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Thursday, March 31, 2005

More about bloggers as journalists

The blogger-as-journalist debate rages on with this latest piece from Philip Meyer in USA Today. He writes about how MSM reporters benefit from the deep pockets of employers who will pay their legal fees and sign their paychecks while battling such nuisances in court as the use of confidential sources.

But two species of journalists — book authors and bloggers — usually lack that comfort. If you are a blogger, or are thinking about becoming one, you should worry about that.

Neither the freelance book author nor the lonely blogger typing away in a basement has that protection.

Meyer, who is the Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and author of “The Vanishing Newspaper,” reminds readers that the record for time spent in jail to protect a source is not held by a member of the MSM, but by one Vanessa Leggett, “an unaffiliated and unpublished author who was investigating a murder case.”

Leggett spent 168 days in a Houston jail protecting her source and was finally freed when the term of the grand jury that wanted to know her source expired.

Meyer is yet another voice building the case that all Americans are protected by First Amendment rights.

There is neither sound moral nor legal justification for claiming that those who work for major news organizations have stronger First Amendment rights than the rest of us.

Bloggers are often compared with the lonely pamphleteers who flourished in the 15th century when printing with movable type was a new technology. Professional associations and support groups will make them less lonely.

In 2002, SPJ honored Leggett at its national convention in Fort Worth with its First Amendment Award. The SPJ Legal Defense Fund contributed $12,500 toward her legal expenses.
I’m proud to be a member of an organization that had the foresight to aid a journalist in need despite her lack of MSM affiliation. And I hope, as Meyer suggests, that other organizations also will embrace bloggers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

First Amendment and the masses

The MSM doth protest too much, methinks.

We’ve got to keep talking. By we I mean bloggers and journalists and those of us who, heaven help us, do both. This blogger versus journalist discussion is a tired argument that misses the larger point about sharing good content with the masses. Consider this piece by LA Times’ columnist David Shaw. His argument in a nutshell is that bloggers aren’t journalists even though they publish because they are part of an unfiltered medium and therefore aren’t deserving of protections, such as state shield laws, afforded to traditional journalists.

I found this argument STILL misses the larger point about our commitment to freedom of expression, regardless of the method of delivery. Sitting on my desk is a calendar from the Freedom Forumcontaining quotes from people across centuries proclaiming what freedom of speech means to them. And atop every page are these important words:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The free flow of ideas, of speaking truth to power, is what the First Amendment guarantees, not the free flow of ideas simply from the MSM. The First Amendment and Sunshine laws are not simply for the journalistic few, they also are for “the great unwashed.” Who are we (I’m wearing my journalist hat now) to say that anyone — blogger, MSM, Jane Q. Public — is not afforded protections of that amendment?

Leave it to Jack Shafer at Slate to bring this argument to the masses. In ”Don't Fear the Blogger” he pleads with someone to help David Shaw get a grip, pointing out how the MSM is just as imperfect a craft as blogging.

Any journalist who throws rocks at bloggers should pick his targets carefully and expect a volley in return.

We keep coming back to the question of who is a journalist. Though there has been some struggle over this question, here’s how the courts have ruled:

Courts have long struggled with this seemingly easy question. While no doubt exists that "mainstream" media, such as broadcast stations, newspapers and magazines, enjoy the freedom of "the press," the line gets blurrier in cases involving underground newspapers, free-lance writers and pamphleteers. In general, however, courts have defined "the press" so as to include all publishers. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, has said that First Amendment protections extend to "'every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.'" von Bulow v. von Bulow, 811 F.2d 136, 144 (2d Cir.) (quoting Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 452 (1938)), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1015 (1987).

Let’s repeat that phrase: “every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.”

Slate's Shafer writes:

Shaw seems to believe that the First Amendment and its subsidiary protections belong to the credentialed employees of the established corporate press and not to the great unwashed. I suggest that he—or one of the four experienced editors who touched his copy—research the history of the First Amendment. They'll learn that the Founders wrote it precisely to protect Tom, Dick, and Matt and the wide-eyed pamphleteers and the partisan press of the time. The professional press, which Shaw believes so essential in protecting society, didn't even exist until the late 19th century.

In the end I’m of the Hubert H. Humphrey school and believe “Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate." So let's keep talking and writing and blogging. It's a healthy contribution to public discourse.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Filling a hole

When I was young, I simply adored Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. It was magical and no matter what the weather held during the day, the night brought with it a profound stillness. Adding to the peace and serenity of the night was the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of St. Mary’s Church illuminated in a blue glow. As much as I’ve tried to retain my belief in the magic of Christmas, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate that Easter Mass is where true joy is found.

St. Raphael Church in Bay Village does Easter big, with an altar full of intoxicating spring flowers framed by flowering dogwood trees that occupy their space as sparse sticks for weeks, suddenly erupting in blooms on Easter weekend. The choir and professional musicians play from the loft and the effect is sheer jubilance.

I swallowed down tears for most of the Mass. It’s been so long since I’ve felt even remotely spiritual during Mass. I’ve been questioning whether or not it was possible to ever reconnect with my faith. As I participated in the Mass, I began to hear words that hadn’t registered in so long. The effect was like God’s grace streaming over me like a gentle warm waterfall.

I was deeply touched by the Easter message of renewal and joy and my reaction was to weep. My eyes were filled with tears for much of the Mass, but I somehow managed to keep them from spilling down my cheeks.

