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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Creative Ink is on holiday

We're taking the next week off to enjoy the holidays with the family. Presents are bought and wrapped, baking is done and everyone is (for the moment anyway) healthy.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year. We'll pick up where we left off in 2006.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The search for a Nano

As I wrapped and reviewed my gift selections over the past couple of nights Danny said, “I’ve never seen anyone get such a kick out of giving gifts.”

It’s true, particularly when I know I’ve found that perfect something. Now that my boys are getting older, they're interested in quality over quantity. I'm cool with that.

Patrick, who could very well model for Abercrombie, has wanted some clothes from this very hip (and expensive) store. Last summer when he wanted a button-down shirt for $39.50 all I could think was that he would have spaghetti stains down the front. But for Christmas I thought again. The clothes are classic, not trendy, and if at 11 he wants to look nice, I believe I'm okay with that.

Mikey is easy because his wish list still contains a smattering of toys (Army and various football-related items). Overall I’ve had pretty good luck this year—with one exception. Ryan wants an iPod Nano. It’s really all he wants (good thing because it’s $199 plus accessories).

He didn’t get a birthday present in November, partly because we threw him an all-day birthday party and his 12 friends consumed vast quantities of food, literally eating up my birthday budget. But I promised I’d make good on a gift.

After some discussion (“Why can’t we just get him the iPod Shuffle? If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for him,” Danny said.) Danny and I agreed to get it for him.

As I explained to Danny, kids today listen to a vast collection of music. The Shuffle only holds about 120 songs (Danny’s complete repertoire). For once I don't want to get the lesser version. He's been patient and hasn't asked for anything else. It took a while to get my cash together, but this week I was finally able to purchase the iPod.

Ryan doubts he will get it. (“It’s okay if you can't get it, Mom,” he said last night.) But I am in earnest. I want to see his face on Christmas morning when he opens the thing—to show that I can still surprise him. Unfortunately, iPods seem to be a hot item this year. I’ve driven to every electronics store on the West Side (even the dreaded Great Northern) only to hear the words, “Sold out. We won’t get anymore until January.”

Sold out! What’s a last-minute shopper supposed to do with this news? It’s not as if iPods are new this year. Why the run on them?

I could drive over to the Apple Store at Legacy, but there's no time for an East Side trip. Today is their last day of school before vacation. Instead I jumped online. It’s not as if there’s a difference in price. I placed my order and am holding my breath, awaiting that very important e-mail saying the item was shipped. I’m paying $16 in shipping to get that thing here by Christmas, but the look on Ryan’s face will be well worth the extra cost.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Friendship and Mrs. J's

We all know a Mrs. Johnson, that sweet neighborhood mother who was kind enough to invite you to stay for dinner when you had been playing at her house all afternoon. Thing is, Mrs. J wasn’t exactly a disciple of Julia Child.

She meant well, you see. And she was so kind about the invite. “Jack, why don’t you stay for dinner? It’s no trouble at all.” How could you say no? I mean you’d suffer through a leather pork chop or canned soup to save your friendship, right? Never mind that at that moment your mom’s pork roast was cooking to melt-in-your-mouth perfection.

My brother-in-law, Jack, indulged Mrs. J. so often that we've dubbed that less-than-stellar evening meal: a Mrs. J’s. You may call them by some other name, but the meaning is the same.

Mrs. J’s is a euphemism for the following:

sandwich night
macaroni and cheese (out of a box)
spaghetti WITHOUT meat
overcooked anything
breakfast foods for dinner (pancakes, cereal, eggs)
grilled cheese and tomato soup
fried bologna
any combination of ground meat with ketchup
Hamburger Helper and any boxed derivative
Any combination of ground meat and a cheese-like substance the color of which is not found in the natural world

We’re known to have a Mrs. J’s every so often at the Hoke house. They tend to occur more frequently prior to payday. But that's not the only condition. Take last night, for instance. It was a typically crazy Monday night. Ryan had practice until 5 and the boys had to be at religion class at 6:30. Danny was working a little late and I had been wrapping gifts all day.

It was the perfect storm of conditions for a Mrs. J’s. Dinner was pancakes, but not the “just add water” variety. I make the Bisquick kind, complete with egg and milk. My stacks are smothered with butter and a healthy coating of Mrs. Buttersworth (Mrs. Butters as Mikey says).

I know I’m not alone in resorting to breakfast for dinner. A few weeks ago I ran into my pal, Lisa B. at Heinen’s. It was 5-ish and she was totally busted with not one but two boxes of Aunt Jemima’s under her arm. “Dan’s working late,” she offered helplessly. I held up my hand, "No need to explain. I'm with ya, sister."

The trick to successful use of Mrs. J's is for it not to become a chronic condition. Now I’m not a habitual Mrs. J, only the occasional. Last weekend I made vegetable lasagna and then coq au vin, both simply exquisite. But sometimes a fried egg on wheat bread sounds just right.

From my friend, Dave Potokar
Check this out from my friend, Dave’s blog. Anyone with boys will appreciate.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Didion's book is a must-read for couples

This weekend I finished Joan Didion’s book, “The Year of Magical Thinking." The book details the author's grief following the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and the critical illness of their only daughter, Quintana.

It all feels very unfinished, in part because as I knew from news reports, her daughter had died earlier this fall from acute pancreatitis. I want to call her up and find out how she’s doing. But this is Joan Didion, an icon of contemporary writers. One doesn’t just call up Joan Didion to see how’s she doing. And yet, there’s an overwhelming urge to do so.

Her book leaves you feeling vulnerable and raw, emotions she seems to ooze these days and maybe that explains the urge to reach out to her. Her book is hardly laced with self-pity, even as I’m sure she worried it would be perceived as such. No, this book is very real and filled with all the confusion, insanity and small gestures of grief that make the process of mourning seem very …well, real.

Danny and I sometimes chide each other: “You’ll miss me when I’m gone.” It’s all very playful in tone and meant to show the deep affection we have for each other’s idiosyncrasies, but there’s also a touch of vulnerability present. I couldn’t help thinking of that remark while reading the book.

Didion writes about the friend of a friend who remarried after being widowed. When it didn’t work out, the man simply said, “She didn’t know all the songs.” She could just as easily have written: “She/He didn’t know all the stories,” because that’s how I read that comment.

When Danny says I’ll miss him when he’s gone, he’s so dead on that I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Of course I’ll miss his inability to sing the correct lyrics to any song, the way he can fall asleep sitting in a chair carrying on a conversation or reading the paper, the sights and sounds of his morning routine (the clearing of this throat, the ritual three sneezes in the shower, the precise spot he sits on the bed to pull his socks on or how he forgets to shut his dresser drawers).

I’ll miss his courageous cooking without the scripted recipes that I follow. I’ll miss the three empty Miller Lite bottles that rest on the counter after he’s created a feast. (He doesn’t like to drink with his meals, makes him too full.) And I’ll always laugh at the face he makes when I try to get him to sip some wine to complement a meal: “It’s too acidic, it’s gonna give me ‘burn.’(short for heartburn)”

It drives me crazy, but Danny loves to talk on the phone. He and his brother, Jack, talk about five times a day. I rarely answer the home phone because it's always for him. Makes me crazy that he leaves his cell phone at home on the weekends. It rings constantly with friends and family who mistakenly believe he carries it with him at all times. Danny has a most uproarious, contagious laugh and I can tell who he is on the phone with based on the laughter.

Then there are the many stories. We were kids when we married and we’ve basically grown up together. The first night we brought Ryan home from the hospital was a fiasco. My parents were living in Columbus and Danny’s mom was in Phoenix with his sister who was about to have her second baby. At 3 a.m., Ryan was up and screaming. We were misfits trying to console him. As I changed his diaper, Ryan peed on himself and screamed even louder.

Danny looked at me and said, “Call your mom.”

“She’s two hours away! What is she going to do?” I yelled back. “We just have to figure this out on our own.”

And we did. We’ve always figured things out on our own, partly out of stupid pride and partly out of necessity. It’s not been perfect by a long shot, but it’s us and it’s our story. And I know that as soon as I get into the car to go somewhere, the first thing I do is dial Danny’s cell.

When something good or bad happens with work or with the kids, he’s the first person I want to tell. And that’s why this paragraph in Didion’s book was like a left-hook to the jaw:

“John and I were married for forty years. During all but the first five months of our marriage, when John was still working at Time, we both worked at home…. I could not count the times during the average day when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death.”


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

On café life

"Café life, without question, is one of the more enjoyable benefits of civilization. You can sit at your table for half an hour or more and watch the world go by, all for the price of a cup of coffee--or tea, if that's your preference ... but the café isn't really about the coffee or tea at all. It's about the sitting there, hearing snatches of conversation, having your own thoughts, being aware of the other customers around you, watching the passersby, eavesdropping on the waiter's repartee."

-- Roger Housden, "Seven Sins for a Life Worth Living"

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wendy's world

If there's ever any doubt what makes my world go 'round, #17 in the Rockets jersey is one of four reasons...

Special thanks to Diane Rehor for sending this picture of my oldest son, Ryan, and his buddies with their Christmas card. I'm such a "boy mom."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

They say...

I've always wondered who "they" was whenever someone says or writes, "they say..."

A friend of mine says that whenever her mom says, "They say..." she is referring to Matt and Katie (as in Lauer and Couric).

Any other insights?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Can newsroom sabbatical drive content improvement?

