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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Dearth of parenting teen markets

I smell an opportunity. Been researching parenting magazine markets for a few story ideas and essays I’d like to pitch and I’ve found few that really offer any opportunities to write about preteens and teenagers.

Most of the parenting magazines feature adorable infants, toddlers and preschoolers on the cover. I'm not likely to pick one up in the hopes of finding something applicable to my children. A look at the content proves my instinct correct. It seems that parenting articles in these pubs stop at the age of 10, sometimes 12. I suppose we parents are no longer in need of such valuable advice as proffered in these magazines after a certain age. Either that or the situation with our children is deemed too far gone.

Those few articles or markets I could find tend to fall into one of the following categories:

• Teeny-bopper magazines such as CosmoGirl, Y, Teen People, American Cheerleader, etc. (with very few focused on anything related to boys).
• The biggie issues of teen sex and pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and depression.

Now what of those parents who just desire to see their own story reflected on the pages of these magazines? Nothing earth shattering, mind you, but definitely impactful on the homefront.

I’m thinking of how to encourage entrepreneurship in your child when they are too young to get a job (particularly when their social life starts costing more money). Or how to encourage your kid to stay focused on school when they are far more interested in, say, MAD TV.

I’m looking for articles by fellow parents with strategies for boosting my kid’s self-confidence (and I’m not talking at age 5 or 6 when, in my personal experience, that have it in spades). Or how to negotiate the minefield of talking to the opposite sex. How about how to navigate change of any kind?

How does a parent teach a child organization? Is it even possible? Is it too late? Or how does a parent learn to embrace their child’s inner packrat and resist the overwhelming urge to purge?

I’d like to see some great book lists and reviews for kids of varying ages and reading abilities. There’s so much crap being published as “young adult fiction.” It would be helpful to have someone weeding through the haystack to find the literary gems that reside in every publishing house.

There are Web sites devoted to teens with special needs, both medical and emotional, and for Christian teens and organic teens. But how about your basic run-of-the-mill teen? Did find a site or two from UK and Canada. However, they are not interested in submissions from Yanks.

There are plenty of books about parenting teens. But I’m pressed for time and won’t read an entire book. With the exception of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” I didn’t read any books about parenting little ones and I’m not likely to start now that they are older.

But I would like to pick up an occasional magazine and be able to relate to an experience, laugh at the absurdity of parenting and get some useful tips to employ in my household. And, selfishly, I’d like to be able to pick the brains of fellow parents and experts and write on these issues.

Anyone out there with some deep pockets?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Updates and stuff

You may have noticed that I'm not posting as regularly as I have in the past. Or maybe you didn't and I'm just kidding myself that anyone other than my family reads regularly enough to notice. Anyway, thought I'd give you a quick update as to my activities by way of explanation.

First, in case the lung-crushing heat hadn't tipped you off, it's summer. That means I've got my munchkins home and clamoring for daily trips to the pool, summer hoops, baseball games, etc. After the debacle that was last summer, I've made a concerted effort to scale back on the workload to be a better mom to them. We've managed to hit the pool nearly every afternoon and I've sat through many a baseball game in this blistering heat. I haven't been exposed to this much sun since I was a teenager. Thank God for the 15 block.

I am working on a couple of bigger projects, including a book project that is taking up most of my working hours (roughly 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.).

But the biggest reason for fewer posts is that I've been on a pitching binge of late and that requires intense focus. I've been pitching essays and articles to national mags and have actually landed a review assignment for PAGES magazine. Very excited about that one.

Mostly I'm focusing my personal essay writing and need to channel the energies usually reserved for the blog toward that effort. I'll try to keep up with the posting, but it won't likely be five days a week as in the past until summer ends and I have more time to spend on thoughtful posts.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mean girls

I’ve been accused of having a problem with women.

To be honest, there have been many times when I’ve been disappointed, hurt, dismayed, betrayed, bewildered and utterly crushed by females. I’m not alone in that experience. Entire books have been written on the phenomenon of mean girls.

But in all fairness, I think I’ve come a long way toward acknowledging the root of my particular problem and doing my best to overcome its inherent limitation on my growth.

My own story stems from a junior high incident (don’t they all). For a period of two weeks none of my female friends would speak to me. Not in school, not at track practice, not on the phone at home. I was and I suppose still am a very sensitive person and rather than force myself to ask, “What gives?” I kept my hurt and silence to myself, convinced that somehow I brought it all on.

Eventually my mom caught wind of the incident. I broke down and told her I had no idea what I had done (still convinced on some level that this was my own doing). Given my despondent behavior, my mom decided to call the mother of one of my friends. After some back and forth it turned out that this incident of not speaking to Wendy was all a game.

“We didn’t mean anything by it,” one friend told me. “We just wanted to see how long we could go without talking to you.”

That incident has colored my relationships with women ever since.

I don’t easily open up to anyone. I’ve not nurtured lifelong friendships. With the exception of my younger sister, I had not found women reliable or trustworthy as friends. It was always easier for me to relate to guys as friends. They weren’t petty, didn’t require constant attention and solved conflicts more openly. They accepted me for who I was, not who they expected me to be.

Of course, being friends with guys opens you up to all kinds of attacks from women. And so the cycle of mean girls continued. If you are well-endowed you must be a slut. If you laugh easily you must be a tease. If you smile a lot, you’re not cheerful, simply a flirt.