The thing is no one tells you when you’re learning catechism that there are times when you will truly question everything you’ve ever been taught about faith and God. And they certainly won’t tell you that it’s a frightening feeling to be left dangling to your faith by a thread. And that somehow through all your crisis of faith you’ve got to maintain a position of confidence for your family’s sake.

Life in the past couple of years has been a steady stream of turmoil, flaring up into full-blown crisis from time to time. I’m a fairly composed human being, so all of this turmoil was swirling around just under the surface. Although I found it hard to verbalize, my anxiety would betray my outward calm and manifest itself physically in the form of hives.

All the things I took for granted were no more. The stability of work, the health of my parents and myself, the comfort and security found in my home, the solidity of my marriage, the unquestionable reliance on my church, my belief in goodness of all kinds—it all evaporated in a poof of uncertainty that has sent me reeling.

They say that which does not kill you makes you stronger. Is that really true, I wonder? I’ve had this horrible emptiness in the very center of my torso that just seems never to let go. What is missing from me? What am I searching for? Why can’t I just be content? None of those questions are easily answered. But what I found yesterday is that reconnecting with my faith helps fill some of that hole. It’s not all better. Life isn’t a matter of snapping your fingers to make it better. It’s a journey and I’ve just discovered what looks like a better path. I don’t know where it will lead, but I was sent a prayer that is providing a small measure of comfort and thought I'd share it with you:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. — Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Friday, March 25, 2005

Hope is found in the soul

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul…
And sings the tune without words
And never stops … at all

— Emily Dickinson

May the blessings of Easter and the hope of spring be yours...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Licks instead of kicks

My little dog — a heartbeat at my feet. — Edith Wharton

I was lamenting yesterday with a fellow writer about how the business of being a writer can really bring you down. He agreed and mentioned how needy writers are, adding that if he doesn't receive immediate feedback on something he's turned in, he's convinced he's no good. Let me just add that this guy has won the George Polk Award, written a book and is working on his second, and worked on the Washington Post investigative team under Woodward and Bernstein.

He and his family recently became the proud owners of a chocolate lab so we were discussing the idiosyncracies of Labrador retrievers. He said that every writer should have a dog because in this business you get more kicks than licks. I'd have to agree and I've been feeling more of the kicks of late. Without my realizing it, my own pup is always here, a little comforting heartbeat at my feet, with oodles of affection to share.

Riley is by no means little. She’s a respectable 70 pounds, not huge for a Labrador retriever, but plenty large enough to keep my perpetually frozen toes warm. That was one of the reasons I looked forward to getting her. And now she has finally gotten to the point where she will spend her day in my office, mostly at my feet though I think she’d prefer my lap.

It’s been a long road. We picked her up the day after Christmas 2003 from a breeder in Norton. Her mom was very slender, but her dad was a boxy fellow. Riley, an English Lab, more closely resembles her dad. She’s a bit boxy, but beautifully muscular. She’s a yellow lab, but is more cream in color than golden. Objectively speaking, she’s a beautiful creature.

Life with Riley hasn’t been easy. If ever we get another dog, it will be a rescue of an older dog. No more puppies. While they are immensely adorable and cuddly, they quickly grow into canine Tasmanian devils, wholly unruly and wild. I don’t need any more unruliness or wildness in my house. Thank goodness for three things — the Gentle Leader leash (it’s not a muzzle and comes with an oversized button that says as much), crate training and Puppy Preschool.

In the beginning, we had many boundaries for Riley. She wouldn’t leave the kitchen or family room area, afraid to step over the threshold into the unknown of the dining room or living room. Steps terrified her, going up or down. My original intent was to keep her out of the living room. And we certainly did not want her on the furniture.

But a year after we laid those ground rules, it seems we’ve become lax at enforcement. It’s my fault mostly. When I’m lying on the couch reading or watching TV, she jumps up and curls herself into the elbow of my legs, sighing loudly and resting her head on my legs. We have this blasted vaulted ceiling in our family room and that room is freezing in the winter. Riley’s warm body keeps me from shivering. She is a bit of a fireplace hog. The spot in front of the fire has always and will always be claimed in the name of mom. She’s encroaching a bit, but so long as she lies on the opposite side of the fire, I’m okay with sharing the space.

She and I have started running together. It was a little harried at first. She took off at a slightly faster pace than I’m used to running. Actually, she nearly pulled my arm out of its socket. My arms were sore for days after those first runs. Amazingly, she and I have found our pacing. I still run faster when I take her with me, but I’m getting used to it. Besides, it’s good for training.

Dogs are smart and she knows when I put on my running jacket that we’re going out. She sits as close to me as possible, still as a statue save her tail, which is swooshing back and forth across the floor with lightning speed. She looks at me expectantly ready to pounce the moment I stand. I’ll pause when I’m putting on my shoes and say, “What?” Her tail stops swishing for a second as she ponders my question. And then it starts again as I tie my shoes.

One of her more annoying habits is following me everywhere. Upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside. I turn around and nearly tumble over her. As is the case in most households, the kitchen is the hub of activity after school and during the dinner hour. She has no problem sprawling out in the middle of the kitchen floor and sleeping soundly while the frenzy and commotion of life at the Hoke house revolves around her.

I’ve noticed some feline sensibilities in Riley. She’s fond of a spot of sunshine, a rather rare thing in these parts. When it does shine, typically in my bedroom in the morning, she army crawls her way to soak up the spot. I’m tempted to grab the sunscreen and join her.