I consider myself a good observer. While I enjoy most of the articles I write, there are times when I am completely bewildered by the process of getting them published. Sometimes you have to fight to keep your angle or you have to fight to not have to resort to the fallback sources. Or the "tone" isn't right for the publication. And it struck me recently that one big problem is that mainstream media today is trying too hard to write for everyone.

Maybe more people will read if MSM takes a few lessons from personal and narrative writing, namely—KEEP IT SMALL. I’ve been learning how to write personal essays. It’s more or less trial-and-error, but all the successful writers will tell you to focus on small details and find what’s universal in those small details. That's what moves and speaks to readers.

It works. Think about a memory from grade school and be specific. What can you remember about the smell of the cafeteria? Or can you describe the feeling of swinging on the swings? How about the first time you sled down a big hill? Is there a particular Christmas morning that stands out in your memory? Describe the tree, the wrappings, the smell in the house, your PJs. That’s what I mean about small. Very focused events. Because chances are when you write about finding the doll stroller you coveted nestled on the green shag carpet before the chubby tinsel-laden tree, there are enough cues in that description to send readers off into their own memory. Maybe they’re reminded of green shag, or a treasured gift or the look of tinsel on a tree. Try it in your own writing or on your blog and see what happens.

I think the same can be said for many journalism stories. There’s a tendency to talk too much and to want to prove how much we know about a subject (I am guilty of this at times). Part of the reporting process, in addition to asking questions, is the ability to melt away in the background and to truly observe without interference.

It takes a little more time, particularly for investigative stories. But it can be done in smaller stories as well. Next time you’re out reporting, take notes of things you see and smell and hear and that strike you as odd or ironic or comforting or sweet or uncomfortable. It means trying just a little harder than the formula currently demands.

I think it's worth at least a 10 percent effort because frankly, some of the formulas no longer work and can be a detriment to readership.

Take, for example, the trend story. Time was when the journalistic buzzwords were “look for the trends.” But with so many people publishing on the Internet, trend stories don’t work. There’s always a backlash of people proclaiming, “That’s not my experience or reality.” Why here on Creative Ink, I’ve picked apart trend stories about mommies and female leaders.

Those stories, just like those that seek to play up generational labels, make sweeping generalizations that tend to turn off readers. I challenge you to compare a 1945 Baby Boomer with a 1965 Baby Boomer. That’s a 20-year span! Are we sure they all fit so neatly under the Boomer aegis? Methinks not.

I’m not alone in my disdain for the formula. Tim Porter of the blog First Draft spent many years as an editor at the San Francisco Examiner.

His site contains what he calls “The Quality Manifesto.” Here’s an excerpt:

Newspapers are not the victims of homicide but of suicide. They are not dying at the hands of demographic changes or emergent technologies. They are killing themselves with clichéd writing, formulaic stories, hackneyed photographs and adherence to a self-destructive, journalistic form that emphasizes breadth of news coverage over depth.

Newspapers don’t have a societal problem; they have a quality problem.

In an age of increasing public sophistication – and diversification – about media consumption, newspapers, for the most part, continue to produce a bland mixture of agenda and event coverage, he-said-she-said government news and an established array of feature stories focused on predictable characters who no longer elicit sympathy nor surprise from readers.

Whether editors plaster this daily spackle on paper or spread it on the Internet, the public is not buying. It is no longer good enough.

That’s some pretty strong language, but it seems as if nothing less than strong language is needed to shake the industry out of its stupor.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard just hosted its annual Narrative Journalism conference. This may be one I have to attend next year. There was a lot of hand wringing about the future of newspapers from the likes of Tom Wolfe, the father of narrative journalism and others in the industry. Former LA Times editor John Carroll talked about the need for narrative journalism in this wrap-up by Bill Kirtz on Poynter.

He termed narrative's attraction "eternal," from the days when primitive people sat around campfires and told stories. The genre is "never needed more than today, when we're bombarded with facts with no context," he said. "We need to gratify the reader's emotions and intelligence (to help them) make sense of the world."

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Tom French, the Pulitzer-winning St. Petersburg Times serial narrative specialist, offered many tips for immersion reporting, including these:

•When deciding whom to follow, "look for texture, vulnerability, contradiction, a clear line of action that will engage the reader and reveal character and theme."

Zoom in. Find a simple frame. Follow one love struck teen, not the whole seventh grade.

Get the details: the dog's name, the song title, the brand of the beer.

Keep asking: for their diary, for the contents of their purse. "Never assume your subject will say no. Time and again, you'll find that people are more generous and brave than you would imagine."

(Bold is mine.)

We’re in need of drastic measures in order to make ourselves relevant. Here’s a radical thought: Perhaps every staffer should be forced out on his or her own for a while to see how hard it is to set yourselves apart from the pack. Or even to experience the thrill and challenge of managing multiple stories for multiple markets. I'm not calling for a mass exodus, but I think some MSM journalists are too comfortable and haven't had that hunger that drives independent journalists to push themselves and the envelope.

Maybe we trade places for a while and send in the independents to find out if it's possible to sustain the level of creativity for which we strive under the pressure of daily deadlines.

Perhaps outside the confines, safety and security of a newsroom, journalists could discover or redisover how stimulating it is to set aside the stringent rules of inverted pyramid and begin to think like we talk. To simply tell a story as we hear it and see it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

My Judith Miller story online

The December Quill issue is online. Just got my hard copy in the mail today. Here are links to my stories:

Here is what Judith Miller had to say.

Here is what I had to say about Judith Miller and, more specifically, The New York Times. Special nod to Jill for helping me finesse my lede and get that thought right. And thanks for being on the scene while all this was percolating.

Here’s a profile of new SPJ President Dave Carlson. Some of you may have seen his writing in E-Media Tidbits, published by Poynter Online.

And finally, here, is the latest Freelance column, announcing plans for 2006.

It’s been a busy month.

Monday, December 05, 2005

15 Things About Books

Jill tagged me and Lori is already on it, so here’s my list.

15. Reading is my drug. It takes me to places outside of myself and introduces me to people I want to meet. I’ve been mesmerized for as long as I can remember. My mother was always frustrated by my singular focus on reading. My husband’s suffering is much the same and he is forever saying, “You’ve got your nose buried in a book again.” Most days I fret that my life will slip away before I can read all that interests me.

14. When my sister and I were visiting a Georgetown bookstore in 1998, she found a shirt with the illustration of a woman with very big hair surrounded by books. It said “Book Woman.” Jen was laughing hysterically and said, “Oh my God, this is you, Wen!” It showed up as a Christmas gift for me later that year. I wear it proudly as a nightshirt.

13. I thought I knew good fiction until I was introduced to the grand dame, Edith Wharton. My dad brought me the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of her after visiting her home at The Mount I couldn’t put the book down and instantly fell in love with her as a woman and a writer. She wrote about complicated relationship in which there are no happy endings. And her writing touched my soul. Someone (and you know who you are) still has one of my Edith books in their possession.

12. In 1997, I spent six hours at Faulkner House Books in the French Quarter. The entire time was spent talking about literature with the owner Joe DeSalvo and one of his best patrons, a surgeon from Baton Rouge. It was such a memorable day that when my husband visited a few months later, Joe remembered me. He sent Danny home with some fabulous reads – great southern fiction, which is a great favorite of mine. As Frances Mayes said, the south embraces and celebrates its eccentrics.

11. I decorate my house with books. And I have a rule that I don’t decorate with them unless I’ve first read them. The only exception is that I’ve not read all of “Herodotus.” Every time I watch Ralph Feinnes in “The English Patient,” I read another section of “Herodotus.” (As an aside, that is one HOT movie. Another favorite, based on a book is Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer in "The Age of Innocence." Phew!)

10. I own one first edition: Edith Wharton’s “The Children,” published in 1928.

9. “Anna Karenina,” “Portrait of a Lady” and “A Farewell to Arms,” made me weep for several days after I finished reading them.

8. “The Sun Also Rises” is one of my most favorite books of all time. Others include, “The House of Mirth,” “Possession,” “Little Women,” “Jane Eyre,” “The Red Tent,” “Cold Mountain,” “Memoirs of Geisha,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Alchemist,” “The Grapes of Wrath” and “A Lost Lady.”

7. The first Faulkner book I read was “The Sound and Fury.” I don’t get the entire story, but I liked it and would love to discuss with someone who better understands the story.

6. The summer before my senior year in college I was working as a receptionist at a construction company and I read oodles of books to kill time. My favorite from that time and one I’ve read three times since is “Lady of Hay,” by Barbara Erskine. It’s about a skeptical British magazine journalist who gets hypnotized through past-life regression and learns she was a 13th-century noblewoman living in Wales. Not sure what that says about me.

5. Best novel to screenplay adaptation: “Pride and Prejudice” The BBC version broadcast on A&E in the mid-’90s was a nearly word-for-word script. And yes, I had my book in hand one of the several times I’ve watched that mini-series to compare. I’m sorry, but Jennifer Ehle is the quintessential Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth the sexiest of all Mr. Darcys. I’m reluctant to see the new film version for just that reason. Though I’ll make a concession to see what happens cinematically to “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

4. I’m known for doing some pretty great voices when I read to the kids (and in their classes). “James and Giant Peach” is one of my best. Before the movies came out I did some wicked-good Harry Potter voices.

3. Just finished reading “The Other Boleyn Girl,” which was an amazing book. It’s 600+ pages, but a great read. Also top-notch this year was “The Kite Runner.”

2. I read an average of two books per week – one is usually a review book, the other for pleasure. Usually my pleasure reading is reserved for just before bed.