These same narrow-minded gaggles that ruled the halls of high school and college didn’t understand that you enjoy arguing politics with a guy on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Or that you find their belief in you and your talents exactly the kind of supportive friendship you require. Or that they push you to become the intellectual person you knew you always were. Or that they have no expectations of you to dress a certain way or hang with certain crowds. In essence, they let you be yourself without pretense.

I thought for a long time that I didn’t need close female friendships. My sister has always been my closest pal and I believed that enough. I had plenty of acquaintances, personally and professionally. My first editor was a woman and she taught me how to be a reporter, but not without first breaking me down emotionally. I've had some who have supported and mentored me and some who underestimated my determination. Though I'm surrounded by four loving, supportive guys who have shaped me into wife, mother, writer and friend, I realize that I miss the company of women.

It’s not easy for me. I’ve told a trusted few friends of my experience with women friends. I tell them I’m not good about calling regularly, that the maintenance of friendship is not something that comes naturally to me, probably a by-product of having moved around a lot as a kid. But I also tell them that simply because I don’t call daily or remember every special event in their life doesn’t mean they are not in my thoughts and close to my heart.

The experience of growing older and, one hopes, wiser has provided me with some wonderful female relationships, some more personal, others more professional. I treasure them all. They don’t throw my mistakes in my face and as a result have helped me to grow as a human being. I’m immensely flawed, lacking in patience, prone to excessive multi-tasking, borderline workaholic, passionate to the point of being defensive and my own worst enemy. But I have a corps group of women in my life who, along with my guys, accept me flaws and all.

And that group continues to grow, sometimes when I least expect it. I am grateful for the growing influence of women I admire personally, intellectually and spiritually. They all have shared with me in a piece of this infinitely strange yet wondrous journey we call modern womanhood.

I don’t have a problem with that at all.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Drawn into the war on terror

First do no harm.

I suppose that’s the very least we should expect from medical professionals whose reponsibility it is keep us well and safe. But I was greatly disturbed to read this latest in today’s New York Times describing the use of military mental health professionals exploiting fears in the hopes of making detainees at Guantanamo Bay more cooperative and willing to provide information during the interrogation process.

In one case, a military doctor said a prisoner’s fear of the dark could be used. Reports of such unethical behavior on the part of medical professionals was first reported in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine through interviews with military doctors.

It seems we’ve now forsaken medical ethics, or at the very least stretched the boundaries, in our fight against terrorism. The Pentagon, in its customary fashion of excusing every questionable practice at the behest of the Bush Administration separates medical doctors treating the ill and injured from those physicians who “may have other roles.”

While American Psychiatric Association is clear on its ethical guidelines, allowing for no such use, the American Psychological Association claims this is new territory. I don’t care how new the territory, the immediate response of the American Psychological Association should have been equally firm in its denouncing any exploitation of a person’s mental issues for military gain.

How can the United States ever hope to hold itself out as a standard-bearer for freedom if it continues to trample on the freedoms and the dignitary and respect for others? These are basic principles of a democratic society. I don't even recognize my country in light of these latest allegations.

While I was in Korea last year I had an interesting conversation with another Asian journalist who basically said the U.S. can no longer preach about human rights because it is a regular violator in the interest of the war on terror.

And now, according to the Times,

“A four-member team of United Nations human rights experts accused the United States on Thursday of stalling on requests over the past three years to visit detainees at Guantánamo and said it would begin its own investigation without American assistance.

"Such requests were based on information from reliable sources of serious allegations of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees, arbitrary detention, violations of their right to health and their due process rights," the four, all independent authorities who serve the United Nations as fact-finders on rights abuses, said in a statement.”

I say, "go for it." The Bush Administration’s ability to spin and weave, distort and lie, stall and divert has reached mythic proportions and I find it impossible to take anything it says as “truth.”

Are we in the “final throes” of insurgency as Vice President Dick Cheney says? Or are we still actively engaged in a battle to win this war? According to today’s Times:

Pressed repeatedly to choose between the two, General (George W.) Casey (top commander in Iraq) said: "There's a long way to go here. Things in Iraq are hard."

But General Casey insisted that the allied forces had significantly weakened the insurgency even though the number of attacks against American forces has remaining steady at about 60 a day for the last several weeks.

A weakened insurgency is 60 attacks a day!

We’d better watch what we say, though, because our esteemed Republican leaders fear that the loss of public support will surely mean withdrawal of troops and if that occurs too soon, it will spell defeat in Iraq.

As Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, told Mr. Rumsfeld at the Senate Committee hearing (yesterday): "We will lose this war if we leave too soon, and what is likely to make us leave too soon? The public going south. That is happening, and it worries me greatly."

The public didn’t get us here, Sen. Graham, George Bush & Co. did. But the public and the media have been complicit in turning a blind eye or the other cheek in the interest of defeating terrorism. But hopefully we're beginning to regain consciousness from the blow we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001.

According to Paul Krugman’s column today:

In a Gallup poll taken in early April - that is, before the release of the Downing Street Memo - 50 percent of those polled agreed with the proposition that the administration "deliberately misled the American public" about Iraq's W.M.D. In a new Rasmussen poll, 49 percent said that Mr. Bush was more responsible for the war than Saddam Hussein, versus 44 percent who blamed Saddam.

You hear that, Bush? The American public blames you, not Saddam, for this mess.

Amnesty International continues to push the U.S. on its human rights violations, specifically those foreign nationals being held in Guantanamo Bay. Nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rasul v. Bush that federal courts do have jurisdiction to hear the appeals of foreign nationals held at Gitmo, none of the more than 500 detainees held there has had their detention judicially reviewed.