We used to crate her at night, but now she’s free to roam. She’s been playing musical beds with the boys, but seems to favor Michael’s. He is the smallest and allows her the most stretching room. For all her time spent following me during the day, at night she doesn’t come into my room. I think Danny’s snoring keeps her away. There are times when he’s asleep on the couch snoring away and she’s on the floor next to him snoring. Can't even hear the TV. If I owned a video camera, I’d tape record for posterity.

Lately she’s been curling up in the spot of sunshine on my bed during the day. When I went to get the mail the other day, I heard a thump as she jumped down and did her downward dog stretch before following me to the door.

I find all this rather odd in a way. We’ve never been animal people. I’m still surprised that we got the dog at all. Spring is a nightmare what with mud on her paws, the boys and friends racing in and out of the house. On Tuesday she came in the house covered with mud and leaped up on my white couch. I nearly went ballistic. Danny has to constantly badger the boys about cleaning up the poop. And yet despite all the “work” of having a dog, we’re left with this creature that has managed to creep her way into our hearts. Now how’d that happen?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Break the habit of habits

Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.
Edith Wharton

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Send the elevator back down

Have to direct your attention to Gregory Favre’s column posted late yesterday on Poynter. I've been a passionate mentor to a handful of young journalists because I feel it's part of my responsibility. There are some treasured folks in my life who have had a profound impact on my writing and career choices. It is by their example that I strive to give a hand to others.

Favre writes:

I often think about the people who gave me chances when I was young and raw and much too sure of myself. They, and a lot of others who followed in the years to come, took a chance on me. For that, there is a permanent place in my hall of memories for them.

It's why when I was able to start hiring people I wasn't as much interested in how many years of experience applicants had, but rather what that they had in their heads and hearts. What you could see in them that often couldn't see in themselves. Those are the credentials that should count most of all. Not whether or not you have had five years in a newsroom.

We are stewards of this craft of journalism. And as stewards, we have an obligation, as Favre writes, "to send the elevator back down" to give a hand to those coming after us.

Monday, March 21, 2005

A weekend — finally!

I’ve been lamenting of late that our weekends are so NOT restful. Been finding it hard to even squeeze in a little reading time or a run. Typically I have to choose between the two. We’ve been keeping this pace that makes me welcome Monday as a respite from the frenzy.

But this past weekend was different. On Friday Danny and Patrick went to see LeBron play his worst game ever, Ryan was supposed to go to a sleepover (but was grounded) so he joined Mikey and I on our date to see “Robots.”

Anyway, we had a grand time at the movies and hit the sack early. I’ve lost all ability to sleep in and found myself awake early on both mornings, taking advantage of the quiet to catch up on reading. Read a touching piece in The New Yorker by Calvin Trillin about a young soldier killed in Iraq. Trillin writes about how he was driving to his daughter’s home when he heard the guy’s story on NPR. He was moved and found himself in tears, nearly having to pull off the road. The story wouldn’t let go of him and so he traveled to Illinois to interview the boy’s family and friends. Was fantasizing how wonderful it would be to have the freedom to follow when inspiration strikes.

The Atlantic had an interesting profile of Vladimir Putin by Paul Starobin and a riveting story by William Langewiesche about a woman who works for Human Rights Watch and has dedicated her career to documenting Saddam Hussein and Co.’s atrocities. It’s long, but the writing and the story kept me through page after page.

I’m reading a bunch lately. This week’s review book is called “After the Apple.” I’m also reading “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Thomas Merton for a piece I’m writing about him and on my nightstand is Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” which I’m absolutely flying through. I have this strange compulsion to keep only books for pleasure beside my bed. I read enough work-related stuff during the day. Before I shut the lids, I read a book of my own choosing.

While cruising through Hollister with the boys a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a great new CD that I can’t stop listening to. Check out Jack Johnson’s In Between Dreams. Think it’s gonna be part of my summer soundtrack. Love his acoustic sound and whimsical lyrics. Makes me feel like I’m swaying in a hammock with my bare foot just brushing the tips of the grass. How sweet it is to think about summer and banana pancakes.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

St. Paddy’s and basketball

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to ye! I’m hearing the Irish lilt in my head today. Reminds me of a short story I read by Penelope S. Duffy called, “Voices.” She heard Irish voices in her head that sounded like this:

”Fancies herself a writer now.”
“The cheek of it. How is she then?”
“At spinning our tales? Fair to middling, I suspect.”
“Aye. But what’s the point of it all? Has she nothing better to do than fritter her time away with stories and dreams?”

The smell of corned beef and cabbage is already permeating my house as it begins to simmer in the crock-pot. It’s tradition in the Hoke house. They say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. My husband is the youngest of eight children from a typical Irish Catholic family that marries typical Irish spouses from big families and breeds children with the typical Irish-American roster of names — Patty, Lynn, Michael, Tommy, Jack, Mary Beth, Jimmy and Danny. The middle names of the boys are either Edward or Frances. The nieces and nephews (which number 30) cover the gambut of Biblical and Irish names: We've got two Moiras, a Kelly, Kerry, Erin, Molly, Clare, Ellen, Sarah, Kristine, Tracey, Colleen, Mary Kate, Mary Joanne, Mara, Elizabeth, Emily, Meghan, Olivia and Lucy. And a Ryan, Patrick, Kevin, Christopher, Matthew, Michael, Jon, Jacob, Ted and Mark.

