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Monday, February 28, 2005

SPJ and bloggers

Will the Society of Professional Journalists embrace bloggers among its nearly 10,000 members nationally? That’s the question of the day. As a member of that fine organization, I would venture to say that it already does, albeit perhaps unknowingly. Jon Friedman writes of his fear (sort of) of bloggers, but believes there are some bright spots.

Once, the notion of a convention of bloggers carried all the weight of a gathering of Trekkies. Now, it wouldn't surprise me to see bloggers uniting within an association like the Society of Professional Journalists, complete with smooth spokespeople and student internships - plus the addition of rumors of ties to pollsters on both sides of the political aisle.

Such a group could help bloggers gain mass appeal and credibility with skeptical old-line journalists.


It seems, according to Friedman and a piece in Slate, that Bill Keller, executive editor of the NYTimes is meeting with Jeff Jarvis and other bloggers “to discuss the paper’s failings and explore how the Times and bloggers who could ‘help each other find stories and find the truth.’”

Should be interesting to watch what, if anything, happens there.

Work-life balance missing in newsrooms
Surprise, surprise. This survey from Poynter has revealed that work-life balance issues are a big problem in newsrooms. Though disheartening, it’s not surprising.

Those most at risk of leaving are young journalists, women, and minorities. But others are not far behind them in that consideration.

The risk of losing journalists due to work-life balance issues is especially troubling because they also report a high level of satisfaction with the work of journalism. It is the working conditions that are at issue.


When once I mused about missing the excitement of a newsroom, a daily reporter instantly retorted back, “What? You mean you miss working obscenely long hours for little pay and little appreciation?”

Well, when you put it like that, I guess not.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Deadlines galore

Too many deadlines to think clearly to post today. And so I'll leave you for the weekend with this gem from the grande dame of early 20th-century literature.

In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways. —
Edith Wharton

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Tina and Larry and Ellen and Joel

Tina Brown weighs in on men and relationships
Harvard Prez Lawrence Summers is the dish du jour among female columnists. Here’s a piece by Tina Brown from today’s Washington Post. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that the bottom of her piece says Copyright 2005 Tina Brown, while most other op-eds and contributed pieces read Copyright 2005 Washington Post. She must be one helluva negotiator.

Anyway, Tina is taking on powerful, intelligent men claiming that they lack some basic interpersonal relationship skills that oftentimes leads to their early demise. Her theory is that men have fewer role-playing options than women. They are either “samurai or wimp.”

Women, by contrast, get a crack at boss lady, taskmaster and office power woman along with mistress, wife, geisha, doormat, chatelaine, vixen, goddess, nursemaid and she-devil -- all in the course of one day.

A woman playing any of these roles is perfectly in her element; a man playing a role feels unmanned. It's easy for Condi to switch from standing on Putin's corns to gazing into Chancellor Schroeder's eyes and laughing coquettishly at his Germanic jokes. That kind of thing is harder for Bush -- and off the table for Rummy.
Hee hee, got a chuckle at that last zinger.

In this piece by Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, she takes a tongue-in-cheek stab at defending Summers from his defenders.

The truth is that the Harvard president is on social probation. He's alienated so many people that one more false move and he'll end up at the World Bank where he can insult whole countries.

Achenblog has yet to disappoint
Reading Joel Achenbach has become something of an addiction for me. His writing appears to come so easily (and breezy) and yet, as he writes in a post called The Von Drehle (as in fellow WaPo David) Rules, sometimes this blogging (and writing) business can be tough.

He’s also posted a compelling story by one of his Georgetown students about a bar bouncer at a fine Dupont Circle establishment. Teaching this kind of student and reading this quality of writing must be truly inspiring.

Tendency to over parent

Connie Schultz wrote a nice piece in today’s Plain Dealer about our tendency to over parent.

She talked about her daughter’s college essay and her compulsive need to read it before her daughter sent in her application. Fortunately, her daughter is a mature, graceful young woman who had the good sense to appreciate where her mom was coming from, but firmly informed her that the essay was hers to write.

I can sympathize with Connie's angst and though my kids are a few years away from college essays, I'm sure it will be tough to resist the urge to help. But I'm beginning to appreciate how a more balanced amount of oversight will lead to a more balanced young person. With any luck, it will become a burgeoning trend in the wake of all this Mommy Madness.

Last fall I listened to one of those NPR gems about parents positively amping out over their kids’ college application process. It would have been funny were it not such a sad state. College admissions officials from some of the big colleges were pleading with parents to let their children handle the process and to not push them. Harvard or MIT are not for everyone. Sometimes, Ohio State is exactly the environment in which a kid will excel. And parents have to be OK with that. In other words, we have to learn to accept our children, even when they are just average.

Why is it OK for us not to be perfect, but we expect our kids to excel in everything? Why aren’t they ever allowed to be average when we so clearly are? Connie asks.

