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Monday, June 28, 2004

Multiplying myself

I have a friend who, whenever he's in head-down busy mode, always says it's time to multiply himself. I now know what he means. Didn't intend to be this busy during the summer, but you've got to roll with the work while it's flowing. I don't mind it because I've finally gotten myself into a nice little routine. Hit the desk by 6 and work till 2 and then head to the pool with the kids. Unless it's a day like Friday or today, and then I can crank all day.

At the beginning of this venture, I took everything and anything just for the work. Now I can be a bit more discerning in my choices. I'm pursuing certain kinds of work with a bit more verve than I have in the past. And my volunteer/pro bono activities are slowly winding down. And those volunteer activities that aren't winding down, I'm learning to manage a bit smarter. In a word—delegate.

As of Thursday, I will hold that glorious title known as immediate past president of SPJ. Of course, I'll also be moderating a panel about the statewide public records audit that day (more about that on Thursday). As of this afternoon, I shipped off the organization's annual report, putting the final stamp on my presidency.

Now I can turn my attention to a column for Quill magazine and finalizing a panel of editors and writers for the national convention in New York.

My newest paying gig is as self-help book reviewer for The Plain Dealer. My first review appeared in last Thursday's arts and life section. I'm having a great time with this because it forces me to stretch my writing abilities. It's not easy to summarize and rate a book in a whopping 275 words every week. I'm enjoying the process and learning a great deal.

Plus, as these things tend to do, it's leading to some other work for me. After receiving my latest shipment of books to review, I was perusing the intros and noticed that one of the writers grew up in Lakewood. I mentioned this to the editor and have landed myself another profile for the PD.

Although I do have some regular work editing publications, I'm also carving some time out of each week to research and pitch magazines about stories that really interest me. I do enjoy editing and pulling entire magazines together, but I enjoy writing more. As long as I can balance the two disciplines, I'll be just fine.

Acknowledging your strengths is a good start when it comes to multiplying yourself. There are certain kinds of work that don't necessarily fit my interest. Although I'm not able to do the work, I'm also steadily building a network of creatives that I trust to do the job well. And if I can be a resource for connecting people, I think that's a good use of my time.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Mikey's big jump

I couldn't believe my eyes. There, perched atop the high diving board at Bay Village Pool, was my youngest, Michael—all 42 inches and 43 pounds of him. I nudged my husband from his conversation with our friend Dan and said, "Look at the high dive."

"Oh my God! What's he doing?" Danny responded, trying really hard to hide the bit of terror in his voice. I had been reading my book and must have sensed him up there because I paused a moment to take a headcount of the kids and there he was, inching his way to the end of the board.

I knew this day was coming. On Monday, he attempted to pass the deep water swimming test (swim the length of the diving pool without touching the wall) and only made it halfway. On Tuesday, he wanted to try again. So I corraled the guard at break time and Mikey jumped in. I walked along the side of the pool, encouraging him along the way. What Michael lacks in skill and form, he more than makes up for in sheer tenacity. "It wasn't pretty," the guard said, "but he did it."

So every day Michael gets a wristband that allows him to go off the diving boards and the giant slides. It's another rite of passage for us, my days of sitting aside the baby pool while little ones pour cups of water into buckets long gone.

He started on the low boards. He was tentative at first, inching his way past the side rails of the low dive and fighting the fear of having nothing to grab onto. By his tenth jump, he was running and jumping and doing cannonballs like the big guys.

He's been trying the high dive all week, but just couldn't muster the courage to make it past the side rails. That's awfully high for a big person, but looks impossibly gigantic when your five years old and a half-foot short of the required height.