My mother-in-law Joanne is full-blooded Irish, a member of the McGee clan. My late father-in-law Ed was part German and Irish but, as my mother-in-law pointed out, he was always 100-percent Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. Even my own father’s roots are Gaelic; he was born of Cochran blood.

Unlike many West Side Irish, our children don’t get a free pass from school today. We don’t attend Mass at St. Coleman’s and we’re not parade-goers, though we did attend a few years ago with my brother-in-law Tommy, also known as Tiny, when the temperature reached 70. We don’t go out and drink ourselves silly at the West Side Irish Club or the Cleveland Athletic Club. Our Irish family simply acknowledges the day with my husband’s favorite meal and — basketball!

That’s right, there’s no time to be gallivanting downtown watching Irish dancers with their curly wigs and colorful costumes (though I’m guessing had we a daughter things would be different). For the next several weeks, our house is embroiled in an intense competition over who can pick the most wins in the NCAA March Madness Tournament.

I’ve always enjoyed college hoops, but I’ve had to stealthily conduct my reconnaissance of teams since the lovely men in my life are not willing to share their intelligence with mom (just cause I’ve won the pool a couple ‘o times).

“Hey Ry, who’s looking good for the NCAA Tourney?” I ask my oldest.

“Sorry, mom, you’re going to have to watch ESPN.” Egads, he knows how just the sound of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon makes my skin crawl.

“Danny, what’s a more competitive conference, the ACC or SEC?”

“What teams are you talking about? You’ve got to look at their record and who they play,” he says. Sheesh, gimme a little something will ya? No dice, this is an intense competition for big stakes — dinner at the winner’s choice of restaurants.

I made my best guess and filled out my bracket on Monday night. It now hangs on the pantry door with the rest of the family’s.

For the record, I’ve got Oklahoma State and Kentucky in the final with Kentucky winning. The rule in our house is that you can’t pick the same overall winner as anyone else. So here’s my theory on Kentucky. The team was a top seed last year and was upset early in the tourney. They have essentially the same team and are going to be hungry for the win. There you have it.

The rest of the family shakes out thusly: Danny has Kansas, Ryan picked UNC, Patrick has Wake Forest (he originally had Illinois until Ryan told him the Big 10 sucks in hoops), and Mikey has Duke. Mikey would have picked our beloved Ohio University Bobcats to win the tourney, but we had to break it to him gently that the Bobcats won’t get much beyond round one.

And so the tourney begins today. I’m the official tracker of scores and wins and will have my highlighter at the ready by dinnertime. Though darned if that Patrick Hoke doesn’t double-check my record keeping. While we partake tonight of our corned beef, cabbage and root vegetables, we’ll say a prayer to St. Patrick and have a spirited discussion about basketball.

The Irish are never at a loss for colorful expressions. To close this post, I thought I’d offer up a little sampling of Irish wisdom and wish you lightness of heart and the love of family and friends:

On importance of the drink:
An Irishman is the only man in the world who will step over the bodies of a dozen naked women to get to a bottle of stout. — Unknown

Here’s some comfort for you Danny from none other than Sigmund Freud who said of the Irish:
This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever. Hah! That’s a column in and of itself someday.

On the beauty of the Irish soul:
Of our conflicts with others we make rhetoric; of our conflicts with ourselves we make poetry. — William Butler Yeats

Of the undying Irish spirit:
Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch
which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
— George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Perils of long form

One of the hazards of being a freelance journalist is that I tend to get carried away working on stories, even when I know they aren’t paying much. Thing is, I love research.

I love poring over books and articles about someone or something. I like finding that nugget of information that isn’t common knowledge. But the ratio of hours spent researching, interviewing, writing and revising compared to fees paid for articles doesn’t compute.

I’ve always thought it would be fabulous to have the luxury (time and money) to delve into one subject. To sit, for example, at the Edith Wharton archives at Yale University and hold her letters and manuscripts in my hand, to read her own handwriting and begin to have some sense of her creative process. Ah, what I wouldn’t give to completely immerse myself in a project, without worrying about whether or not it’s “worth” my time.

And so it was with great interest that I found this review of a new book about the New New Journalism. Though I wouldn't dream of comparing myself to the writers featured I am, like them, drawn to the power of passionate writing.

The article is a review of Robert Boynton’s “The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft,” which is an extension of discussions with his NYU magazine journalism students about working methods of top journalists. It’s similar in scope to William Zinsser’s, “Speaking of Journalism,” which grew out of a course he was teaching at the New School University in the mid-1990s. In both cases, top journalists discussed what they do and how they do it with students in what turned out to be an engaging dialogue. Would love to put something similar together on a small scale here in Cleveland.

Anyway, according to reporter Julia M Klein, Boynton defines the “new new journalism” as “reportorially based, narrative-driven long-form nonfiction” and lauds it as representing “the continued maturation of American literary journalism.”

The book contains the stories of writers who spend years searching through documents that could fill a three-story building; who conduct 1,000 interviews to understand what it takes to get to the White House or immerse themselves in drug culture simply to write with authenticity.

So lively were the resulting (classroom) discussions that he (Boynton) decided to expand the interviews into a book. Because Boynton is focused on craft, he tells us relatively little about the business of freelancing. But the stories of (Adrian Nicole) LeBlanc, (Jonathan) Harr, and others, however sketchy, make clear that practicing this kind of time-intensive reporting, even with a book contract, can lead to penury or worse. For every few who succeed, one imagines the talented many who do not, and must rededicate themselves to carpentry or cab driving or perhaps a newspaper job.