Last night I was going through Ryan’s backpack. As a sixth-grader and a good student, I tend not to check daily on whether or not he’s done his homework. But inside his math binder I found a progress report that indicated he’d either turned in incomplete or late homework three times, dragging his grade down to a low B. I was furious. Not at the grade, but at his laziness in completing homework. He caught my wrath last night.

I let him manage his schoolwork on his own, with limited interference. But I won’t stand for laziness and that’s why I was upset with him last night. He knew his father and I meant business and this morning promised that he would not do his math in academic support (known in our day as study hall), but would bring it home.

This morning I’m meeting with Michael’s kindergarten teacher. She called me yesterday to say she had some activities Michael could do to help him with phonics. The Title I testers are coming in two weeks and she was sure with a little practice he would not require Title I reading help.

I’m not going to worry about this. It’s not my first experience with Title I. Patrick was recommended to the program when he was in kindergarten and I was aghast when his teacher politely explained to me that parents choose not to take advantage of this free, federally funded help with reading because of the “stigma” attached with needing the help.

“HUH!” You mean to tell me there are parents out there who are so ignorant that they would turn down help even though their child would benefit all to save face. Pull-eeze! Patrick is now in his fourth and final year of Title I and I am grateful to have had the help of some wonderful tutors who have not only helped him with sounds, but also boosted his confidence.

So I’m off to meet Mrs. Eaton this morning and I will be just as happy with my little Mikey if he requires Title I reading help next year as if he doesn’t. I’ve known parents who pay the GDP of small countries in both private school tuition and private tutoring help. I can’t see the sense in that. Besides, I’ve been through teaching two other little boys to read. Teaching a child to read can, at times, be an arduous process so I’ll take any free help I can get.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Crescendo of female voices

Anne Applebaum’s column in today’s Post addresses the Harvard flap regarding female scientists with incredible clarity.

It’s what we’ve been talking about all along…

Too often the missing component of the debate about the dearth of tenured female scientists, or female chief executive officers, or women in Congress, is the word "family." But (Harvard President Lawrence) Summers did call the work-vs.-family choice the most important problem for women who want tenure:

No one seriously believes women are less-intellectually capable of careers in the hard sciences. And discrimination, though still present, is not the underlying factor of under-representation in the boardroom and the science lab.

(It’s) the impossibility of making a full-time commitment to work in a culture that demands 80-hour weeks, as well as to family in a society unusually obsessed with its children.

There’s a crescendo of female voices building in recent weeks. Maybe, in 2005, we can have a serious discussion about the plight of ALL women, regardless of their life choices.

What also matters is that we shift this passionate debate from the fate of a few women at Harvard to the real needs of millions of women across the country. I'd feel a lot more sympathy for Summers's current plight if he'd said how ridiculous it is to require academics, male or female, to work 80 hours a week to get tenure. I'd feel a lot more sympathy for Summers's feminist opponents if they spent less time worrying about their academic peers, and more time worrying about the agonizing trade-offs between work and family, and how they can be better managed in the interests of women, children and co-workers.

Hope springs eternal, though much more poetically in the words of Emily Dickinson.

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

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Mommy Madness, the Finale (I think)

Manifestoes blast their way into the popular consciousness on two kinds of fuel: recognition (we see ourselves in them) and rage (we can no longer tolerate the injustice they describe).

And so begins Judith Shulevitz’s review of “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” in this week’s NYT Book Review, which Newsweek excerpted in last week’s cover story.

Shulevitz contends in a huge cover piece that Warner’s book is brimming with both recognition and rage. Though her review is a mix of “thank God someone wrote MY experience” and frustration at the limited viewpoint of largely upper-middle-class women, Shulevitz makes a point at the end that, “Overparenting has a lot in common with overwork.”

According to her both:
• make economists happy because it leads us to buy more stuff
• are powered by fear of loss of face


She stops short of shouting “revolution!” since, as she admits, “revolutions tend to end badly.” Instead she offers this sage bit of advice:

But insofar as mothers with jobs and mothers without them could conceivably band together to form a very large interest group, we do represent a whopping opportunity for change. Whether we take that opportunity depends on whether we can pull ourselves out of our mess long enough to persuade those around us to clean up theirs.

Return from the woods
Every person should have access to a refuge. I found mine this weekend at my sister’s in-laws’ cabin in Hocking Hills. Spent four days running over declivitous hills and through sweeping meadows with my yellow lab, Riley and her two canine cousins, Mike and Grace. There’s a certain peace and comfort that comes from running with the dogs in the woods. My Riley, the pup in the trio, bound ahead but always paused to make sure I was coming before running on.

Though I spent the weekend with my extended family, it was a large enough place to allow a tinge of solitude. It will be even better when Jen and I go there alone.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Mommy Madness Part 2

Well, there is certainly a great deal of discussion about this article. Just look at the links provided in Sandy Piderit's comments from yesterday.

It appears that the discussion has fallen into two camps — those who think Judith Warner is dead-on in her assessment of societal pressures and those who think it's just a bunch of whining. I would venture to say that this issue is more charcoal gray. Though I believe there are societal improvements to be made, I also think the fundamental problem resides within.