This administration continues to play dictator and has filed a brief with the Federal Court of Appeals fighting the same fight it lost in the Supreme Court case. It’s just another example of the supreme arrogance of this administration.

According to the May 13, 2005 report by Amnesty International, “the appeal brief shows an administration in unapologetic mood, in continuing pursuit of unfettered executive authority under the President’s war powers as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and maintaining a disregard for international law and standards.”

And further it is evidence of an administration whose:

Justice Department formulated the position, accepted by the White House Counsel, that the President – who apparently believes that there are people who are "not legally entitled" to humane treatment(8) – could override the national and international prohibition on torture;(9) and whose Secretary of Defense has authorized interrogation techniques that violate international law and standards.(10) This is an administration that has sought unchecked power throughout the "war on terror" and shown a chilling disregard for international law. The USA’s policies and practices have led to serious human rights violations and have set a dangerous precedent internationally.

We live in an international society and supposing ourselves exempt from being good citizens in that society opens us up to attack, militarily, politically, economically.

I hope the United Nations, Amnesty International, International Red Cross and others will investigate our human rights efforts. Because until we open ourselves up to the scrutiny with which we investigate other countries, we will continue to be perceived as the arrogant nation we’ve become.

And I firmly believe that arrogance lies at the heart of why we’re engaged in a war on terror. It seems as if the Bush Administration will stop at drawing no one into the fight, military, judiciary, public, media and now those on whom the first charge is to do no harm.

If this is something about which you feel strongly, consider how you can make your voice heard through Amnesty International.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Finding the fire within

It was bottom of the seventh and last inning, bases were juiced and the next batter was strolling to the plate. Oh no, it was my Patrick. I knew from the way he hung his head on the short walk from the dugout to home that he was defeated before the first pitch.

Patrick is battling himself these days. Mostly, he has set unreasonable expectations for himself. He gets it honestly. I’ve been doing that all my life and when I disappoint myself or others disappoint me, I can reel for days.

He has this mix of confidence and no confidence that is best seen on the basketball court. He forcefully drives down the court with the basketball only to hesitate for a moment before shooting for fear he won’t make the basket. This baseball season, despite having made the 9-10 all-star team last weekend, he has walked off the field in tears after walking batters or striking out. And when his father and I give him that, “Don’t you dare start crying” look, he collapses in tears. It’s become so bad that his emotions have affected his team and his coaches.

Last night I was just wishing Danny would put anyone else into that clean-up spot but him. But the reality is that he has to learn to deal with disappointment. Whiffing is not the end of the world.

So after he was showered I sat him down last night to talk to him about why he plays sports. He says he likes it and I hope he’s right. But from all appearances this year, he’s not enjoying himself.

“When you were walking out to the plate tonight you were convinced you’d whiff, right?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said, his eyes still red and rimming with tears.

I told him how it showed and how all he really had to do was either walk, which is highly probably in the 9-10 kid pitch league, or get a base hit. No one expected him to get up there and hit a grand slam. But he had psyched himself out.

Patrick is my most sensitive kid. It’s what endears him most and simultaneously causes no end of frustration. But as I explained to him last night, and as his father has done repeatedly, he cannot expect to get better at sports without practicing.

He’d rather spend his free time playing war in the neighbor’s woods with Mikey and his buddy, Christopher. And that’s fine. But he can’t expect to go out on the ball diamond and hit a grand slam if he doesn’t swing the bat except during a game. And he can’t expect to strike out batters unless he throws more pitches. And he’s not going to make that travel basketball team if he doesn’t shoot around in the driveway. I just don’t want him to give up so easily, to be so defeated by his own mind.

How do you teach a kid to have that inner fire? I’m not sure you can. But I do know Patrick knows what it takes to succeed. He did it this year with reading. He’s been in the Title I program and improved his reading test scores by 31 percentage points over last year. That’s huge and that’s awesome and he did it because he was determined, he practiced and, perhaps most of all, he enjoyed reading for the first time.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Censorship = isolation

”The politics of censorship attempts to isolate us from each other. That suppression diminishes our lives, reduces our knowledge, stifles our humanity, and maims our ability to learn from each other.” Amartya Sen, Indian economist, 2004 Nobel laureate

Friday, June 17, 2005

I love the father in you

When you meet and start dating someone, you really have no idea what kind of mother or father he or she will be. Maybe that’s the farthest thing from your mind. But at some point, the question will start to seep into your brain.

So you learn as much as you can about that person, you find out what makes their motor run and what they value in life and if it matches what you value. Then you roll the dice on marriage and pray really hard for the best. In essence, it’s a crapshoot.

I’m sure in my college naiveté, I had all manner of preconceived notions about what the father of my children would be like. But when I met Danny, I knew from the first moment he asked me if his ice cream smelled funny and then shoved it in my nose that his playfulness was always going to be an important part of my children's life.

He endeared himself to me when as we sat on our first date eating burgers at The Pub in Athens, he asked, “Do you get nervous eating in front of someone for the first time?” I laughed, and said, “No,” but clearly he did. Just as he was terrified of giving the best man’s toast at his brother, Jimmy’s wedding. I was there, and he did fine with a little writerly help from his new girlfriend. He and I went on to compose many more best man toasts over the course of our marriage, with me helping less and less each time.