The reality is that most journalists — freelance and otherwise — have to find a balance between doing the bare minimum the story requires and going the extra mile to make it really sing. In order to keep working as a freelancer, you have to keep pushing harder and digging deeper than your staffer counterparts would or could. There’s an unspoken but palpable need to justify spending the extra money on you.

It’s not always easy to navigate those waters, particularly when you work alone. You dive deep and tunnel through piles of documents and interviews and quotes and sourcing and yet somewhere out of that mess comes a 1,200-word story. Those are the times when you simply must have a stable of trusted colleagues with whom to share your manuscripts, to ensure you GOT the story and didn't stray.

My desk is evidence of this mess right now. I’ve got books by and about a theologian I’m writing about for a Catholic newspaper, 10,000 words worth of interviews (with a handful more to go) and hours of writing and revising time ahead. I’m researching pitches and have court case citations, annual reports and newspaper articles cluttering another side of my desk. I have scads of summer catalogs from book publishers tagged with post-it notes awaiting a pitch to editors for reviews. And I’ve got the hope of being able to write a follow-up piece to a story I reported on last year that touched me deeply and should require travel to South America. Certainly I can interview the woman by phone, but it will be all the richer to describe her current living conditions, her appearance, her gestures and manner of speaking, whether or not she smiles easily or whether tears well up in her eyes…

In her review, Klein points out that only three of the 19 writers features in the book are women. LeBlanc, Shaker Heights native Susan Orlean and Jane Kramer. Certainly the argument can be made that the choices of journalists included in the book also reflect the voices in the great literary magazines of our day.

But why? Similar to the issue of female voices on the op-ed pages, I would argue that lack of female long-form writers defies any one reason, rather it’s a complex set of opportunities taken or not, time, resources, publicity, persistence, subjects covered, etc.

Here's Klein's take:

Is the culprit rank sexism? Male editors hiring their male buddies? Or else the magazine’s preference for subjects such as war and politics that draw more male writers? Do women writers, facing rejection, discourage more easily? (I’ve heard that thesis proposed.) Or, as devoted mothers and daughters and wives, are they simply unavailable to devote the months and years of zealous, almost superhuman effort required by immersion journalism? There is surely no single, and no easy, answer. But it would have been nice if Boynton, in this otherwise probing book, had thought to raise the question. Indeed!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Creative Ink, one year later

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

So began my foray into blogging on March 12, 2004. I was having coffee today with my friend Lori and we were discussing blogs and what we like about them. I told her I struggle to describe mine to others. Being the gifted wordsmith she is, Lori came up with a fitting description: personalized worldview.

Creative Ink is my most authentic writing voice. Though I don’t write for any audience, I think of it in some ways as a training ground for column writing. Wow! Can’t believe I said that aloud, but there it is. I covet my own column while I simultaneously fear not having anything to say.

But not on Creative Ink.

I rarely know what I’m going to write about on any given day, though there are times in which I’ll have a week’s worth of blog posts outlined (yes, I do outline), particularly when I wrote about Korea. Most of the time I’m writing what I feel and what I think about. Occasionally, I’ll get deeply personal and some of those posts have garnered the strongest reactions.

My most personal entry was “Life in Technicolor” from April 15. It woke me up from a sound sleep and I wept while writing. My mom called from her cell phone to find out if I was okay, my husband misinterpreted parts of it and was initially very hurt and angry, and a friend e-mailed to say I should think of a wider audience for my writing. It was tough to write, but it was important for me to say even if no one saw the entry.

There’s been one time in the history of CI that I’ve taken down a post and that was on Mother’s Day last year. It was an angry rant and that’s not how I write. It positively infuriated my husband and was cruel and I’m never cruel. In the 40 minutes that it was live, George Nemeth posted it to Brewed Fresh Daily. It wasn't like me and I had a concern friend ask later that week, "Are you okay?"

I am okay. This has become my therapy, allowing me to work through issues I deem important both personally and professionally. And speaking from experience it’s a lot cheaper than paying a counselor. There’s a freedom in blogging that I don’t have in any of the other writing I do. This is where I’m fearless.

I’ve always associated fearlessness with column writing. And that’s why I’ve felt uniquely unqualified to pursue. But the blog is helping to build my courage, to form opinions culled from my own research and sources, to state an argument in my own words. Creative Ink has given me a voice and I find I have something to say.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Little kindnesses

Little things mean a lot. I'm happy to see an end to this week, but wanted to thank some people for sending a few little unexpected kindnesses my way.

Every Thursday afternoon I pick up my son, Patrick, and his friend Brandon from chorus practice after school. Brandon's mom has a tough time getting there at 3:15 because her older son, Danny, who has Down's Syndrome gets dropped off at the same time. I told her not to worry, I would just plan on bringing Brandon home every Thursday. It's no big deal. But yesterday when I dropped him off she handed me a container with homemade spring rolls (she's from Thailand) and a gift certificate to Ann Taylor. Totally unnecessary, but greatly appreciated. By the way, she operates a cooking school called Bow Thai. The spring rolls were delicious!

Personalities can be difficult to deal with in some cases and I was sucker-punched out of the blue on Wednesday when I thought I was doing my job. The firm I'm partnering with on a project happens to be run by one cool head and she called yesterday to tell me that all was well and not to lose sleep (too late). She reminded me that in the larger scheme of things, this snafu was utterly unimportant.

