblehead Lighthouse. The boys and I ran along the lakeshore, chasing one another and trying to keep warm. It was our little retreat. And sure enough, within a few weeks, summer arrived. I think we skipped spring that year.

We all have to find our little retreats to refuel our energy and our creativity. Mine is often found near the water. There's a house in Vermilion that juts out into Lake Erie at the point where the Lagoons of Vermilion meet Linwood Park. I first saw the house in 1990, when my husband took me to the place where he had spent so many summers as a child. It was fall and the lake was cold and wild. But we sat on the beach and planned our future together. He found a heart-shaped rock in the sand that I still have. I told him that if I had that house on the point, I could write my novel. He laughed, and asked if I could write from a duplex in Rocky River. Of course I could and did, though not my novel. I'm not ready for fiction, because I tend to get very focused on my work, I fear to the exclusion of my family. It was the desolate location of this house that appealed to me. Certainly the house is beautiful, full of windows and natural light. But the location along the water would be ideal for drawing solitary inspiration—calm when the lake is like glass; and fire when the lake is agitated and wild.

Two years ago I was visiting a colleague and mentor who now lives in those lovely homes in the Lagoons of Vermilion. Her home wasn't on the point, but it did sit happily along the very same beach that adjoins Linwood Park. I told her about my dream so long ago and she suggested we walk along the beach. I told her how my husband's family had vacationed at Linwood Park every summer for years and how we, too, had a spent a most relaxing vacation there. She told me how, when she was newly divorced and her boys were young, she rented a room—not a house, a room—from one of the cottage owners. It was her retreat and she had such fond memories. Life is better for her now. She remarried and now owns two homes, including the lovely one on the lake. And though her boys are grown, they still enjoy their trips to the beach with their children.

I can't afford to get away right now. But I'm finding a retreat in writing this post and remembering that beach. Perhaps we'll take a drive this weekend and see if there are any places available to rent this summer…. And we'll pick up our pool passes in hopes of warmer days ahead. If not, there's a writing retreat that's coming this summer and may be worth a look. It's near the water, too.

"The knowledge of man is as the waters, some descending from above, and some springing from beneath; the one informed by the light of nature, the other inspired by divine revelation." — Francis Bacon

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Unexpected treasure

Roy Peter Clark from Poynter has a great piece about colorful news writing titled, "The Best News Stories of 1923." I'm even more delighted that he unearthed these gems at an antiquarian book store. Could there be anything finer that discovering such a treasure?

I can think of no better place to spend an afternoon than in an antiquarian book store. I spent an entire day, I mean at least six hours, in Faulkner House Books in the French Quarter back in 1997. My husband was at the SuperComm Trade Show and I was free to roam this literary city. Talk about heaven! As I was leaving him at the corner of Canal and Chartres, I remember him saying something to me about the creeps in the quarter, and then I turned 'round and he said, "Nevermind. Have fun–but be careful!" I'm an independent gal and he knows there's no stopping me when my mind is set.

Faulkner House Books is located in Pirate's Alley, opposite St. Louis Cathedral's rear garden. It's the home where William Faulkner slept, ate, drank, partied, fell in love on the balcony, wrote letters, gathered inspiration and, most importantly, became a novelist. It's a national literary landmark that features a great assortment of southern fiction and special editions, but also has a good deal of Sherwood Anderson special editions. Faulkner only lived there for one year (1925), but by the time he left, he had published "Soldier's Pay," and was on his way to becoming one of America's most famous novelist.

While I was there, I picked up a copy of his short stories, a big collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories and a limited edition of "Jane Eyre," one of my all-time favorites. I could have spent so much more, but I was under strict orders with the AMEX.

One of the greatest experiences was spending the day engaged in a fascinating literary discussion with owner, Joe DeSalvo and one of his wealthy collector customers (a doctor from Baton Rouge). We sat and talked about books and authors and collecting for hour after hour. Afterwards, I sat in Jackson Park and read Faulkner's short stories in the heat of the June sun, just trying to soak up the literary atmosphere of this intoxicating town. The air there is heavy and not just with humidity.

As the great Dr. John sings, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?" Indeed, I do.

Here's hoping you find your treasure!