1. Currently on my “to read” stack are:

“The Year of Magical Thinking,” by Joan Didion
“The Fourth Hand,” by John Irving
“Ernest Hemingway: The Short Stories”
“Dr. Zhivago,” by Boris Pasternak
“Engaging with Merton: A Year in Tom’s Hermitage,” by M. Basil Pennington
“Opus Dei,” by John Allen (review book)


“How’s business?” my favorite bank teller asked me today.

“Business is great, now if only I can get paid for my work,” I sighed.

Because of the erratic nature of how and when I get paid, I’ve been near breakdown for the past few months from the sheer stress of working nonstop while trying to make enough money to pay my current and past bills and, God forbid, attempt to get ahead financially. The words of a dear friend who used to encourage me to work smarter not harder are ringing in my head and I want to ask: “How?” Can't seem to see the forest for the trees.

I’m sickened when I think of all the late charges and service fees I’m paying because I can’t ever seem to get ahead or get checks in the mail in time to avoid late charges. And my credit? I can’t even go there without surpressing the urge to vomit.

My stress, which manifests itself in a sharp pain in my left shoulder blade, reached a pinnacle Saturday afternoon as I sat sobbing, physically and emotionally drained from working nonstop and finding another weekend without a much-needed and anticipated check in the mail. Can there be anything worse than putting in major time and waiting another 30-45 days to get paid?

Danny was heartsick about my distress and doing a fair job of hiding his panic (because we need my income). He let me sob on and throw my hands up on the air, wondering aloud whether being on my own is worth the struggle, and how I’m so damned tired and just once I’d like to get a good night’s sleep, how Christmas is coming and I’d love to get started Christmas shopping if only I had some money and how Danny’s birthday is today and how I’d love nothing more than to take him to a nice dinner and how I feel as if I’m spread so thin with my work that the quality of the product is suffering and yet I’m just trying to get ahead financially and so I take on whatever comes my way no matter how unrealistic and ….

Well, anyway, that’s the thread running on continuous mental loop. You get the picture. Wish I could change the channel.

I have no answers because to not be on my own means I have to find a job. And that opens up so many other questions and unknowns. What would that job look like? Is there anything decent available? Would we consider relocating? What do I even want to do? I’m a pretty autonomous person and I’m not very good at tolerating office or newsroom politics. I like variety in my work and that’s something I can be fairly assured of as an independent. I'm a big-picture thinker and prefer not to be another member of the rank and file. So where does that leave me? Am I being too cynical in not thinking about possibilities? I do miss being around people. (Admittedly some of my despair is because I’ve been with myself too much, but I’ve not had the time to do the social stuff because deadlines are invading like the Allied Forces on D-Day -- there’s no break in the action.)

But working outside of my home opens up a whole host of other questions:

What do we do with the kids after school? With two kids in middle school, it’s a blessing to be home after school. (After all, educators and researchers keep telling parents that after-school hours are when middle school mischief occurs.) Everyone is doing well academically, but that’s because I’m here to answer homework questions and listen to Michael read and teach Patrick skills to help him with matching tests and to make sure Ryan tries to complete the math extra credit.

I worked outside the home with kids in school and I never got home before 6. At the time Danny worked five minutes from our house and would get home earlier to make dinner. But we don’t have that now.

What about summers and school vacations?

My car is not running well and I’ll either need to sink some serious cash into repairs or get a new one. Where are gas prices headed? Why are hybrid cars so much more expensive? I’d buy one in a heartbeat if the price point were $10,000 lower.

And then there’s this committee I head for SPJ, seeking to make things easier for other freelancers. Sometimes I feel like such a hypocrite, unable to implement my own suggestions to others. I keep preaching balance and yet I feel so unbalanced, teetering on the brink and desperately hoping there’s a safety net (preferably cash) below.

Alas, as I read this over, I’m whining. I hate to sound like a whiner. Time to suck it up. I’m sure a few paychecks will cure me of my malaise.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005



Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Engaging with Merton

FedEx brought yet another delivery of books from publishers today. Hidden among the Styrofoam popcorn was a re-release of M. Basil Pennington’s book, “Engaging the World with Merton: On Retreat in Tom’s Hermitage.” Originally published in 1988 (20 years after Merton’s death), it has been released under a different publisher.

In the new introduction, the author wonders about Merton’s responses to our world today, and how at the time of his death his letters to author Boris Pasternak took up to six months to be received via the underground. But what grabbed me on this day when time is so short is this beautiful prayer from Merton quoted in the introduction that I will share with you:

“To be here with the silence of Sonship in my heart is to be a center in which all things converge upon you. That is surely enough for the time being. Therefore, Father, I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it the word of your peace and the word of your mercy and the word of your gentleness to the world: and that through me perhaps your word of peace may make itself heard where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.” Thomas Merton, 1915-1968

Peace, my friends.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Some of the best views of Cleveland

• Cedar and Coventry in Cleveland Heights, just before you descend to Fairmount

• Harborside Drive in Edgewater, particularly from the backyard of a recently renovated large white stucco home

• The bedroom of a home on Chestnut Hills Drive in Cleveland Heights

• University Circle from the eight floor of Judson Manor

• East and West views of downtown from the Shoreway

What are your favorite (and lesser known) views of Cleveland?

Cleveland is my woobie

Surely I must sound like a broken record, but this is yet another intense week of writing. For once I’m feeling fresh on a Monday having had a wonderful five-day holiday weekend.

In the past few days, I’ve become the parent of a teenager, got lots of baby love from my little nephew Charlie and niece Natalie and had ample time to clean my house and deck the halls. I’m feeling pretty good going into this holiday season and that’s not been the case for many years.

Spent the afternoon shopping at Crocker Park with Ryan yesterday (he had all manner of gift cards just waiting to be spent). A little window shopping was just what I needed to get the gift-giving juices flowing.

But all that will have to wait for time and money. This week is filled with lots of reading, researching and writing that will keep my posting to a minimum. Did want to mention one thing though:

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on a book project that has taken me across town to Cleveland Heights, a city near and dear to my reporting heart. Though it’s been tough being out of the office so much, I’ve enjoyed commuting across town, knowing full well I don’t have to do it daily.

There are times when living in Cleveland becomes so exasperating professionally that I just want to up and flee. But then I remember the words of a dying man just a few weeks before his untimely death.

Richard Shatten was head of the Regional Economic Institute at Case and I was interviewing him for a story in the COSE Update. There was so much frustration in the business community in 2002 and he echoed a lot of that frustration and a lot of the inane infighting that has kept Cleveland from blossoming.

But when I asked him if Cleveland was hopeless, his voice brightened. “Oh absolutely not! It’s never hopeless.” I didn’t realize at the time we spoke that he was dying from brain cancer. I learned that two weeks later when I read his obituary. If, in the face of imminent death, that man could have hope about our region’s future then there’s no reason the rest of us can’t also.

As I’ve driven back and forth I see pockets of promise scattered in Cleveland’s neighborhoods. If you're always on the highways, I strongly urge you to get off the beaten track and take the long way home. I’ve been driving down E. 55th to Carnegie and Cedar since 1990. The transformation of that neighborhood is slow, but noticeable. And the resurfacing of Carnegie Avenue is a welcome treat (though admittedly it feeds my propensity to exceed the speed limit).

Last Monday I decided to drive through University Circle and take MLK to the Shoreway home. I remember reading once that the sign of a community’s vitality is the number of building cranes in the skyline. The building occuring in Cleveland is at University Circle. It was invigorating and I wished I had the time to walk Wade Oval and marvel at our city’s cultural and educational treasures.

As I drove down the Shoreway I got an overwhelming feeling of home. Downtown rose before me, Lake Erie sparkled to my right. It’s all so familiar, like a worn blanket a little bit tattered and frayed on the edges but just as ready to keep you warm and toasty on a blustery night.

Cleveland is my old blanket and as much as I wish it was shining and new, I take comfort in its familiarity, in the fact that this is really a small town and that I’m just as likely to run into someone I know on the east side as on the west side. My husband and I joke that we can’t seem to go out to dinner without running into a handful of friends and acquaintances. We complain, but really we love the serendipity of running into others. Because that’s the most beautiful thing about this town … its people.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Just pondering...

...Why does Bob Woodward remain on staff at the Washington Post? Clearly it's not for the money and I'm fairly confident he doesn't need the prestige. Doesn't it make more sense that he take sabbatical to write his books or just go off on his own completely, writing the occasional Post story as a freelancer? Just wondering...

The antidote to corruption

"When power corrupts, poetry cleanses." — John F. Kennedy, 1963

Merton in the UB

Here's the Cleveland version of the Thomas Merton article, which appears on the front page of the Nov. 18 edition of the Catholic Universe Bulletin.

Dysfunctional democracy

Here is the most astounding statement to (recently) spew from Dick Cheney’s mouth regarding our failure to find caches of WMD in Iraq:

"I repeat that we never had the burden of proof; Saddam Hussein did."

Excuse me? Wasn't the basis for an unprecedented policy shift of preemptive strike made on the basis that WE believed Hussein had WMD? And now we learn that said “proof” of WMD is based (in part) on faulty intelligence from a crackpot informant who sought asylum in Germany?! Am I missing some important nuance to this debate? Or does this seem an absolutely preposterous statement?

Didn't we have the burden to prove that he was engaged in such a weapon's program? Under Cheney's logic, who's to stop say North Korea from attacking because America possesses nuclear weapons?

The result of this crap is that while there was previously no connection between Hussein and bin Laden, Al Qaeda (and probably every other terrorist organization) now has a yeast-like presence in Iraq.