My dear friend and neighbor, Mary Waters, has to be the sweetest person on earth. I just want to thank her for getting me out of the house and being such a good, supportive friend.

And to Jonathan Montaldo who responded to my query about Thomas Merton's impact on people today with such beautifully expressed thoughts, reminding me that, as Merton wrote, God's mercy and love are found in the school of our own lives.

Author Beth Kephart sent me a lovely e-mail this morning in appreciation of my review of her book.

Finally, I'd like to thank all the readers of Creative Ink. Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this little labor of love. I don't typically post on the weekends and just didn't want the date to pass without acknowledging what this little sliver of cyberspace has meant to me over the past year. It's been the place where I've found courage, where I've explored issues both large and small, where I've shared my dreams and fears, where I've found my voice — and, most important, where I've found myself. Thank you...

Thursday, March 10, 2005


The worst thing about working by yourself is when things are going crappy and you feel yourself spiraling downward, there's no one to pull you out of your head long enough to see the bright side.

This week has progressively gone downhill and at this particular moment I would like nothing more than to crawl inside a deep dark hole and sleep for days. I'm frustrated, disappointed, angry (mostly at myself) and feeling unable to improve the situation.

I'm not sleeping well, despite taking Nyquil to knock out a wicked cold, and my old friend anxiety is lurking outside my office door. Lack of sleep, anxiety and illness are my axis of evil and I find myself unable to write well, think clearly, solve problems, execute. I can't do my job well and it's showing.

Time for a change of scenery...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

My day as an east-sider

Okay, so the title is a little deceiving. I didn't exactly spend the DAY on the east side, but I was poking around for most of the morning. Now I know there are many west siders who never cross the river out of fear or indignancy or some weird combination of the two, but I spent five years of my professional life as a reporter covering The Heights. So I look forward to the chance to haunt my old stomping grounds.

The day started early with breakfast at 7:30 with Merle Gorden, the mayor of Beachwood, at the Beachwood Hilton. Very nice, entertaining chat with the long-time mayor. I covered Beachwood for a spell (less than a year actually) when it was under the stewardship one Harvey Friedman.

Harvey Friedman was famous for running the city from his thrown at Charley's Crab. My first encounter with him was 15 years ago in that fine establishment. As I walked in with my editor at the time, she warned me that he spit food when he talked. WOW! She wasn't kidding. You needed a raincoat to sit across the table from his Honor. He even spit soup!

Harvey used to grouse that Beachwood was nothing more than a training ground for cub reporters. He taught them the ropes (yeah, whatever) and they moved on to greener pastures.

With a bit of time to kill before MicroCenter opened, I headed to one of my favorite stops, Joseph-Beth Booksellers. I have a Borders and (very soon) Barnes & Noble five minutes from my house, but there's something about the more independent nature of J-B that I find far more appealing.

I nosed around the magazines, flipping through to see if I wanted to spend the big bucks on Harvard Business Review (no), and hunted for a not-to-be-found Publisher's Weekly. The books on the bargain table were calling my name, but I can't in good conscience bring any more books into my house until I purge some I have.

Walked upstairs to see what's new in business books and found a biography of the late Bart Wolstein, with a moving dedication to Bart by his wife, Iris. Then I found, "Why Business People Speak Like Idiots." Very entertaining in the few pages I skimmed and explores the theme of an earlier post right here on Creative Ink.

I was there long enough to hear the arrival and unmistakable voice of the effervescent Richard Gildenmeister, master bookseller at J-B. Haven't seen him in a while, but he keeps me posted on special events, author signings, etc. at J-B. He and I chatted about what's new and I learned that Mary Pope Osborne, author of the Magic Tree House books, drew nearly 500 people last night. That's awesome. Her books are highly popular among the 7-10 set.

Couldn't help but notice the many books about spirituality found throughout the store. Maybe my senses are just heightened because that's what I review, but they seemed to be everywhere. I checked out the New Spirituality shelf to see what among my "to read" stack seemed to be grabbing the interest of booksellers and made a mental note to move one or two up to the top of the pile.

Usually a trip to the east side includes a visit to Trader Joe's. Though I'm in need of restocking my wine rack and have been craving TJ's orange chicken, I decide to forego that trip in anticipation of the new Trader Joe's opening VERY SOON at Crocker Park.

Instead, I'm in need of some software for my Mac, so I head to MicroCenter and drop a load of cash on QuickBooks, per my accountant's instructions. One of my business goals this year is to be better organized with my administration crap. Once the flurries started to fly, I decided it was best to head west, even though I would have loved lunch at Tommy's on Coventry. Perhaps next time.

Many e-mails, phone calls and stack of columns to judge for SPJ's Sigma Delti Chi Awards, awaited me back in my office, as did this blog.

First class at PWLGC
My Cleveland passport was stamped twice this week since I ventured east last night to the Poet's & Writer's League of Greater Cleveland for my first class. Went to hear Carlo Wolff talk about book reviewing. Was a delightful conversation and I walked out of there with four very good ideas. His best gem of the evening, advice I was given early on, is that part of getting into an organization as a reviewer, freelancer, etc., is filling a need. So thanks, Carlo.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Stealing away

In the 17 years that my husband and I have been together, he's only managed to surprise me once — the night we got engaged. But he did so again when, early on Sunday morning he woke me and said, "Pack your bags, I've got a surprise for you." I was sure in my groggy state that I was hearing things, but there he was grinning from ear to ear, clearly pleased with himself at my stunned reaction.

"What about the boys?" I asked.