But all the young-woman dreams never fully prepare you for the first time you see your firstborn in your husband’s arms. The moment Ryan was born I was exhilarated by the accomplishment. Never had I done anything so difficult. But seeing my Danny, with his very broad shoulders and strong arms, cuddling this tiny (okay, he wasn’t that small, almost 10 pounds!) baby boy made my heart sing! This is what love is all about — the family unit.

Ryan spent a few days in the NICU when he was born. As I sat rocking and admiring him one morning, a nurse asked me where he got his size. At that moment, Danny walked through the door and she said, “Oh, from dad!” All three boys have his very broad shoulders and, as my pediatrician says, “the big Irish head.”

Danny wasn’t always hands-on with the little ones, though he was the master at getting them to nap. He wasn’t the guy to bath them (“it hurts my back”), though I could get him to feed them and even change his share of diapers. (“Wen! I need some backup!”)

He’s not a late-night guy and so we had a system for those middle-of-the-night feedings. He’d go to bed early, I’d stay up for the midnight or so feeding. He’d get up and do the three or four o’clock feeding and let me sleep until seven or so.

It worked well, except for Mikey. I was nursing him and had slept so poorly during the end of my pregnancy that I would sleep near unconscious after he was born. I’d awake to a crying baby and Danny standing next to me holding him saying, “He’s hungry.”

We used to tease each other about who would get to hold little Patrick in church because he loved to put his soft little face up against ours. He was our cuddler. Though when Danny held him, I used to laugh out loud because Patrick would put his little blanket over Danny’s face. We never did that with Mikey because he was always so darned heavy and fidgety.

They all resemble him quite strongly. I’m often asked what I had to do with their making. But Mikey, of them all, is Danny’s twin, his mini-me as Ryan says. He has the same deep dimple, cowlick and smile that my boyish-faced hubby has. Ryan has his playfulness in spades and Patrick has his compassion and sensitivity.

I may be the one to help with homework and teach them to read, but I’ve noticed that as the boys get older, he’s so much more in tune with them and their needs.

And quite frankly, if the boys have a choice of who will make dinner, they vote for dad every time. Why? Because he makes GUY food — chili, ribs, steak, wings, burgers. I make chic food and use too many green foods. Danny appreciates it though, and someday the boys will also.

He loves to sing stupid songs and recite inane comments, but the kids love him for this. Even Ryan, who is rapidly approaching teenager-dom can’t help but laugh when dad gets in his grill and asks him if he wants a piece of him.

Danny’s better at handling Mikey’s meltdowns and Patrick’s insecurity than I am. He has this ritual at dinner of asking everyone how their day was and what they learned at school. He's a natural-born teacher and has ingrained himself in the lives of many other boys through coaching baseball and baskteball.

He’s taught our guys to value the opportunities they receive, the importance of hard work and to never take anything — or anyone — for granted.

Danny lost his own dad to a heart attack a few weeks after he turned 14. He wishes he could have known his dad as an adult, wishes he could ask him questions — about being a father, about his career, about being a husband. But he can’t. And so he’s found his own wonderful way.

He always tells the boys that he hopes they are smart like me. I hate when he says that because he is very smart in one of the most important ways — he’s people smart. He understands the value of nurturing relationships, whether it’s lifelong friendships or work relationships.

I call Danny “Ed.” Not sure why exactly. It started in college when he used to compare himself to the infamous rotund car dealer, Ed Stinn. His middle name is Edward and his dad’s name was Ed. Just all seems to work.

So Happy Father’s Day, Ed. We love you very much!

(And by the way, what’s for dinner?)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Seeing green

Can’t believe it! As soon as I find ways to simplify my life while simultaneously keeping my home clean, I see this article by Karen Klages at the Chicago Tribune.

It seems that convenience in the form of Swiffers and Clorox wipes are not readily biodegradable. And my purchasing them in bulk from Costco and using them indiscriminately, and encouraging my family to the same, is doing nothing for the Green movement.

My sister, Jen, called me yesterday to tell me the article she saw in The Columbus Dispatch and she was mortified that she didn’t know of this issue sooner. We both lament the piles of dog hair that accumulate on our hardwood floors. Though a Swiffer cloth may resemble some sort of natural fiber, in actuality it is a synthetic — “nonwoven polymers, sometimes mixed with wood pulp.”

Sadly, I’m not alone in my use.

If someone were to load all of the disposable wipes purchased by consumers in North America last year onto 18-wheel semis, the caravan would number 9,000 trucks and stretch for 68 miles. And it would be carrying 83,000 tons of these seemingly ephemeral cloths - which are anything but fleeting.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a tree-hugger, but I am very concerned about the environment, and regularly recycle newspapers, magazines, cardboard, glass, plastic and aluminum. I prefer to use organic fertilizers (though I’ve largely lost that battle to my hubby who longs for green, weed-free grass).

I don’t drive an SUV, but do drive a used mini-van. I’d love to trade it in for something smaller, more fuel-efficient, but the fact is that my three guys cannot sit next to each other without annoying my husband and I — and each other.

So what can we do? I mean, I need to simplify my life, but I don’t want to be environmentally irresponsible. I could rage against the corporate machinery that took advantage of my need for cleanliness and efficiency above all else to market those time-saving methods specifically to me. But who has the time? I prefer to wage my battles with my wallet. Fortunately, the article offered some alternatives.

Microfiber dusters/cleaning cloths made by 3M and Casabella are machine-washable and available at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Casabella also makes a wet mop.

Mr. Mister is similar to a Swiffer WetJet (which has been my cleaning tool of choice until now) and uses a microfiber cloth that can be machine-washed and reused. Search for Spray-N-Wipe Mop.