I’m convinced that our government is on the fast track to complete and utter breakdown. Maybe we’ve got to hit rock bottom before we can find our way out of this shit hole we’re in. (Apologies for the foul language. I’m feeling ferocious about this.)

Cheney returned to the American Enterprise Institute yesterday to speak to a friendly crowd on the issue of Iraq. He said: "I do not believe it is wrong to criticize the war on terror or any aspect thereof.

“What is not legitimate, and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible, is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president . . . misled the American people on prewar intelligence." This, he said, "is revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety."

Read between the lines. So maybe Bush didn’t mislead us, but how about Cheney himself or Rummy?

Chaos doesn’t only reign at the White House. E.J. Dionne wrote about the growing dysfunction in Congress that came to a head last Friday with Rep. John Murtha’s emotional plea to get out of Iraq. I know people are backpedaling about how the country will fall into chaos, but isn’t it already there? And didn’t we create that chaos? Don’t we have to live with the aftermath our failed policies created?

Can common sense prevail? Does it even exist inside the Beltway? I’m thinking no and here is evidence from Dionne’s column:

(Rep. Gene) Taylor's syntax only underscored the emotion he brought to the floor: "Mr. Speaker, in south Mississippi tonight, the people . . . who are living in two- and three-man igloo tents waiting for Congress to do something, have absolutely got to think this place has lost their minds. The same Congress that voted to give the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans tax breaks every time . . . suddenly after taking care of those who had the most, we have got to hurt the least. . . . Folks, this is insane. . . . This is the cruelest lie of all, that the only way you can help the people who have lost everything is by hurting somebody else."

I don’t recognize my country.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Ode to the Boss

There’s been a lot of celebration this week on the release of the 30th anniversary box set of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” CD. Since my time is so limited for posting this week, thought I’d share my own Boss anniversary piece that I was unsuccessful in selling . Some readers may remember a similar post from the summer of 2004. Anyway, here’s my ode to the Boss:

Twenty years ago this past August, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band came to Cleveland Municipal Stadium for a thunderous, soul-stirring 4-1/2-hour performance that to this day stands as my all-time standard for brilliant rock performances.

I was digging around my CD collection recently for some music to download onto the iPod before a run when I spotted the black and white album cover as familiar to me as my favorite black leather bag. I pulled it out, blew off a bit of dust and popped the CD into my laptop. It took only a few bars of harmonica and piano to transport me to 1985 — the summer before I left for college.

I worshipped Springsteen. My angst-ridden teenage heart rode the wave of emotions in his lyrics, while I spent hours hypnotized by the alternately driving and melancholy sounds of his music.

When he sang…

“The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays”

…I was sure his soulful rebels were talking only to me. These guys were deep and stood for more than fast cars and fast women. In their white T-shirts and faded jeans, they seduced me with their dreams — my dreams — of something better.

Man, the Boss could write. He wrote anthems. Hell, “Born to Run” used to kick off every weekend in Cleveland when Kid Leo would play it at 5 p.m. on Fridays back in the heyday of WMMS. He wrote dramas such as "Jungleland,” “Sandy” and “The River"; he wrote humor in "Sherry Darling"; and he wrote bluesy grooves like "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and “Pink Cadillac."

But his genius was his ability to entertain a crowd — even 60,000-plus — as if he were playing in the intimate Stone Pony bar where he got his start in New Jersey. His set list from the Cleveland concert contained no less than 28 songs — from “Born in the USA” to “Thunder Road” to “Sherry Darling.”

My Boss record collection includes the five-album live set from the “Born in the USA Tour.” After that album, I didn’t buy anymore. I suppose it’s because his early albums still capture my inner 18-year-old — when I stood looking upon the innocence of adolescence while tiptoeing into the promise of adulthood.

Driving home in my boyfriend’s Vega after the concert, a midnight haze of fog hung over the road leading to my house. Adding to the surreal quality of the night was Springsteen's music echoing back from the radio. (WMMS was playing every song from his set list that night.)

Looking back I realize that his blue-collar work ethic, his intoxicating energy and marathon performances were the antithesis of the ’80s rock concert experience, the stuff of world-class athletes more akin to Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France than the 2004 Cleveland Browns. It was easy to believe the Boss was as regular and hardworking as the guy standing next to me singing at the top of his lungs.

I found it heartening that his music still stirred my soul, feeling as if all the promise of the future still lay before me and tapping the energy that is his essence.

So I finished stretching, pulled on the headphones and headed out to the street. There was never any question which tune would kick off my run.

“Wendy, let me in, I wanna be your friend
I want to guard your dreams and visions” — Born to Run

Friday, November 11, 2005

Newsweek and Boomers

Oy! I don't know if I have the strenght to digest yet another Newsweek cover package. Here it is complete with a cliche cover that makes you jump back with fright. Yikes!

Let me know what you think. I've not read and will reserve judgment until after I've spent the weekend reading it. In the name of transparency, I am not a Boomer but part of that cohort born just outside the Boomers. My parents are not Boomers either, but were born just before the Boomers. Technically, I'm Gen X. But I don't find a lot of myself in the stereotypes linked with Gen Xers. So I guess that makes me an oddball, a place I'm wholly comfortable inhabiting.

Anyway, I did a big package of my own on this topic back in 2003 for a quarterly trade pub called The Leading Edge. One of my favorite pieces was on marketing to mature audiences.It's an interesting topic so I'll be curious to see how Newsweek covers the story.

Friday roundup

Read the Guardian Newsblog for an Anglican take on the Judith Miller saga. Don’t forget to read the comments. Interesting discussion.

Consider this from blogger/reporter Stephen Brook:

For many of her crimes, the guilty party was not so much Miller but the newspaper itself. She was badly managed and subsequently shabbily treated – a situation so commonplace in journalism it barely qualifies as news.

Heard at last night's JCU/SPJ program on press, politics and religion
Rev. Donald Cozzens said that the mark of a civilization's success or failure is how it treats the least powerful in its midst. What does that say about our American culture? Food for thought.

Talking Points talking new journalism
Josh Marshall has an interesting new project under wing. He’s developing a blog that weaves all the info bubbling up about the corruption scandals in Washington and how those relate to the upcoming mid-term elections. A freelance writer, Marshall is someone who demands to be listened to because he has three-quarters of a million visitors to TPM monthly. Here's why he's expanding the blog:

But I'm never able to dig deeply enough into the stories or for a sustained enough period of time or to keep track of how all the different ones fit together. That's a site I'd like to read every day -- one that pieced together these different threads of public corruption for me, showed me how the different ones fit together (Abramoff with DeLay with Rove with the shenanigans at PBS and crony-fied bureaucracies like the one Michael Brown was overseeing at FEMA) and kept tabs on how they're all playing in different congressional elections around the country.

That's a site I'd like to read because I'm never able to keep up with all of it myself. So we're going to try to create it.

I don't imagine it will be easy. But it will be an experiment with a new sort of journalism. And I think we'll be able to put something together that the readers of this site will enjoy and find useful. And we're going to try to do that by mobilizing the resources we've already built with TPM and TPMCafe.

Oh, and by the way? He’s hiring.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Dying young

My heart literally aches when I read stories like this primarily because it puts words and images to my worst fear — dying young.

Marjorie Williams died last January at age 47 from liver cancer. Way too young and cheated of seeing (on this earth anyway) her son and daughter grow. I’m sorry I didn’t pay closer attention to her work because she strikes me as someone to whom I could relate.

Meghan O'Rourke of Slate writes:

Imagine being told, at 43, that you have a few months to live. And imagine—among other things—that you have a career deepening in new ways, and two young children, a boy and a girl, who still believe that Santa Claus is real. The truth is, most of us can't imagine anything like it. But this is what Marjorie Williams, a Washington Post columnist who died last January at 47, describes in her extraordinary essay about being diagnosed with advanced liver cancer, "Hit by Lightning: A Cancer Memoir." It appears in The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate, a new collection of her journalism edited by Slate's Tim Noah, her husband. Reading the essay, one is rocked back on one's heels not only by the steady summoning of detail—including the split-second thrill she felt when the doctor first discovered a tumor—but by the fact that she wrote the essay in the first place. " 'I don't want to end my life in some hospital barfing in the name of science," " she recalls telling Tim. " 'I mean it: I want to be realistic about what's happening to me.' " And she was. The essay is the distillation of the gift that Williams, whom I never met, displays throughout the volume: total engagement inextricably connected to a comic detachment—a stoic determination to make the most of her tragic, and at times absurd, situation.

Williams first hit my radar a few weeks ago when David Brooks, of all people, wrote an incredibly moving column about her short life. I reached for my heart as I read his words and even as I write my hands tremble with the fear her story evokes in me.

Several years ago that fear was so intense that I found myself sitting opposite a psychotherapist trying my best to deal with so many things out of my control. I’ll never forget pacing in my room, Kleenex in hand, sobbing and trying to articulate to Danny what was scaring me. “Everything!” I finally blurted out. “I’m afraid of everything. My mom went to the doctor because she felt bloated and she came back with ovarian cancer. I’m afraid of cancer. I’m afraid of dying. I’m afraid of someone kidnapping my kids right from the bus stop. I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid of success. I’m afraid of everything.” My husband, who loves to make my world better, knew at that moment that this was something he alone couldn’t fix.

But in a way he did because just verbalizing my fears out loud made them slightly less scary.