But there he was, smiling from ear to ear, shivering from both fear and cold, looking for all the world as if he would lose his suit upon jumping. I heard the roar of big kids (led by older brothers, Ryan and Patrick, and their chorus of friends) all chanting, "Mi—key, Mi—key, Mi—key…"

Dan, Dan and I jumped up to the fence to watch. In an instant, he jumped. His little body barely went under water before he bobbed back up, a little disoriented from the big jump. Somehow he managed to doggie-paddle and underwater swim his way to the ladder on the opposite side of the pool. His face was beaming and the cheers of support that erupted upon his jump were enough to make him get back in line for another go. This time, he gave us all the double thumbs-up and then did his very best Ernest Givens touchdown dance on top of the board, holstering his imaginary pistols before taking the plunge. For a brief moment, my little Mikey was larger than life.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

On being a late bloomer

Fifteen years ago, if someone were to ask me if I was in touch with my emotions, I would have to answer no. Emotionally, I’m a late bloomer. Years of alternately searching and avoiding has led me to some understanding of my heart and soul. And it’s taken even longer to make peace and become friends with that person. But reaching that level of peace within myself is helping me in all my relationships. I’m a work in progress to be sure, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Passion drives me—for living, learning and engaging in my life’s work. I have a passion for people and intelligence and all things British, for period films, tomato and mozzarella salad, bringing people together and books! My God how I love my books.

I am in love with love. I want to be cherished and to swoon, to be loved for my head, heart, body and soul, to be told that my intelligence can fire the brain and my soul inspire construction of cathedrals (okay maybe that’s a bit of a stretch).

I’m in love with my boys. They fill me to overflowing and I hope I don’t rely too heavily on their love to sustain me. Though they don’t resemble me in appearance, they do in personality and sense of humor. And there’s nothing like cuddling with them and sharing a laugh, a story or conversation.

My ideal Friday night is to prepare a great meal together and then curl up on the couch and watch a movie or sit by the fire or on the patio and simply talk for hours—about kids, books, writing, music and human nature. My ideal Saturday night is to enjoy great food, red wine and great conversation at a superb restaurant, followed by a walk through the city, absorbing its great energy.

My brain is hyperactive. I’m full of ideas and often get frustrated when I can’t act on them. If I lose interest in something, I’m perhaps too quick to set it aside. But with time being the only nonrenewable resource, I'm learning not to sweat the small stuff.

I have spells when I don’t sleep much, yet remain invigorated. But when my lack of sleep catches up to me, I’m slowly learning to give myself (and my brain!) a rest. I'm a multitasker to the end and find some of my best ideas for writing come while I'm running.

Most healthy people will tell you it doesn’t matter what others think of you, but I value certain people’s opinion of me. I want to be thought of as smart, as a leader, as a fine writer, as the kind of person you want to be around, whose company you find engaging, electric, intoxicating even. And, in turn, to feed off the energy of those who inspire me personally and professionally.

I lack patience for people who are ill equipped to fix their lives or their situation in life. This is one of my biggest character flaws and one which I pray daily to mend. And I have limited tolerance for those unable to see the forest for the trees.

Words drive so much of my passion: I find reading aloud to a loved one to be most romantic. I turn to great writing in hopes of finding answers to life’s big questions: Where do we find happiness? What is love? What is goodness? Why is forgiveness so difficult? What is the hallmark of a successful life?

Wanderlust is not only a mental/emotional desire, but also a physical urge. I often look to a plane in the sky (particularly at night) and wonder where the people are going, what they experience, whether it is pleasant or painful. Sometimes I fight an overwhelming physical urge to just go. I want to see, taste, hear, feel and smell all manner of new places and experiences. And I want to write about it all. I’d get a passport so I can be ready to go on a moment’s notice even though I have no plans to travel abroad.

Fear can paralyze me. I’ve been successful at conquering some fears, but there are always new ones to take its place.

I could lose myself for hours poring through a book of poetry, staring out the window, browsing in a bookstore, talking with good friends or interesting strangers, watching the waves crash on the shore or reading a great book or magazine.

I can be animated, talkative and extroverted, sharing many things with others. But most of my deepest thoughts are kept within. I am prone to quiet periods when I just need to dig in deep and try to get at some larger truth, sometimes successfully, very often not.

I can stand alone in the middle of the woods in winter and feel completely at peace. Likewise I can feel utterly alone while surrounded by family and friends.

Music can move me to tears, particularly anything by the big three composers—Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.