Microfiber dry mops are kind of like Swiffers or Grab-its but also feature washable cloths. The article recommends the one from Quickie Manufacturing. And it recommends the Tub and Tile Wizard for bathroom cleaning and also made by Quickie, which is available in stores in July. Home Depot reportedly carries a better sponge mop also made by Quickie, that doesn't harden and disintegrate into tiny bits on your floor.

And then there’s Method, a small San Francisco-based maker of green cleaning products, offers biodegradable wet wipes that people can toss into their compost pile after using. Method does not call them disinfecting wipes; they contain no antimicrobial agents. Instead, they're billed as surface cleaners. Consumers can find them at Linens 'n Things stores or at online.

Method products are also found at Target, along with everything else in the universe.

And then there’s this piece by Heather Havrilesky on about the Dirt Devil Sweeper Vac. Wonder how it Green it is?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The sky is falling

There are times when being a homeowner is a downright drag. Like when you look up at the kitchen ceiling and notice a faint line and the early indications of buckling.

Water. Must be water coming from somewhere. And then over the course of a year or years the buckling becomes even more pronounced to the point when the paint cracks and you’ve got unmistakable damage.

My ceiling, my kitchen ceiling that was completely renovated in 2002 is coming apart. And we can’t figure out why. All we know is that the fix has big dollar signs all over it.

Anyone who comes into our house notices it right away. “Do you have a leak?” Yes, we do, but it’s anybody’s guess as to its origins. It’s not constant and not a gusher, just the effects of slow dripping winding its way through the path of least resistance.

At first, we blamed it on the boys taking 20-minute showers. Then we blamed it on them not tucking the shower curtain in properly. Then we saw the problem worsen just below our master bathroom above our family room.

And this morning, Patrick yelled while I was in shower: “Mom, a chunk of the ceiling fell down!”


It’s not a chunk, just a two-inch piece of paint, revealing years of damage. Clearly, this is a problem that will not correct itself. It’s not that we are careless homeowners lacking pride, it’s that we’re in denial about the need to rip open the kitchen and family room ceiling and plunge thousands of dollars into repairs.

It will have to be done, but I swear I’ve just recently recovered from the trauma of having my kitchen torn up for four months during the renovation process. Nothing prepares you for the mess, the disruption, the disorganization and chaos.

There was a day during that process when our contractor warned me: “When you come home today it’s going to be bad.” That wasn’t the half of it. I was working downtown at the time and came home to my house filled with drywall dust, in every conceivable and inconceivable place. My mom came in the door behind me and voiced what I was unable to utter: “Oh my God, honey. Are you okay?”

I wasn’t. I just sank to the floor and tried to figure out how I was going to live this way. I’m a control freak and clearly my home, my sanctuary was utterly out of my control. I wish I could say I took it all in stride, that we were fortunate to be able to afford such a massive renovation. But it felt as if I was carrying a load of drywall on my back and the weight of it was suffocating me. The pain rested in between my shoulder blades, a pain that no amount of Motrin could touch.

It all came to a head one morning before school when my son told me he was supposed to bring in his 25 cents for Popsicle day earlier that week. I cracked.

“What’s with all this nickel-and-dime bullshit?! Don’t they (meaning the school) know working parents are doing their best just to stay on top of everything? Who needs this shit at this time of year? It’s this kind of crap that can send parents over the edge!”

Clearly that’s what it did to me. I had lost my marbles over a quarter. During that process I began to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. It wasn’t all due to the remodeling, but it was certainly aggravated by that chaos.

In the years since I’ve learned to let go of things that used to send me to the moon. If the house is messy, I’m not going to become apoplectic. If I have the chance to go to the pool or wash the kitchen floor, I’ll grab the pool bag and go.

But I do worry about panic relapse. I spent a good portion of my life as a stress junky. I’d like to think I’m recovered and reformed. Hopefully, living through this repair doesn’t cause me to fall off the wagon.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Heard in the hallways

Fresh from another engaging weekend at SPJ's Ted Scripps Leadership Institute I am struck by how much I learned from the wonderful participants in this program.

I was there to talk to them about chapter programming, funding and leadership continuity. I did those three things, but the real gem of the weekend funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation was the conversations in the hallways and over meals.

Several themes emerged and I'll likely spend some time writing more about them later. But what I learned is that there is increasing interest in freelancers in SPJ, there's a lot of concern about a federal shield law, a growing desire to work with bloggers, an almost overwhelming need to discuss the watchdog function of the press with the public and great frustration over newsroom burnout. Said one journalist: "No one ever retires from the newsroom anymore."

None of these subjects had anything really to do with what we discussed in the formal sessions of the retreat, but they are concerns the journalists leading SPJ are addressing. There are no easy answers and no quick fixes for the challenges that face our profession. But I was inspired simply by the wonderful, incredibly smart and compassionate human beings whom we call leaders.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Successful failure

Courage arrived this week and I took advantage by sending out a number of essays to various pubs. Delightfully I received a wonderful rejection letter from an editor at Better Homes & Gardens less than an hour after I submitted my essay.

Here’s an excerpt from his wonderful e-mail:

Hi Wendy,

Thanks for this. It's well written and plenty evocative, but not quite right for T&N. Our editor is very big on these essays having some kind of nugget of activation or inspiration for readers as they live their lives. We're tending to avoid pieces that hinge too much on reminiscence, however well told, and not enough on how that memory or recollection of the past can be brought to bear on life today, the "now" of Then and Now.