I'm prone, however, to relapse. Whenever my life begins to go well I can’t help feeling as if it will all be snapped away because on some level I am undeserving of happiness. It’s irrational perhaps, but there it is. And it keeps me from fully enjoying life — that fear haunting me in the darkest hours of night and in my most vulnerable moments alone. Rarely does that fear find a voice. Instead it festers inside my brain, a cancer of its own, hurtling me headlong into morbid agony.

I’ve found myself looking at my children and my husband and thinking:

“Would they be okay without me?”

“What would they remember about me?”

“Would there be time to leave them plenty of letters to share a lifetime of love before I die?”

“Would they be able to love fully without my steady presence?”

“Will they be happy in life?”

I fight back tears every time someone talks about people and families suffering with cancer. I want to run from the room and hide the fear that I’m sure is visible on my face. This even after my own mother has survived cancer. But it seems to strike the young with a vengeance.

My thoughts, never voiced, turn to how I would handle treatments, how much and how soon I would tell the kids, how to ease my parents’ grief, what my epitaph would read, readings and hymns for my funeral. My brain can jump from zero to 60 in a nanosecond. It’s not healthy, I realize, but it’s there, lurking. Sometimes to the point where I feel it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It takes tremendous mental agility to downshift into the here and now instead of racing headlong into a worst-case scenario. Perhaps it sounds as if I'm a little crazy and maybe I am. Maybe I don't have enough faith in the goodness in life to think I'm worth any of it. Maybe that's why I'm such a seeker. I pray daily that all this internal dysfunction will at least allow me to cherish those in my life more deeply. Mostly, I pray...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Miller and Times part ways

It's official... Judith Miller has "retired" from the New York Times.

Here's the official story.

Does demise of PD Sunday Mag spell opportunity?

This is truly sad news, but rumors have been swirling for a few weeks so it’s not altogether surprising. While I was unsuccessful in placing a story in the Sunday Magazine (I was trying for essays), I remained hopeful that I would hit the sweet spot in 2006. This loss got me thinking:

Where else will readers find the solid long-form narrative writing on the issues and people that comprise Northeast Ohio?

Markets are drying up faster than my printer’s ink cartridges. PD Editor Doug Clifton says some of the stories will appear throughout the paper. I hope he sticks to that pledge because I’d hate to see the PD lose talented writers such as Andrea Simakis. The reality is that shrinking news holes rarely allow for the expansive narrative that was found in the Sunday Mag.

Every time news of this sort hits the streets, I begin fantasizing again about my dream publication (and my dream job of leading said dream publication). Since current city pubs are doing a miserable job, I’d love to see a monthly New Yorker-type publication in this town or a regional Salon and here’s why:

We have some serious issues to discuss that affect a wide swath of people and our current staple of pubs are doing a lackluster job at best. Most are filled with gratuitous nods to advertisers that everyone can see through. Even the advertisers are getting fatigued by the crappy advertorial that dominates each month.

We have some incredible editorial and design talent in this town. (I’ve already got an art director in mind.) I’d love to do some market research about the viability of a regional pub devoted to in-depth personality profiles, solid public affairs reporting, extensive arts, medical and business coverage (our region’s big economic engines) and an assortment of departments that include:

• nurturing a city columnist in the Roldo Bartimole vein
• look at research of all kinds happening at local universities
• food and wine coverage that’s much more than simply restaurant reviews or news of openings and closings
• personal essay column to bring in fresh voices and perspectives

The only way to be truly successful is to take a bit from existing pubs (pull in-depth reporting of PD Sunday Mag, only the best business coverage in Inside Business, and only the best arts coverage in Northern Ohio Live), add hipness of Cool Cleveland, mix in stronger editorial content presented in a visually unique way (either in print or online or both) to create something uniquely Northeast Ohio. Maybe it's a new collaboration among these pubs.

When it comes to regional pubs, I think Texas Monthly blows everyone out of the water. Of course it also has the backing of Indiana-based Emmis Communications. Skip Hollandsworth is as gifted a writer as they come and sets the bar for narrative nonfiction writing at such pubs.

But we've also got talented writers. And we’ve certainly got the stories. Now how about we get some financial backers who have the guts to put their money into something truly provocative and reflective of Northeast Ohio? I’m not talking your staidly parents’ and grandparents’ magazine (ala Cleveland and Ohio).

Take the energy of the younger population segment (young pros ages 25-45), the doggedness and intensity of the local blogosphere and the buying power of the 35-60-year-old demographic. Mix that together with this town’s incredible reporting and writing talent, illustrated with its complementary visual artistic talent and you’ve got buzz.

Well, anyway, a girl can dream...

"Where God Was Born” review
Today’s review book was listed as number three on the Local Bestsellers List. The author was at Joseph-Beth last night and I’m sorry the review couldn’t have been timed to come out before his appearance.

Here’s the text from today’s PD:

Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion

(William Morrow, $26.95) by Bruce Feiler.

Feiler is a masterful storyteller weaving his way through luminous descriptions of people, places and feelings. He takes readers on a moving and at times dangerous journey to ground zero of religion through Israel, Iraq and Iran. It's a personal quest to find meaning in his religion beyond the limitations of place and land.

With his Hebrew Bible as guide, Feiler explores the heart of civilization, visiting the ancient places that gave us prophets, kings, scientists and writers. Helping him parse the stories and their meanings is an amazing cast of theologians, adventurers and archaeologists.

As a result, his story becomes more than one man's search for God, it's also one of the great political, historical, geographical and archaeological adventures of all time.

The author's writing transports you to another time and place. When he writes of the desert you become thirsty, when he describes ruins you want to reach out and run your hand along the smooth stone surfaces. "The tunnel smelled like the inside of a tank I used as a boy to grow tadpoles into frogs -- a fetid, muddy grog that gave off the disquieting odor of evolution," he writes.

Vivid descriptions of people give you amazing insight into the author's mind. "Gabi Barkay is an archaeologist who looks like the vintage newspaper editor from Spider-Man, with a stringy black comb-over, nicotine-stained fingers and an air of seen-it-all-before."

Throughout the journey we discover what the Bible really says: God is not confined. We experience God through humanity and relationships with others.

Wendy Hoke Special to The Plain Dealer

Monday, November 07, 2005

Bloggers and MSM in Philly

Wow. Check this out from Suburban Guerilla in Philly. Seems the bloggers and MSM got together in the City of Brotherly Love for a little chat about the future of news and newspapers.

Can we do something similar in Cleveland?

The glass is half …

There is a temptation in blogging to follow the pack and post on the big issues. Admittedly this is a sweeping generalization, but it sometimes takes a conscious effort to resist joining the fray.

But in my humble opinion, it’s critical that blogs maintain their individuality because otherwise there’s no point in reading them. Regular readers of CI know that my paying gig is as a freelance journalist, writing primarily for mainstream media. Creative Ink, by contrast, is my writing laboratory.

Still I'm a news junkie and at times I struggle with not adding my voice to the cacophony as I scan the day’s headlines. I confess to secretly fantasizing about being a national beat reporter for a daily newspaper. But then I remember that my chosen path is one of independent because it suits my desire to follow my writing passions and it fits well with my family life.

Daily newspapers, no matter how I may romanticize about reporting on national issues, are not the place to be right now. According to WAPO’s Howard Kurtz, “If the (newspaper) industry were a person, a shrink would prescribe Prozac.”

News is particularly bad at The Times Co., which reports profits down by more than half this quarter. That The New York Times is beleaguered is undeniable and I’ve not resisted my chance to take shots. But what’s missing from the daily/hourly discourse is that what's happening at The Times can happen anywhere. Newspapers are losing readers and losing sight of the big picture in the quest to please Wall Street.

Here's the glass-is-half-full view from a CJR editorial. “A great shift in how people get their news and spend their time is under way. Much of this is beyond our control,” writes CJR:

But not all of it. And crisis can bring opportunity. Take a look at the front page of your newspaper today. How many stories are on events that the average reader has already heard something about? The Metro section, is it riveting and creative? Or incremental and cramped? Does the paper have strong voices? Does it provide the kind of context that cuts through the fog of information? Does it have any fun? Does the photography speak volumes? Does the Web site offer more than digital newsprint? Can a reader get into the conversation? Do you want to read this newspaper? Bold is mine.

And now the glass-is-half-empty view. Kurtz concludes:

Except for an uptick during Hurricane Katrina, the media's stock seems to be in a gradual decline -- journalistically, financially and psychologically. That is unlikely to change as long as journalists keep behaving in ways that alienate their audiences.

The Wall Street Journal, which is FREE this week, (Woo Hoo!) has a similarly dire report.

It’s easy for those of us in the business to armchair quarterback the problems and the solutions. But just because we’re not in the newsroom daily and don’t understand the grind and the pressures doesn’t mean our suggestions for improvement should be summarily dismissed. We are, after all, consumers of the news. Let's at least start the conversation, yes?

Women bylines at Conde Nast
One Conde Nast editor has taken it upon herself to track the male to female byline ratio in the publishing powerhouse’s mags. Ruth Davis Konigsberg started her site as a pet project, only the evidence is crystal. Gender imbalance pervades many national magazines, particularly those involved in reporting public affairs.

Now The Times has picked up the story.

Cullen Murphy, the managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly (61 male bylines to 18 female bylines, according to Ms. Davis Konigsberg's count), responded to questions from a reporter in an e-mail message: "The byline imbalance is endemic in public affairs magazines. At The Atlantic we are aware of the problem and have been actively taking steps to address it."