"It's all taken care of," he replied.

"Where are we going?" I asked as my feet found the floor and I fumbled my way to the shower.

"It's a surprise. I'll tell you when we get in the car."

As I was brushing my teeth I leaned my head out of the bathroom and said, "I really need to know who's taking care of the boys."

"Don't worry, I've got your mom on the case," he said.

I'm impressed to say the least. So while I showered and packed, Danny picked up donuts for the kids. When we hopped in the car, he gave me a printout of the Niagara Fallsview Resort and Casino on the Canadian side of the Falls. Looked very nice.

At the gas station, I thumbed through the pages (I'm usually the trip planner in our relationship) and found Mapquest driving directions. Danny is not the most technologically inclined person, so I leaned out my window and said, "I'm impressed. You even figured out how to use Mapquest."

He started laughing and said, "That's what secretaries are for." I should've known.

With that we stole away for a night. I had two appointments scheduled on Monday and quickly sent emails to postpone them and then settled back for the three-hour drive.

After a bit of meandering through the circus of Niagara Falls, we found the hotel. It was fairly new — and gorgeous. Our room (as the name promised) had a view of the Falls from high above on the 20th floor.

We settled in and then headed down for lunch and wandering. I've never been in a casino, unless you count the five slot machines in the lobby of our honeymoon hotel in Aruba. It is a bizarre world, a virtual microcosm of life, only with two parts second-hand smoke and one-part fresh air.

Neither Danny and I are big gamblers. ("I work too hard to blow my money gambling," he says.) But we did get some tokens for the slots. Within minutes, that was gone. Without saying a word, we knew we'd had enough and found a bar where a band was playing. We lasted two drinks and then were driven back to our room from overwhelming cigarette smoke.

The last time we got away for a weekend alone was in 2001 when we went to Toronto. He and I spent nearly our entire Saturday afternoon sleeping. Sounds pathetic, considering it was June and we were in an incredible, walkable city, but we were just exhausted from years of running around and something about being in another city gave us the freedom to crash guilt-free. And so we did yesterday as well.

When we awoke, it was 7 and the falls outside were illuminated with a blue glow. Though we pride ourselves on eating dinner as a family, it's often a very expeditious endeavor, with everyone done in, oh, about 10 minutes flat. Danny and I sat there for three hours, talking and savoring a grown-up meal.

It was a pleasant little reprieve from the daily grind. Our drive there was filled with excitement about being gone. The way home, we were tired and excited to see the kids. The closer we got to Cleveland, the more out thoughts turned to the busy week and weekend ahead. Good thing we got away, if only for a night.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Technorati and Google

There are two things that people recommend I do about which I’m highly negligent — checking my Technorati profile to see who is linking to Creative Ink and performing a Google search on my name.

I’m often asked the question, “Who reads your blog?” The short answer is, aside from my family and a handful of friends, I haven’t a clue. People must be reading because since I’ve activated comments on my blog, I’ve heard from people I never knew were reading. I’ve embraced this comment tool and I highly recommend it to anyone who blogs.

It’s fascinating how people find you. For example, I once received a comment from a Jonathon Hoke. I have a nephew named Jonathon and assumed it was from him. Lo and behold, it was from a man in New York City who I’m assuming found Creative Ink by Googling Hoke.

There are many kind people who include a link on their site, including Mahangu, a “writer, hacker and sidewalk philosopher living in sunny Sri Lanka,” and one of my favorite bloggers, Sandy Piderit at CWRU Weatherhead School. She’s a fellow mom and often relates to my mom posts.

And then there’s Jeff Hess, whom I know I’ve met before and hope to run into again soon. He’s a regular reader and commentator. So thanks for reading, Jeff.

I do not know who Prince Ali is, but he has seen fit to include Creative Ink on his Fellow Bloggers, Faves and Friends Roll. I do know Lori Kozey very well. We went to Berea High School together and are now nearly neighbors, getting together frequently for coffee.

Jerry and Martha at Red Wheelbarrow have been kind to me in the past and added Creative Ink to their Ohioan Blogroll. So thank you for your support and links. And I’m equally grateful to Collision Bend for adding CI to the blogroll.

My good friend, Jim Kukral has been a more-than-enthusiastic supporter over the (almost) year Creative Ink has been live. And George Nemeth has been equally encouraging and supportive.

If I could only figure out how to get my links back on my blog page, I'd be sure to link to all of you as well. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get the links to work. In the beginning of CI, I had a killer links section. Someday, when deadlines subside, I'll figure out how to do so again.

But I’ll have to reserve my greatest thanks to the first person to read Creative Ink. John Ettorre, my very good pal and fellow writer provided the earliest guidance and inspiration for Creative Ink. Throughout the (almost) year CI has been live, he continues to nudge and encourage and for that I am truly thankful.

Have you Googled yourself lately?
No, I hadn’t Googled myself. But I was encouraged by a fellow book reviewer to do so regularly. “You never know who is picking up your stuff,” he told me.

And he’s right. What an eye-opener that was! Here’s a review from last summer that found its way onto the book’s home page, smack dab in between reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Amazon. Wow!

Whenever you comment on a blog or site, it pops up on Google. I’ve been known to chime in to discussions on BFD and Poynter. In my role as co-chair of SPJ’s National Freelance Committee, I’m occasionally called by trades for comment on issues relating to freelance journalism. I had completely forgotten about this piece in the Student Law Press Center Report.