He then went on to share an example of an upcoming piece that was adjusted to provide some call to action at the end. It was essentially a road map on how to get published and it has not fallen on deaf ears.

But I liked your piece and should think you'd be able to find a home for it.

That comment alone made my day. And so now I’m in the process of finding another market for the piece. I’ve been duly warned by him and others not to get spoiled by his quick response.

If you have any other T&N ideas for us, please pass them along. I can't guarantee I'll always be able to respond as promptly as this, but I'll do my best.

This is about as gracious and encouraging a rejection as I could ever hope for. In order to ensure that this editor made the right decision in thinking I was worth spending time on, I’m going to follow-up with another piece I’ve been working on for him next week.

Last fall I saw that Writer’s Digest was planning to interview writers about their blogs for its pub, Personal Writing. In a flash, I fired off an e-mail about Creative Ink and what it has given me personally and professionally.

So it was quite a serendipitous occurrence this week when I received an e-mail from a writer at Personal Writing saying they wanted to profile Creative Ink in a future issue (probably September or October). I had a nice conversation with the writer, talking about how I got started blogging and why, what it’s done for my writing and my process for posting.

At the end of our conversation, I asked him why he contacted me about my blog (of the many he could have interviewed). He said it was my pitch, which sadly I no longer have a copy of, and the blog itself.

Creative Ink is my writing laboratory. Although I note the blog on my e-mail signature and on my letterhead, I never know how seriously to reference it as an example of my writing to editors. I’m not sure how they view maintaining a blog as an example of writing.

But a colleague of mine wisely noted that editors take seriously what you take seriously.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Visceral run

Running in this heat and humidity just kicks my ass. I should’ve known better than to venture out mid-morning in the blazing sun. And yet, I needed the physical release and distance after having written extensively this week.

The writers of the thirties and forties used to find inspiration in a bottle. When I need to figure out how to fix a story, I sometimes find clarity while exercising. Such was not the case today. I’m lucky I finished four miles.

Was reminded of a column I recently wrote in Quill magazine about extreme journalists. One of the women I interviewed said:

”In many cases, the writer on an expedition has a harder job than the expedition members themselves. Not only does the writer have to participate, but he or she also has to take notes and viscerally experience each and every detail.”

I was thinking about that comment while I was running and so I tried to experience my run viscerally.

My route is fairly consistent primarily because it affords me the opportunity to run without having to think about where I’m going. My mind can wander to other things. Though it’s a beautiful route, down Lake Road along the southern shore of Lake Erie and amid gorgeous homes, I tend not to really notice things.

Perhaps I should pay closer attention. I did so this morning and was rewarded. While enjoying my first sips of coffee at 5:45 a.m. and taking Riley out for her morning constitution, I saw a hummingbird buzzing around my newly blossomed poppies.

As I rounded the corner from Bradley onto Lake Road, I found myself swimming in a sea of cotton tufts floating around from the cottonwood trees. The yard on the corner has so many piles it looks as if it snowed on their lawn only.

I’m feeling pretty good, but I can feel the heat on my face as I head east toward Huntington Beach. Once I pass Bassett Road I make the decision as to whether I’ll run three, four, five or six miles. At this point, the heat isn’t getting to me too bad, so I’ll shoot for a respectable four.

As soon as I pass my three-mile turnaround, I realize that this may have been a mistake. But I take comfort in the rhythm of my breathing — step, step, breathe; step, step, breathe.

A good portion of the stretch to Huntington Beach is shaded by enormous oak trees, which are a welcome respite from the glaring hot sun. The beach has that summer organic smell of dead fish rising up the cliffs. Doesn’t seem to keep people from swimming in it though.

The sun is behind me as I head west toward home, but I feel its intensity on my back. Ahead are huge stretches of uncovered sidewalk and I concentrate on my breathing to keep me from thinking about the heat — step, step, breathe; step, step, breathe.

Honeysuckles, I smell honeysuckles, so sickeningly sweet they are making me a tad nauseous. Of course, the orange juice I had for breakfast is also not helping. Step, step, breathe.

As I approach the giant white home that was once owned by George Steinbrenner, I know I’m only a mile and a half from home. Huge stretches of sun again before I find the comfort of trees near Breezewood Drive. Too bad there is no breeze to speak of.

There’s a bit of cool air hovering around the sandstone retaining wall of the century home near Bradley and Lake. And then I round the turn and head past a heavily wooded yard, making it abundantly clear why they call it the “rain” forest.

On my final turn toward home I’m getting that light-headed feeling of having gone too far in this heat. But I turn up the pace and make a run for the picket fence on my corner. It’s good conditioning for the heat of the Firecracker Five in a few weeks.

Think I’ll get some lunch and then come back to the previously unsolved writing problem.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mikey "graduates"

Call me a sap, but I simply cannot sit at my kids’ school events without a tremendous lump in my throat. Seeing that tiny handprint and the corny poem about love gets me every time. And if the kids are reciting anything in sign language, I'm toast.

This morning, Danny and I parked ourselves on the tiny chairs in Mrs. Eaton’s primary-colored classroom to watch our children “graduate” from kindergarten. Though they entered her classroom last August looking more like toddlers than school children, the past nine months have shown that they are indeed growing and ready for first grade.

They demonstrated their knowledge of the Pledge of Allegiance, their knowledge of ABCs, seasons, months and days of the week. They showed us how well they sit and listen to instructions from the teacher. And then they each received their “diploma” and portfolio containing examples of their work over the year.