I wonder what those steps are? As I've written here before, I know many women skilled in writing about public affairs. I wonder about the barriers to entry.

Comic relief
This was sent to me today by Joe Skeel, editor of Quill magazine .
A councilman is apparently trying to access ISP records so he can find out what blogger called him paranoid in order to convince people he’s not … paranoid. HAH!

Court rules that official cannot unmask blogger
The Delaware Supreme Court ruled that a Smyrna city councilman cannot force an Internet service provider to reveal the identity of a blogger without substantial evidence of defamation, The New York Times reported Oct. 5.
According to The Times, court records showed the blogger said that Councilman Patrick Cahill had ''an obvious mental deterioration" and was "as paranoid as everyone in the town thinks he is.''
David Finger, the blogger's lawyer, told The Times, ''statements on an electronic bulletin board with hyperbole and profanity are generally not considered as credible sources of facts. The court found that people who read these types of blogs cannot reasonably expect them to be anything more than the writer's opinion.''
The court found no distinction between protections on Internet communication and other forms of media, The Times reported. The court said this was the first state or federal Supreme Court ruling on anonymous bloggers' rights.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Time was ... 1996

Last Friday I spent the bulk of my day in the archives of a longtime Cleveland nonprofit in preparation for a project I'm working on. While thumbing through the piles and piles of newspaper clippings, annual reports, photos, letters, etc., I stumbled across a flyer celebrating Cleveland's Bicentennial in 1996. Wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

Do you remember how high our collective city was a mere 10 years ago?

Stealing moments

I sometimes worry that I’ve not taken sufficient care to help my children enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

Here I sit on another Sunday afternoon and the weekend has literally flown by in a flurry of kids’ activities and household chores and errands. It’s inexcusable that there are entire weekends when I don’t sit except in my car. I hate that feeling just as I recognize it’s within my own power to change. Then it hit me:

Attention must be paid or life’s simple pleasures will be lost to the next generation.

It was a rainy, gloomy morning, the ideal setting to roll over, pull up the blankets and sleep a little longer. That’s what we did this morning. No alarm set for practices or games. I wasn’t going to push to get everyone to Mass. Heinen’s can wait until later in the day. No program for the day. This morning was for lazing about.

One of my simple pleasures is to be up before everyone else with the coffee on and the Sunday paper spread before me. Because in all the frenzy of our daily lives, it’s quiet I most desire. Time to either think or not think.

This morning I was thumbing through the Sunday ads shaking my head at all the Christmas promotions and decorations. Can it be? Of course, Halloween has passed and we’re on to the next big consumer-driven holiday. What happened to fall? Have I missed it completely?

With sadness, I realized how we never did take a Sunday to go apple picking. We missed the divine taste of biting into a tart apple picked right from the tree. We missed the peace of wandering aimlessly through the orchard, giving our kids the chance to sample what it feels like to roam with no fences or neighbors' yards, driveways and streets delineating the boundaries. The only reference points are where the Macintosh trees start and the Jonathan’s end.

I almost missed this fall’s golden-colored trees. So much of the past two months has been spent right here, with my back to the window and my face to the computer screen that I realized how easily I could’ve missed fall completely.

The leaves have turned late this year and it seemed as if they were just waiting for sunny days to warm their hues into the striking brilliance we’ve seen the past few days. Fortunately, I was driving home from Columbus on Wednesday afternoon and had miles and miles of brilliant color lining my way home.

While raking yesterday I inhaled the sweet, smoky smell of autumn and I wondered if I’ve told the kids how each season has a distinct smell. Have I told them how you can taste winter’s coolness? Or how snow clouds look so heavy hanging in the sky? Have I told them about the earthy smell of spring and how the green of new growth is only visible in nature for a few short weeks?

Perhaps they won’t care at this point (Mom, we’re missing the game!), but I’ve got to steal the moments while I can. Someday they will be out raking with their kids and remember how mom described the smell of autumn.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Stories of Strength

There’s no question that Jill and I are tight pals and supportive writerly companions. But that doesn’t lessen the incredible honor it is for her to be included in the Stories of Strength anthology. If you only know Jill through her blog then you’ve only gotten a little taste of her skill as an essayist.

Her story, “A Real, Super Human,” joins the stories of more than 100 other gifted writers in this amazing collection. And it’s for a good cause. Profits support disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Read on, support the cause and perhaps you'll be inspired to write your own story of strength.

From the site:

“At times tear-jerking, at times humorous, this book is guaranteed to inspire and remind readers that the human spirit knows no boundaries.”

Monday, October 31, 2005

Women in the workplace

Today’s Business Monday feature was a real eye-opener for me on many levels.

Special thanks goes to Mary Vanac for her extraordinary support of this story.

Another busy day and so much to post about: developing CIA leak story, new Supreme Court nominee, etc. But I’ve got to stay focused on the deadlines before me. Hopefully, I can post more later in between handing out treats.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2005

This week at the White House

• U.S. Military deaths in Iraq surpass 2,000

• Harriett Miers withdraws nomination to U.S. Supreme Court after Republican legislators turn up the heat and the religious right turns it’s back on Bush.

• Scooter Libby is indicted on five counts of lying and obstruction of justice in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name to the press.

• Karl Rove isn’t free and clear yet. He remains under investigation.

“I’ve earned capital, and I intend to spend it.” — President George W. Bush following his November 2004 re-election.

Hey, Mr. President, how’s that working out for you?

“The freedom to share one’s insights and judgments verbally or in writing is, just like the freedom to think, a sacred and inviolable human right that, as a universal human right, is above all the rights of princes.” — Carl Friedrich Bahrdt, German author/theologian, 1787

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Nuclear proliferation of work

I’m writing like a madwoman in order to meet some deadlines this week, but wanted to direct your attention to the proliferation of work taking place in my little Bay Village office. Sometimes we forget to toot our own horn, but I thought I’d point out some of the print (and paying) work I’ve been doing lately and why I may appear somewhat scattered here. Plus I'm just grubbing for compliments.

Here’s my latest column on freelancing in Quill magazine.

And this book review from today’s PD. I’ve had some very interesting books of late and continue to research local bookstores and publisher catalogs for the more compelling religion titles.

I’m working on another review for the January/February issue of PAGES magazine.

Had a profile of a young man who recently returned from Iraq where he was a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team in the Oct. 21 issue of the Catholic Universe Bulletin, though it’s not available online.

And I received copies of Cleveland Clinic Magazine for which I wrote a short piece on a new heart scan back in summer. The entire fall pub is available online in PDF.

I’ve got a lengthy and IMHO moving nonprofit marketing piece heading to the printer this week and another in layout. Working on a column and two stories for Quill today and (editors willing) will have a cover piece in the PD’s Business Monday section on Monday.

I’m wrapping up some long-term projects just in time to start on another in early November.

Time willing by the end of this week I will have written half the book manuscript that has been something of a monkey on my back. It’s a great project, but tough to coordinate since the doc is so very busy doing his real job and often travels worldwide.

I can’t see straight and have probably forever ruined both my posture and my eyesight for the sheer number of hours seated at my computer in the past month, but it’s all good. And when the good stuff is rolling, you’ve got to ride the wave, baby.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

More food for thought

Eugene Robinson at WAPO penned an interested column today about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s image among African Americans. He writes:

…I've long wondered what the deal was with Condoleezza Rice and the issue of race. How does she work so loyally for George W. Bush, whose approval rating among blacks was measured in a recent poll at a negligible 2 percent? (Lower, according to Newsweek, than Jefferson Davis’s approval rating among blacks during the Civil War.*) How did she come to a worldview so radically different from that of most black Americans? Is she blind, is she in denial, is she confused -- or what?

*Parenthetical comment added is mine.

Robinson had spent three days with Rice in Birmingham. In a bizarre conversation, she proclaims that Civil Rights leaders Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. worked their magic from the inside. If that’s so then why do the majority of African Americans still feel on the outside? There’s a connection missing and it’s a human one.

One of the things she somehow missed was that in Titusville and other black middle-class enclaves, a guiding principle was that as you climbed, you were obliged to reach back and bring others along. You know, let them inside. Kinda works for humanity as a whole. Send the elevator back down.

Rice may be able to talk about race and struggles among African Americans, but she was sheltered from its harsh realities. While dogs and fire hoses were unleashed on men, women and children marching for Civil Rights during her youth, Rice sat in her finery playing piano or practicing ballet.

There’s a disconnect between her and African Americans and to extend Robinson's point further I would say there’s also a disconnect between her and other women. It’s not much different than the disconnect between her boss and the American people. Maybe that explains their mutual admiration.

Food for thought

The power is to set the agenda. What we print and what we don't print matter a lot. — Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, 1993

Monday, October 24, 2005

Trading spaces?

Time was… 1984.

That phrase will always remind me of junior year in high school when I had American Tradition (American history and lit combined), known as AmTrad. We used to watch the old Dick Cavett program, “Time was…1930s, 1940s,” you get the picture.

Anyway, I was thinking of that phrase because time was when I was a neat individual. I mean, look at this mess on my office floor. My co-workers used to mock me for my clean desk. I had this fetish about not leaving work until I had all files probably filed, all post-it messages resolved, all e-mail answered and all items crossed off daily list.

Not anymore. Maybe I’ve become lazy because I work at home. Maybe I need an assistant. I dunno. But I better get a system in place for this mess because chucking all the mags, books, papers, files, etc. into this one corner of my office is getting precariously close to slovenly behavior (something I abhor!).