The one that kicked me in the behind was this post found on Jay Rosen’s Press Think, which I read often. I’m a huge fan of Jay’s, even as I find his posting a bit loquacious.

And I smiled when I read this post by Professor Crispin Maslog, a participant in the East Asia Journalism Forum in Korea who wrote of our own version of Korean Idol: There were a few surprises, like the singing and dancing talents of the American girls (Sonia Smith, Susan Kreifels, Wendy Hoke and Ann Augherton), who tried to bribe the judge with kisses. I love that he called us girls when our median age was 38. Good times, good times.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, “thank you,” to those of you who have found my blog remotely worth reading including my very dear friend, Jill Miller Zimon, who must have been my sister in a past life.

And to the flamer who called me a wannabe journalist without giving me a method for responding to his e-mail, I have two words for you: Google me!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Sufi inspiration

We have not come here to take prisoners,
but to surrender ever more deeply to freedom and joy…
Run my dear,
from anything
that may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings…

For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wondrous spirits
But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom, and Light!

— Sufi poet Hafiz

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A tiny treasure

I've done so many book reviews lately that I forget what is running until I open the Wednesday paper. Though I don't normally do this, I've got to share with you this review from today's Plain Dealer.

For anyone longing for spring, searching for clarity or who simply enjoys good writing, Ghosts in the Garden by Beth Kephart is a wonderful treat. In fact, it's more than a treat, it's a keeper. And that's saying something since most of these books move from my desk to an ever-growing stack of books to donate. A treasured few find a permanent home on the shelf by my bed next to Anna Quindlen's A Short Guide to a Happy Life.

As of today, I have 16 review books sitting on my desk waiting to be read. The decision of which to read is usually a mixture of size (how much other work do I have this week), variety (tend not to do two Buddhist books in a row) and subject.

I chose this one because of its March publication date, the subject of gardens sounds good during a March snowstorm and its slim size during a heavy month of writing offered a bit of ease for me.

But finding a hidden gem that speaks to the soul in the book stack? Now that's priceless.

‘A Soldier’s Heart'

Frontline on PBS consistently delivers the best there is in television journalism. Last night I was surfing for something light to watch since I’ve been knee-deep in deadlines, reading, research and writing.

Instead of something brainless, I stopped on this riveting report about the mental health of our soldiers serving in Iraq, many of whom are home temporarily only to be redeployed in a matter of months.

Unfortunately, with Reservists who come home even temporarily to civilian life, the adjustment period can be chaotic and confusing. Regardless of branch or unit, there’s a growing awareness that the military must pay closer attention to the mental health of its own during and upon return from war. Here’s an introduction to the report:

U.S. Marine Rob Sarra had been in the military for eight years when the war in Iraq began. A sergeant in charge of a unit of 32, he was considered part of the "tip of the spear" -- among the first troops to reach Baghdad. In late March 2003, Sarra opened fire on an Iraqi woman in a black burqa he suspected was a suicide bomber, prompting others in his unit to begin firing as well. Her body torn apart by bullets, the woman fell quickly to the ground. It was only then that Rob saw she held a small white flag.

"Right then and there I was just like, what the hell happened? I was crying, hysterical…this woman got killed by my actions," Sarra tells FRONTLINE. "I wasn't going to talk to anyone about it. But little did I know it kind of worked itself back up to the surface when I came home."

Unfortunately, the military has a stigma about treating those with mental health while in the midst of battle. Soldiers who freeze or panic or are suicidal are basically called cowards and told to get it together. As one military mental health expert said, it’s their job to get behind each other and support each other and follow the orders given. When one says he can’t, the unit cohesion cracks. It’s not good, particularly in battle. But it happens. It's nothing new. The reality of mental health problems in battle is well-documented over history and inescapable.

I was captivated by the story of Jeff Lucey, a lance corporal in the Marine Reserves, who was silently withdrawing from his unit, his family and his life while on temporary leave from serving in Iraq. His unit, the 6th Motor Transport Battalion from Massachusetts, was scheduled to return to Iraq within the year.

Jeff had problems coping with civilian life and began drinking heavily. His story is complicated. He fabricated war crimes and seemed to live in an alternate reality.
At one point his mother describes how he took her on a walk in the woods near their home and put a set of headphones on for her to listen to the song “45” by the group, Shinedown.

And I'm staring down the barrel of a 45

There's a piece of a puzzle known as life
Wrapped in guilt, sealed up tight

What ever happened to the young man's heart
Swallowed by pain, as he slowly fell apart

Jeff’s mother recalls looking at her son and realizing that he was speaking to her, telling him he was falling apart.

Watching his story unfold was painful as you realize he is slipping away and those who love and care for him feel powerless to help. And finally, his father recounts coming home from work to find his son, only 23, hanging from a rafter in the basement. What he remembers most from that horrific discovery is that his baby boy’s face was finally at peace.

Often symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are delayed and only begin to surface months after coming home. To its credit, the Department of Defense has now instituted a mental health screening procedure that includes a follow up three to five months after soldiers return from battle.

"…these people (nearly one million men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan) are putting their life in harm's way, and they're going through hell and just because it's not on CNN every night [doesn't mean] that we shouldn't assume responsibility," (says Fred) Gusman (director of the national PTSD Center). "Not for the war. But responsibility to take care of our own people."

The Soldier's Heart will be available for viewing online starting Friday at 10 p.m. EST.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Play your music today

Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us. — Oliver Wendell Holmes

Show up. Play. Participate. Engage.