When Mikey flashes that beautiful dimpled smile at me, I am positively certain my heart will burst with love. The tears instantly fill my eyes and I have to do my darndest to hold them back.

There’s something about the end of the school year that makes me melancholy. The end of so many happy memories — like the great candid shot of Ryan in his school yearbook seen cheering at the faculty/student volleyball game at Bay Middle School — and the support and encouragement from some terrific teachers, whose presence in my boys' lives I will miss.

Things could have gone haywire. All three of my kids started in new schools this year, but they all thrived in ways I could not have imagined last year. Patrick, in addition to serving on Safety Patrol, was his classroom representative on Student Council. And this after he suffered some pretty severe anxiety last summer.

Most importantly, all three of my boys are happy. I couldn’t ask for anything more as we begin our summer vacation.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Bay Bubble

Tonight is Bay High School’s commencement. I haven’t been asked to give a commencement address and probably never will, but I do have a few observations about my adopted hometown.

In the coming weeks so many of you will want to flee the Bay Bubble as fast and as far away as possible. You’ll want to escape the saccharine nature of Bay Days, Family Fun Days and Rocket football games and the ridiculousness of not being able to use Cahoon Park on Sundays. You may crave anonymity, something so hard to accomplish in such a small, close-knit community.

This is a place where, in a matter of minutes, news of a drug search at the Bay High parking lot spreads like wildfire through the extended network of younger siblings. And if you were one of the unfortunate students who had your car searched for marijuana, you’ve likely had to endure the knowing glances and smirks of your parents’ friends who nod as if to say, “Sure it wasn’t yours.”

Escape from block schedules, Mr. McAndrews’ prying eyes on the smokers under the Wolf Road bridge, Brad Friedel soccer camps, after prom preparations and your parents’ warnings about the creepy people who lurk at Huntington Beach on summer weekends.

So go ahead and find yourselves. Go to the big city if it’s calling your name. Head to Hollywood if that’s your destiny. Fulfill your potential and find your heart’s desire. And if that’s far from Bay Village, so be it.

But mark my words, some of you will choose to come back.

That’s right. Someday when college is behind you and you’ve had the chance to sow your oats on bigger horizons, you’ll long for the quaint community that nurtured you throughout your youth.

It will be small things that will tug at you at first. You’ll be at some trendy bar, sipping a cosmopolitan and you’ll suddenly remember Mexican night when your parents and neighbors gathered in the backyard for fajitas and margaritas. Of how one dad would mix up a batch of virgin daiquiris (known to the kids as icees) that would be the most refreshing break after a game of manhunt.

You’ll remember how Mr. Lowry at Java Bay never tossed you out of his coffee shop, even when you arrived en masse after school let out. How he always seemed to remember everyone’s name and how he knew more about the high school basketball scene than anyone in Bay.

While jogging through same major metropolitan area someday you’ll remember how you could ride your bike from one end of Bay to the other (Bradley Park to Reese Park) and not get tired. And how Lake Erie provided a chill to every spring soccer game and a welcome breeze at a baseball game under the lights at Hartman.

You’ll remember how beautiful your community is — with its northern border as Lake Erie and the Huntington Reservation smack in the middle. You’ll remember Monty the Python at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center and how cool it looked when he shed his skin. You’ll remember the day the wrecking ball tore down the old Bay Middle School and how half of Bay Village braved the January cold to watch it happen.

Winter will bring memories of sledding at Rose Hill and ice-skating at Cahoon. And you’ll never forget the summer the new pool opened, with its awesome slides and killer snack bar. You’ll crave Superman ice cream at Martin’s Deli, orange blossom at Honey Hut or Georgio’s $5.99 pepperoni pizza. And you’ll be able to remember the names of all the barbers at the Bay Barber Shop — Ken, Jim, Ski and Doug.

Then something remarkable may happen. You may realize as you start to settle down, that the Bubble wasn’t so bad. That it was really an ideal place to raise a family — maybe even your family. And then suddenly you find yourself searching the classifieds and then the real estate section, looking for that first starter home, which are so abundant in Bay.

You won’t care that the property taxes are high. You know there are some things worth paying for — phenomenal schools, fabulous parks, outstanding recreational opportunities and the comfort that comes from living in such a safe environment.

In your move back to the Bubble, you’ll suddenly be standing in the checkout line at Heinen’s and you’ll run into classmates, who have also made the same choice. And over beers at the Ironwood you’ll all reminisce about the creek water incident in which half of Bay High called in sick in the 1980s because someone had made Harry Buffalo using water from Porter Creek.

And you’ll howl until you cry remembering how your cousin skeeched in the snow off the back of the school bus all the way down Winsor Drive. Or how on a dare you jumped from the back of the concession stand at the stadium onto the pole vault mats below. You’ll remember with great fondness how Mr. McAndrews wasn’t so bad after all. He knew everybody’s game and really gave you the chance to change your ways. You’ll remember the sight of Mr. Knapp, with his long stride, running throughout the city. Or how Mr. Kozlowski was the best math teacher you ever had, always willing to go the extra mile for his students.

You’ll remember how beautiful the dewy grass was in the early hours at Bradley Park or how the red sunset filled the sky over Lake Erie. And as you wipe the Dairy Queen ice cream from your youngster’s face, you’ll recite the phrase your mother taught you years before: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” And you’ll know why you came back.