'Tis a montage of Wendy Hoke, freelance journalist (not to mention a bizarrely cozy place for Riley to perch). I look at this photo (or at the “live” pile) and I see magazines I’m trying to pitch, magazines containing my work, books I’m either reviewing or pitching for review, publisher catalogs, leftover SPJ convention droppings, printout of an article that needs a little more revising, notebook of notes just waiting to be transcribed into something resembling an article and various miscellany that either needs to be tossed or filed.

Oooh, wait, save the deck of cards from Vegas.

Hey, how’d that photo get in the file for the pain book?

How many books can one read simultaneously? Isn’t there a way to make more money reviewing books?

The Didion is a treat for moi and must be relocated to the very large stack growing near my bed, but at least that gets it out of THIS stack.

Gotta save those issues of The Working Press for Stan.

What happened to all my magazine files? Oh, wait, they’re full. Crap! Maybe I can jam a few of these things into … my … book…sh–, oh wait, it’s full, too.

Oy! Anybody want to trade spaces?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Creative Ink gets ink!

I’m breaking my "no weekend posting" rule to share this news with you, readers.

Creative Ink has been featured in The Blog Spot column in Writer’s Digest Personal Writing magazine (November issue is on newsstands now).

I can’t link to the exact article because it’s not available online, but I’m thrilled at the exposure. Doug White, a Cincinnati-based freelancer, contacted me last spring after I submitted a write-up to Writer’s Digest on why I blog. The result is a great little piece that really captures my reasons.

Here’s what Doug writes about CI:

Wendy Hoke launched Creative Ink after leaving her job as managing editor of a small publishing company. Initially, Hoke’s goal was to simply keep her writing muscles tuned for her new career as a full-time freelance writer. But blogging soon became her passion.

“It became a way for me to explore myself as a person and as a writer—kind of like my personal therapy sessions,” she says. “It didn’t start out that way, but that’s what it’s turned into.

“The process of blog writing gets me out of myself,” says Hoke. “I work alone in my house all day and tend to think too much. Sometimes you need to offload some of that information.”

Here’s part of a post titled, “How Wendy gets her groove back,” about breaking through a creative block:

It’s not easy when you work alone. You spend so much time inside your head that you forget to look up and around at the possibilities everywhere. I keep using the excuse of scaling back for the summer for my seeming lack of productivity, but in reality it’s been because so little has inspired me of late. I’ve become complacent, which is a scary place for a writer.

But even in that complacency, I’ve taken recently to scribbling ideas and fragments on scraps of paper that now litter my desk. (Don’t throw away that envelope!) And in my heavy reading, I’m finding the inspiration to keep going by putting one foot in front of the other even when I feel like crawling back into bed.

Hoke says Creative Ink allows her to be open and fearless in expressing her feelings about writing and life in general. She adds that blogging has given her the courage and confidence to move from reporting on other people’s lives into writing personal essays—and pitching them to national publications.

The other two bloggers sharing that space are Joshilyn Jackson a novelist who blogs at Faster Than Kudzu and Maggie Downs, a columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer who blogs at Maggie Jumps!

So thank you Doug and Writer’s Digest for such a nice write up.

Other kind news
The PSR teacher I substituted for a couple of weeks ago just came to my door with a stack of letters of apology from his class. It was an unnecessary though much appreciated gesture. He said it was a good lesson in living the values we’re trying to teach the kids. I agree and though I know they did so under duress, I am glad for their efforts and certainly forgiving of their behavior.

Joe Wessels on Judith Miller
My SPJ pal Joe Wessels from the Cincy Pro Chapter has written on Miller's visit to the SPJ convention, sharing his thoughts and photos. Report This! brings an interesting mix of personal, professional and photographic experiences of yet another freelance journalist. If you scroll way down you'll find a photo of a very serious looking reporter interviewing a very serious looking Miller. So far this from Tim Porter is one of the best I've seen yet on the whole Miller fiasco.

Friday, October 21, 2005

If I were Newsweek

Newsweek disappoints again. (By again I am first referring to the cover story on Judith Warner's book, "Perfect Madness.")

Regular Creative Ink readers know how passionately I feel about leadership and leadership development. While on the flight home from Las Vegas I read with great interest this week’s Newsweek cover package: “When Women Lead.” Oprah on the cover, Karen Hughes on the inside and all in all an under-whelming package that missed the boat in a HUGE way.

Here’s the subhead:

As a growing number of female executives rise to the top, how will they change the culture of the workplace?

It begins with a look at how women have important roles — AS TELEVISION CHARACTERS! As if that’s helpful to a real-word discussion. And then it cites as recent examples (never mind that they are dated) Harvard President Lawrence Summers gender/science snafu, articles about women at elite colleges ditching it all to stay home with kids and younger women deciding that the struggle their mothers navigated just isn’t worth it.

The one shining quote comes from Marie Wilson, of the White House Project, saying: “There is no real balance of work and family in America.” No kidding!!!!

But then writer Barbara Kantrowitz asks the following questions in the intro, which features a double truck photo spread of KAREN HUGHES of all people. She may be big cheese inside the Beltway, but to middle America she’s just a Bush croney with a job she’s under-qualified to handle:

“Do women lead differently than men?”

“Have they changed management culture when they make it to the top?”

“What lessons would they pass on to the women who aspire to follow their path?”

The answers are not found in the pages of this magazine. Instead it is filled with gratuitous first-person narratives dubbed, “How I Got There” and pithy quotes that could have been pithier had they stopped at the first lines:

• You must make sacrifices.
• Surround yourself by people whom you respect and who know more than you know.
• Maintain a sense of humor.
• Always leave a little something on the table (this from the head of Martha Stewart Omnimedia).
• See everything as an opportunity to grow.
• Take responsibility for your own career.
• Adversity breeds character.
• Successful people are passionate about that they do.
• Set goals.
• Delegate.
• Nurture support.
• Find your voice.

I’m not interested in curriculum vitae. There are many paths to the top. I want to know how they define leadership because I think everyone’s definition is different. I want to know how they survived in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

I want to know how they’d shorten the learning curve for other women. I want to know how they kept their cool when they really wanted to blow. I want to know who were their earliest influences. What did their fathers tell them? Or their mothers? How did they bounce back from a dressing down by a higher up?

What was the single greatest piece of advice they ever received? What role does mentoring play in the lives of female leaders? Are they actively mentoring young women today? If not, why?

Did they envision themselves in this role? If they could change anything about their career path would they? What personal sacrifices were made to get where they are today? Were those sacrifices worth it?

How do they achieve balance between work and family? Is it even possible at the upper levels of leadership? What would they say to younger women who look at the struggles and sacrifices and deem the attempt not worth it?

How have they nurtured female relationships (personal and professional) in light of their career success? Do they ever feel isolated by their success? What keeps them grounded? What needs to change in order to encourage women to aspire to leadership?

Does their spouse or partner support their choices? How do they handle the conflict inherent in one person’s success over another? What do they tell their sons and daughters about being a leader?

Is a leader born or made? What specific changes to the workplace culture have they brought? What do they do differently from their predecessor that has made marked change? Do they consider themselves an insider or outsider? Do they believe women are "entitled" to leadership or do they happen upon it accidentally?

There were some bright spots in this coverage. One piece, "A New Team in Town," profiled the three women in charge of San Francisco's public safety — police chief, fire chief and district attorney. Very cool and nicely done with good narrative illustrating how they do their job differently.

And of course there was the incredible good sense found in the mind and pen of Anna Quindlen, who reminds us of the value of being an outsider. "You're less wedded to the shape of the table if haven't been permitted to sit at it."

And so I give her the last word on why this issue is of such importance:

More than ever people yearn for someone worth following, someone interested in more than self-aggrandizement. Our world is filled with prominent women now, women who manage law firms and give out grants and run museums and oversee the Ivy League. yet virtually all of them came of age, and come to power, with the institutional pushback that grows out of prejudice.

There's a fire in the belly that creates a willingness to step off that treadmill of custom. They are a new breed: the Inside Outsiders. Powerful, accomplished, yet among their male peers still in some essential way apart. Often you will hear them say, "I never expected to wind up here." Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's the secret to leadership, the path not of entitlement or enrichment but the liberation of the unexpected.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Waiting for Judy

As I sat sipping hot tea in the small boardroom at the conference center of the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas on Tuesday morning, I began rehashing the events that led to this moment.

About six weeks ago, I got a call from Joe Skeel, editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine asking if I would be willing to cover a couple of stories about the convention. One, of course, would be about Judy Miller. But at that time, she was still in jail for not revealing the name of confidential source and her appearance at the convention was not likely.

In a twist, however, she was released from prison after agreeing to testify before the federal grand jury. About a week and half out from the convention I received an e-mail saying, “Judy Miller is in.” Suddenly I had a seriously big story on my hands.

The Society was awarding Miller the First Amendment Award for her actions on behalf of protecting her source. It was a controversial award both inside and outside the Society. Miller was going to receive the award, make a short speech and then participate on a panel about the use of confidential sources.

Of course I immediately I asked if I could get a one-on-one with her. I was told they would run it by her but it wasn’t likely. She was swooping in and out and not likely to grant any interviews.

When I approached the registration desk on Sunday afternoon, Chris Vachon, SPJ director of programs and convention mastermind extraordinaire pulled me aside and said that Judy Miller agreed to an interview with Quill — and no one else.

I let out a big, “Woo Hoo!“ The catch, of course, was that I was on standby and had to be ready to go whenever she said, “Now.”