And I devote myself completely, my dear, to he who can tolerate my disjointed, idealistic, romantic, change-the-world, introverted, bookish, at-times-workaholic tendencies—and still love me for them.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Summer Solstice

If I had to pick my favorite day of the year, this could be it. The Summer Solstice reminds me of the very best of my childhood. Playing Ghost in the Graveyard with the entire neighborhood, running and laughing, adrenaline pumping while you hid from the ghost. I can still see our parents chatting on the front porch and sipping iced tea.

When I was 11 it was 10:15 before the sun had fully set. We were living in Cincinnati at the time and I remember we all stopped running around for a second, as if to log that moment in our memory banks—the summer the sun didn't set until the witching hour. But then someone yelled, "MIDNIGHT!" and the spell was broken.

Maybe there's something in the atmosphere on this day because I finally feel as if I'm embracing this summer. I finished up a big project by 2 (probably the reaon I couldn't before today) and was actually anxious to get to the pool with the kids. After a mishap involving my refrigerator and massive quantities of water, I left my cell phone at home and joined the kids at the pool. It took me a moment to settle in, but then I just leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes to the sunshine and the sounds and smells of summer.

I love the aromatic bouquet comprised of suntan lotion (specifically Coppertone) and chlorine. I love how my boys' eyelashes form stars around their big eyes when they come up for air. I love how their All-American tanned bodies and wide toothy grins seem to reflect the glow of the sun. And how they throw their arms in the air, balls to the wall, trying their hardest to splash mom (and succeeding quite often).

There's a brief moment, before they ask for money for the concession stand, when they look at me with sheer happiness on their faces. Can you bottle that joy? Maybe keep it handy on the windowsill for days when you're grown and desperately trying to find the reason? One whiff surely would cure what ails ya.

While driving home, the boys were clamoring for ice cream. If summer has a taste it is grape ice cream. I had it once when I was 8 years old, on vacation in Mackinac Island and have spent a lifetime trying to find it again, that perfect mixture of sweet, tart and creamy. I guess I'll just have to settle for Orange Blossom, double scoop, from Honey Hut Ice Cream at Huntington Beach.

Think we'll jump on the bikes tonight and get some. Fortunately, we've got plenty of daylight left...

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Old Masters had it right

“About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or
Just walking dully along."
W. H. Auden / Musee de Beau Arts

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Leadership in action

I've probably mentioned here a few times that I was speaking at the SPJ Ted Scripps Leadership Conference in Indianapolis this past weekend. Last year I was a participant in this training, generously funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation .

There is nothing quite so invigorating and energizing as watching a group of dynamic individuals come together for a shared experience. As I explained during my sessions (and to individuals), the Scripps training changed the course of my professional life, giving me courage and the will to pursue paths I might not have chosen for myself. In fact, I learned a great deal about myself and the skills I possess through that training.

This year I came back as a presenter. I participated in the annual SPJ-Sigma Delta Chi initiation ceremony, sharing what SPJ has meant to me and, along with my fellow cohorts, leading the group in the Sigma Delti Chi song "In Sigma Delta Chi, our ink is never dry." And I co-facilitated great discussions on chapter management and event planning.

I enjoyed watching this particular group of leaders, from as far away as Alaska, evolve into an energized, engaged band of leaders, all ready to take SPJ into the future. They arrived in Indianapolis on Friday somewhat timid and hesitant. After a few icebreaker activities, they start to loosen up. And following the initiation ceremony and an evening of duckpin bowling (and open bar!), they become fast friends. By the time my session arrived on Saturday night, they had their personality profiles done and had really emerged as leaders. And when it was time to leave on Sunday, there were many hugs and promises to stay in touch.

I'm a firm believer that leadership must be nurtured and I think proof of that is found in the attendees of this conference. The Scripps Howard Foundation has changed the course of many people's professional lives over the years it has funded this extraordinary training. I would encourage anyone, no matter what your profession, to seek out such incredible opportunities. Commit yourself to a weekend of stretching your abilities.

I'm certain this latest group of SPJ leaders returns home to spread the word in their own chapters. And I look forward to seeing their growing participation. And I hope to stop in at their reunion get-together at the national convention in New York City in September.