But for now, go out and discover who you want to be, knowing that there's a community of well-wishers standing behind you.

Good luck, Class of 2005, wherever you may land.

Friday, June 03, 2005

How Wendy gets her groove back

Last Friday I was preparing a package of materials to send out for possible work. The opportunity is for some meaty articles, heavy on research and narrative. In addition to the obligatory letter and resume, the editor was asking to see some meaty writing samples.

And so it was with great panic that I pored through my files realizing that I had no meaty samples from my last year of writing. The bulk of my recent work has been short and sweet. I’ve not had the opportunity to delve into much of anything with depth. And that was highly discouraging.

As I began pulling from some past lengthy work of which I’m particularly proud, I realized that the fun and thrill in writing was found in the shoe leather of reporting those stories. Regular readers of CI may note that I’ve been struggling with writing of late. Call it writer’s block if you choose, but for me it’s more of a mental block. I need to get out of my head. There’s a bit of detective inside me and I thrive off the discovery of research and reporting. That’s what has been missing.

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.

This thing of being a full-time freelance writer is a long-distance race. The trick is to pace yourself. I think I may have pushed too hard at the start of the race and have been suffering the effects of fatigue, followed closely by what my brother-in-law, Marty calls FIBF (fatigue-induced bad form). Of course I've also changed the conditions of the race by focusing my efforts on larger markets. Now it’s time to even my breathing, change my stride and get my head back in the race.

Feeding the beast

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. — Francis Bacon

What I’m chewing on this week:

• Just finished Sue Monk Kidd’s exploration of a middle-age woman discovering the link between the erotic and the spiritual in her new book, “The Mermaid Chair” — truly a book to be savored.
• Picked up yesterday, upon recommendation of my pal Robin, “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini
• Finished review book, “I Told the Mountain to Move,” by Patricia Raybon on Tuesday and now I’m working on “Peace in the Storm: Meditations on Chronic Pain and Illness,” by Maureen Pratt

On the stack next to my bed:

• “Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time,” by Dava Sobel (been meaning to read this for a long time)
• “The Moviegoer” by Walker Percy (I simply LOVE southern fiction)
• “Hudson River Bracketed” by Edith Wharton (is there really one I haven’t yet read?)
• “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene
• “The Fourth Hand” by John Irving
• Ernest Hemingway’s definitive collection of short stories

What’s playing in my headphones and iTunes: (I’d like to say iPod, but I don’t have one of those — yet.)

• Luce
• Jack Johnson, “In Between Dreams”
• Norah Jones, “Come Away With Me”
• Assorted Van Morrison
• Billie Holiday
• Dinah Washington

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


I think the person I'd least like to be today is the current No. 2 at the FBI. Wonder how his co-workers and the current administration now view him? Hmmmm...

The cat's outta the bag

What a colossal letdown! I feel like I did when I was 7 and my older brother, anxious to share his newfound discovery, revealed that Mom and Dad were Santa Claus (and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy).

The Washington Post, which I read daily, has been scooped by a San Francisco attorney who happened to take Deep Throat’s grandson under wing and has now broken the news of his identity in this Vanity Fair article.

It was a lot more interesting not knowing Deep Throat’s identity. The magician's trick has been revealed. Now we know it was the No. 2 guy at the FBI: W. Mark Felt, age 91 and currently of Santa Rosa, Calif. Somebody let the air out of my journalistic balloon.

The cynic in me is already questioning the motives for the timing of the revelation. I’m a little suspect of his daughter, Joan, who clearly sees financial opportunity. Isn't a little fishy that since she's known the truth about her father's involvement she's been pushing him to come forward? (Maybe it’s just me but she bares a striking resemblance to Jane Fonda.)

Maybe this kindly old man, who looks as if he could be anyone's grandpa, doesn't fit MY expectation of Deep Throat. Try as I might, I’ve been unsuccessful in superimposing Mark Felt’s face over Hal Holbrook, who played Deep Throat in the movie version of “All the President’s Men.”

But there he is nonetheless, up there in years and maybe a little relieved to have finally shared his secret with the world. What is interesting is how Bob Woodward so carefully protected him and still wanted to ensure that the promise he made three decades ago was kept. Does anyone do that anymore? His actions smack of integrity to me. He continued to ask if Felt was in possession of faculties enough to make the decision to reveal his identity.

I’m sure Bob is not happy about John D. O’Connor’s article in Vanity Fair. I’m sure he — and Carl and Ben — wanted to be the ones to reveal his identity. But this is America where first one to the finish line wins.

O’Connor’s article is a pedestrian account of the events in Felt’s life that only touches on the inner turmoil this man endured following his decision to reveal what he knew about Watergate. Near the end he writes: “But Watergate invigorated an independent press, virtually spawning a generation of investigative journalists.”

I became a journalist because of Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and, yes Deep Throat. I became a journalist because I wanted to change the world. To speak truth to power, to speak for those without a voice and to engage readers into thinking they could also change the world.

At the end of my senior year in high school and only a decade after Nixon resigned, I sat riveted to the television in Mr. King’s overheated honor’s government classroom while most of my classmates nodded off. We were watching “All the President’s Men” and watching that I knew with absolute clarity that being a journalist was my calling.

What Felt did took an amazing amount of courage and patriotism. How fortunate our press was able to protect him for so long. I’m not hopeful, given the current political climate that will continue. So much has changed. Many mysteries are no longer and people can't wait to share a secret.

Hell today, as Jeff Jarvis writes, Deep Throat would be a blogger.