Made for a stressful couple of days, as did the saturation of coverage in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere. On nearly all fronts, Miller was getting crucified. A part of me was sure she would back out. And the media converging on the convention was persistent in attempts to garner interviews.

But she didn’t back out of ours and she didn’t grant them to anyone else. I was told to meet her in the room at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday. The interview was kept hush-hush. The few people who knew what I was doing would come up to me and say, “You should ask her about …”

That continued for two days until my brain could no longer get a handle on exactly what to get from this interview. So in a fit of exhaustion, I slumped down on the floor of the hallway next to Joe Skeel and we hashed strategy. We worked out worst-case scenario and moved on from there.

I was feeling better, but still got up at 5 a.m. to check out what was being written. It was a feeding frenzy and so was our convention. It turned into a media circus when the local Vegas gossip columnist had quoted Chris Vachon as saying, “We’re preparing for the worst” and cited protests being organized outside the hotel by bloggers. (Appparently those protests never materialized.)

With my Starbucks, tape recorder and notes, I tried to clear my mind and focus on what I would ask. This kind of preparation isn’t how I normally interview people. I prefer to wing it, but I felt that simply wasn’t an option in this case. Too many issues, too many expectations.

Ultimately, I felt I had to tie my questions to the Society’s mission. And I would try to interject some personal questions. I mean, how does one handle the lambasting by your profession in such a spectacularly vicious and public way?

But then my cell rang and it was SPJ Associate Executive Director Julie Grimes telling me Miller had to postpone to prepare for her speech. Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait. That’s what this endeavor became.

Fellow freelancer/photographer/blogger/newly elected regional director and all-around good guy, Joe Wessels and I convinced the staff to essentially make us staff for the big event. And that got us into the main ballroom and front-row seats before the stampede of hyperactive journalists stormed the ballroom.

There were many delays and pregnant pauses while the packed room awaited Miller’s arrival. Word was that Bruce Sanford, SPJ’s attorney from Baker & Hostetler, was going to ask the questions. It was a dubious format, but the organizers were unsure how to handle a roomful of journalists (many of whom were hostile toward her) clamoring to ask questions. They heard about that later as they also were grilled about why this showcase program was moderated and run by attorneys. (The short answer? They pitched the program idea.)

Scheduled to begin at 8:15, the program didn’t start until 8:45. While I sat taking notes, I was tapped on the shoulder and told to be in Sapphire 1 in 15 minutes. Miller was going to be escorted through the bowels of the Aladdin and I was to await her entry. I had 15 minutes for the interview.

I was sitting the Sapphire 1 room when finally a rush of very large security guards with earpieces and the SPJ brass and lawyers came through the back door with Miller. For a minute I thought I was conducting this interview before a large audience. Thankfully, most of them left the room and the interview was conducted in relative peace.

With that, you’ll have to wait for the November/December issue of Quill magazine to find out what she had to say.

Brain dead in Bay

Absolute. Utter. Exhaustion. That’s what I’m feeling this morning. Can’t even wrap my brain around all the stuff I have to do nor all the info I have to process. Must. Get. More. Sleep.

Here’s hoping for lucidity later today…

Monday, October 17, 2005

Live from Las Vegas

Jill and I are having a great time, talking to oodles of journalists young and old and everything in between about the joys and perils of freelance writing. The session I moderated and Jill spoke at on the business of freelance writing was heavily attended and our Q&A went well beyond our allotted hour.

I'm taking a breather after having talked too much, plus I need to replenish my card supply. And in between all of this I'm jumping online to catch the latest buzz about Judy Miller. I'm on standby for a one-on-one interview with her and questions are rapidly filling my notebook. I've apologized to many as I break it open mid-conversation to jot something down before I forget.

I have no idea whether or not she'll answer my questions, but I believe as a fellow journalist at the very least she'll respect the tough questions. There's a lot of media swarming around the convention in anticipation of her talk tomorrow -- CNN, C-SPAN, ABC, FOX, AP. Should be interesting, though there's concern among the conference planners on how to handle the Q&A.

Lucy Dalglish does a mean Arianna Huffington impersonation. Last night she was talking about her appearance on Howard Kurtz's program and Arianna's insistence that she get some new talking points. Very funny stuff.

At last night's opening reception, Jill was introduced to many SPJers from all over the country. We had some terrific conversations and I hope she enjoyed herself. She seemed to, particularly when a young college girl came up to her and complimented her on her smashing outfit.

We're running constantly at this point and I'm off to my next meeting shortly. But despite my sore dogs and my dry throat I'm feeling invigorated by all the conversations. As one little aside: The lack of humidity out in the desert is doing wonders for my hair. No more frizzy curly hair. I actually look as if I have straight hair. Woo Hoo!

Gotta fly ... the region 4 committee meeting awaits. I must nominate young Joe Wessels of the Cincinnati Pro Chapter as our interim regional director. We plied him with liquor last night and encouraged him to take the job.

More later, including photos...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The pre-trip frenzy begins

I'm nearly through all the work that needs to be done before I leave for the SPJ convention in Las Vegas on Saturday evening.

I've got a review left to write, two more queries to get out and some marketing projects to finish up. And then it's the all-important balance the checkbook, transfer the necessary dough and pay the bills.

The boys are off school tomorrow and I'm hoping to work tonight and get most of that done so I can spend a little time playing with them tomorrow. Got a quick trip to the salon in the morning, need to hit Crocker Park and maybe pick up another suit and then it's time get my stuff together for the convention.

I'm interviewing New York Times reporter Judy Miller on Tuesday for an article in Quill. I'm trying to stay on top of all the media surrounding her, but it's been crazy. I keep printing stories and blog posts off to read on the plane (oh, who am I kidding, Jill and I will be having a gab fest).

Need to remember all laptop accessories, files for committee meetings, stories, panel discussions and other SJP biz. Tape recorder, gotta bring the tape recorder and batteries. And my digital camera and more batteries. Looks as if I'm going to have to haul out the bigger suitcase (which means checking my baggage) for this trip. I always come home from these conventions with ten times more crap than when I arrived.

Since it's Vegas, I gotta bring some cash to play at least a few slots. Though admittedly I have a low threshold for pain when it comes to gambling.

BUSINESS CARDS!!! Egads I can't forget those. Hope the Info Mart has more Bloomberg or PR Newswire reporter notebooks cause I'm fresh out.

And then there's all the arrangements on the home front. Make sure kids are all accounted for various activities, laundry is done and to remind Danny that bedtime must be enforced, particularly on Sunday night. He ignores it at his own peril.

I can't keep all this in my head. It's time to make the big list. Calgon, take me away.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Collaboration with editors

What I miss most by working independently is the steady influence of an editor. There’s a saying that a good editor can make a mediocre writer great and a bad editor can make a good writer mediocre.

I’ve had my share of both kinds. When the editor/writer relationship works, it is simply a thing of beauty. After 17 years in this gig, I’ve found that editors, much like writers, all have their strengths—and weaknesses.

My first editor was Ellen Walker. She was a generation older than me, a chain smoker and intense newspaperwoman who banged away on her typewriter taking notes while talking on the phone. Though diminutive in stature, she scared the crap out of me. She was so … authentic.

Under her tutelage, I learned reporting skills such as how to read a school budget, how to cover a municipal story when the mayor won’t talk and how to investigate land deals. I received crash courses in the functions of municipal government. I learned (or at least I tried) photography and getting over the fear of asking strangers for their opinion for a man on the street column.

We were a staff of two and with her help I began to figure out what this newspapering business was all about.

She made me feel at turns incredibly inept and incredibly gifted. I never knew precisely where I stood and I suppose that kept me hungry and working. I wanted to please her.

The next five years of my career left me without a strong editor as guide, though I had an assistant editor I worked with who set a quiet example for professionalism, strong reporting and gifted writing. Though we have both long-since moved on, we continue to remain friends and have worked together at another magazine as freelancer and editor.

What I learned during those years was how to push myself when no one else did. Any amount of success I had there was a reflection of my own initiative and not the mandates or the challenge of any editors. I attempted my first series, volunteered for investigative teams and dabbled in column writing.

I was very unsure of myself in my first magazine job, but I had a sense that the longer form would allow me to develop and exand as a writer. My editor there was not so much a reporter as she was a wordsmith. My writing abilities grew there in ways they never would have otherwise. Her influence is found in my writing to this day.

At my last job, I had a colleague who didn’t so much serve as an editor, though she did review my work, as much as she was a collaborator. We could get together over coffee and brainstorm like crazy. We could take rough copy and make it sing. And we prided ourselves on finding diamonds in the rough and nurturing them into writers. It was great fun and we did what did out of love. That relationship gave me my first taste at sharing what I know about journalism with others.

But now I don’t work with AN editor, I work with many. Some of those relationships are very good, some are strictly on a “get me the work, this is your deadline, this is your fee” basis. No warm and fuzzy collaboration.

I miss plopping down in an editor’s office and saying, “I’m struggling with parts of this story” or “The reporting is not coming together the way I’d like, any suggestions?” It is possible to forge those kinds of relationships with editors as a freelancer, but you straddle the line between being collaborative and being a nuisance. One is clearly good, the other not so much. I’m just not sure where that line is and I suspect it’s different for every editor and every publication.

I’d really to find a way to engage in more collaborative-style relationships with editors. Because in the end, I think it results in expectations met and stronger stories. In the past couple of weeks I've found a great outlet for collaboration. To nurture it along, I'm going to buy this editor a cup of coffee when I get back from Vegas and brainstorm about how we can help each other.