Random thought

In this life we share, it's our individuality that strengthens our love.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Remembering Reagan

The first time I heard the name Ronald Reagan was the summer before I was in sixth grade in 1978. I was living in Cincinnati at the time, playing over at my friend Maria's house. Maria's dad was a sheriff and I heard him say that Ronald Reagan was going to be the next president. He even showed us his campaign buttons. When Maria and I (both rather bookish types) asked about him, he said he was an actor and governor of California. It seemed impossible to believe an actor would be president.

What I remember most about Reagan's presidency was its impact on my passion for becoming a journalist. In January 1985, I was in Washington, D.C., with my honors government class. We were there during his second inauguration, the only time they had to cancel the outdoor activities due to frigid cold. Where were we? Running around the Mall at night in sub-zero temperatures. I remember the piercing cold on my nylon-covered ankles as I tiptoed my way into Ford's Theater to watch the late Gregory Hines perform.

I've always been taken with D.C. and the history found there. At times in my life, I've had a nearly overwhelming need to be there—to witness history in the making.

During the Iran-Contra hearings, I was hooked (along with my dad) on watching events unfold on TV, paying close attention to reporting from Cokie Roberts, whom I would later meet as a reporter. I studied with a leading historian on detente while a junior at Ohio University, and would read about the Cold War thawing in the New York Times.

So much was happening so quickly in the world and I wanted to learn about it, to write about it. While watching the cassion procession and ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda last night on CNN, I was reminded of how during Reagan's eight years as president, my mind was being formed into that of a journalist. I'm glad I paid attention.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Zinsser still rules!

Was in Border's in Westlake this morning, picking up a graduation gift for my mentee. I nearly gasped in horror when I couldn't immediately locate a copy of William Zinsser's "On Writing Well." Fortunately, I picked up the last one after I found it had been misshelved. When I was checking out, I politely mentioned to the clerk that they ought to order more copies since it IS graduation season and this is probably THE most important book for any college graduate. With a calm smile, she informed that there was a box of copies in the back because they sell two or three of them a day! Now that's music to my ears...

Ever notice how The New Yorker mag makes frequent use of the umlaut (as in reenergize)? Ever know anyone who casually throws the word umlaut into conversation? I do.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Calling on saintly patronage

I don't like my youngest child much these days. He has tried my patience beyond the threshold of tolerance. Don't get me wrong, I love the kid to pieces. He's just not much fun these days. He and I are embattled in our own little war of the roses. It reached its pinnacle yesterday morning at church after brewing for the better part of a month. He started the moment we sat down. He wanted me to hold him, which I don't mind except that he weighs nearly 46 pounds and he likes to kick his legs. Physically, he's a lot to handle.

When I passed him off to his dad, he started with the "I want mommy" thing. All around us kids his age were looking through books, sitting quietly and there we were in a near-wrestling match with this kid who doesn't understand the meaning of stop and no.

I suppose it's our own fault. He's so much younger than his older brothers and we indulged him often as a baby. Now we're paying the price. Finally, at the end of mass yesterday, when he had head-butted me in the rear one too many times, I threw a hip his way (and I mean hard!) and knocked him into his dad. It was a childish reaction on my part, but I'd had it and screaming in mass wasn't an option.

My husband looked at me as if to say "Why do you fight him?" The short answer is: He pissed me off! But the real reason I fight him is because I feel responsible for the person he is and I'll be darned if my youngest is going to grow up to be a selfish little snot. I'm clamping down on the youngun' hard and he's fighting me every step of the way. I'm betting I've got more staying (or fire) power in this battle.

If only being a mom were as simple as administering a hip-check. The reality is once I do something like that or scream in my child's face (which I did on Thursday night), the guilt over how I've treated my own flesh is overwhelming, often reducing me to tears. The bottom line is, when I get like that with Michael, I have to take a break, take a moment to remember the joys of a 5-year-old—curiosity, playfulness, laughter, boo-boos, cuddling, storytime.

He's not the only kid to behave this way. I recall just before his brothers started kindergarten they, too, had major behavior issues. It's like preschool puberty is raging through him as he straddles the world of Sesame Street and that of Teen Nick. He's alternately wanting to be a baby and trying desperately to be a big kid like his much-older brothers. In my saner moments, I can see that struggle and empathize with him.

But when we've been together for days on end and he starts the morning screaming at me about finding his basketball shirt, I frankly want to run away. This morning, I very calmly sent him back upstairs and told him to start over. I couldn't endure another day like yesterday, and the day before and the day before….

After he was born, many people warned me that I shouldn't have named him Michael. Didn't I know that Michaels were notoriously mischievous, troublesome, downright hell-raisers? No, I didn't.

What I do know is that I love the name Michael. It sounds both strong and compassionate. He's named for St. Michael the Archangel, which in Hebrew means "Who is like God." His name was the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against Satan. St. Michael also was the great heavenly physician. The Christians of Egypt placed their life-giving river, the Nile under the protection of St. Michael. And so he was a great warrior and healer. Not a bad combination for a patron saint.

When I'm embroiled in a battle of wills with my Michael, I try to remember that this child has tenacity that his brothers did not at his age. I may curse it at times, but it's something he inherited from his mother. In the end I will simply pray for patience and the ability to accept him as he is, both strong and strong-willed.

And, in the name of motherhood, I will invoke the name of St. Ann, my patron saint, and the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I'm reminded, suddenly, of one of grandfather's and father's favorite sayings: "This too shall pass."

Steady there, Wendy. Time is so fleeting. Remember to savor the little moments.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Summer vacation

The school year is winding down and we're gearing up for another summer vacation. Officially, Ryan and Patrick are done next Wednesday; Michael on Thursday. One week from today they will be reveling in all things summer.

This one will be different than in years' past. The boys and I are all at home together. I've got a little anxiety about how I will get my work done under this arrangement, but I'm hoping they will help me out.

Here's the deal, I'll be working early from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. (they usually sleep until 10), with the afternoons reserved for the pool. Most likely, I'll be back up in the office some evenings, finishing up what didn't get done during the afternoon. Of course, that schedule doesn't take into consideration the mess that is June and early July—namely, Safety Town, swimming lessons and T-ball for Michael. But accommodating those schedules is why I'm at home, so we'll make it work somehow.

Ryan and Patrick are at those magical ages when they are able to jump on their bikes and the pool, to the library, to play hoops, to the youth center. It's always difficult to give them wings to explore, but this is the first year I feel a bit more comfortable doing so. It probably has a lot to do with the large posse of neighborhood kids they hang with–a great bunch that all have similar (clearly stated) rules/expectations/limitations.

At this point in the year, I'm looking forward to the looser schedule—not hounding the boys about homework, packing lunches and making sure uniforms are clean. Still, I'm amazed at how it takes a good two to three weeks to sink into the rhythm of summer. We'll hit our summer stride right around early August, just as CYO football camp kicks in, harkening the arrival of yet another school year. And this school year will be different—my baby starts kindergarten in the fall. But I'll push those thoughts from my mind right now and just enjoy the sweetness of summer.

"Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." — Henry James to Edith Wharton

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Joy is...

...watching my Ry Guy play baseball on a beautiful June night. How is it that some children are so naturally athletic? Is it love of the game? Is it superior hand-eye coordination bestowed at birth? Is it pure drive or the drive to practice?

I'm not sure, but I think it's likely a combination of those things for Ryan. He loves sports—football, basketball and baseball—more than anything. His intensity and interest shifts with the seasons. Summer ball is in full swing. And right now, he's a commanding presence squatting behind home plate, leading his team of 11- and 12-year-olds. He appears so comfortable and confident that I can't help but swell with intense pride seeing him on the field. I know it's not easy for him, but he sure makes it look that way.

I will tire of baseball soon enough. We have three games in the next 36 hours. And once summer's heat and humidity are raging, I'll be searching for the shelter of any nearby sapling. But I keep reminding myself to forever store the memory of his tanned, boyish face with the big brown eyes and the wide toothy grin. And to remember fondly how he never wears anything but footy socks with his cleats, the way he pulls his baseball pants up to his knees (revealing his—for now—lily-white legs), his easy, jovial manner with his teammates and coaches ... and the peace sign he flashes his mom from second-base after hitting a line-drive double.