Lighten up
I remain steadfast in my belief that we put undo pressure on ourselves. We take on supermom tendencies, we overprogram our children, we remain somehow convinced that leaving them to their own devices will result in failure. I've been just as guilty of doing this as anyone else, but it's wrong.

I pushed Patrick, my fourth-grader, to enter a project in his school science fair. I'm trying to teach my children that in order to succeed in this world you have to be willing to do more than simply get by. He was reluctant at first but eventually agreed and did a fabulous job of choosing his own project idea and putting together his display. One need only walk down the first aisle of projects at Westerly School to realize that many of those presentations far surpassed the ability of a third- or fourth-grader. It was a sad commentary on our lack of faith in our children's abilities.

I was so proud that Patrick stood next to his display and proudly informed parents and classmates about his findings. He measured different brands of popcorn to determine which popped the most. For the record, it's Orville Redenbacker by an ounce. And he was smart enough to bring bowls of popcorn to attract more visitors to his project. The point is, he did it on his own. He asked me questions, I helped buy the supplies, but otherwise it was all his own.

Surround yourself with willing helpers
One of the mommy blogs today talked about the need for surrounding yourself with a community of people you love and trust. Maybe that's your family or maybe it's neighbors. I know in my case, it's my neighbors.

I can count on Mary Waters and Patty Banks (both working moms) to help me out at any time. And they can do the same for me. And my other neighbor, Mrs. O'Brien, has been like a surrogate mother. She has been there for me through many difficulties and celebrations. I'm only too happy to help when she needs someone to get her daughter, Colleen, who has cerebral palsy, off or on the bus. I may not have my mom (who works full-time) or my sister (who also works and lives out of town) nearby, but it doesn't necessarily follow that I have no one.

Find our voice
If there's anything I've seen in all this chatter about moms and sanity (or lack thereof) it's that we're all feeling the edge. So why not help each other out more?

Now let's not be whiny girls about this issue, but let's stand up for ourselves and for our families and for society and support one another. Because women are a force to be wreckoned with when they find their voice. Let's not wait until we have to scream to be heard.

Newsweek let down
Now, as my good friend Jill Zimon wrote to me, there is something about Warner's story that bothers us to no end from a strictly journalistic viewpoint. I read the piece online. I knew Warner had written a book on the same topic, but didn't realize that Newsweek's cover story is an excerpt from that book. Judith Warner must be sky-high these days what with all this media attention. I was at Border's last night and picked up a copy of New York Times Book Review, and there is a review of her book on the front cover.

Newsweek, however, has let me down. At the very least running the excerpt is editorial laziness, but most importantly, it's shameless promotion of one contributor's book presented under the guise of journalistic reportage. If Newsweek wanted to write a credible piece, it could have used Warner's book and premise as a jumping-off point for its own reporting on the issue. And perhaps a brief excerpt could have been used as a sidebar.

As it stands the element of the story that rings journalistically true is the sidebar on Confessions of a Slacker Mom. We should all aspire to have her happiness.
After all, who is the slacker? She found joy, which is something the moms in the main story haven't got.

And, of course, as so many women have echoed: Anna Rules!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Stop the mommy madness

This is something. Did you all see this week's Newsweek cover story on “Mommy Madness?”

My gut reaction is, Stop the madness!

I have very mixed feelings about Judith Warner’s article. She describes mothers who appear to be “sleepwalking through life in a state of quiet panic.” And she includes herself in that mix. I’ve seen that look in the mirror and felt that panic rising in my chest. But I’ve got to say, we have it within our control to stop the madness.

I was having one of those wonderful e-chats yesterday with my colleague, Robin Green of Custom Publishing Group, my former employer. She and I were planning a long-overdue get-together. One of the best parts of my former job as managing editor at CPG were the chats Robin and I would have about books, words, favorite writers, our boys, etc.

So I had to pick her brain about this piece. I knew she would have read it straight out of the mailbox. And she had. She, too, admits to being disappointed by the piece because Warner focuses so much on global and financial issues. As Robin said, it’s the little things that are maddening, accumulating until we feel we'll explode.

But Warner does ask an important question: Why has this generation of mothers, arguably the most liberated and privileged group of women America has ever seen, driven themselves crazy in the quest for perfect mommy-dom?”

My take? We were told we could have it all — loving family, successful career, hot sex life, nurturing hobbies, abs of steel. The problem is that no one told us (how could our mothers have known?) the toll having it all would take. That balance is incredibly difficult. That there are days when you’re a superb mom, days when you’re an exceptional career woman and days when you’re the answer to your husband’s sex fantasies. But you’re rarely all that in one day. Balance is over the long haul. It’s a journey and a struggle and it shifts at various points in our lives and that’s natural and — now this is most important — IT’S OKAY!

How many times have you sat in your special place with tears of exhaustion (or maybe the tears simply wouldn’t come) and just wished for someone to put a reassuring (not a condescending) hand on your shoulder and tell you it’s going to be okay?

I nearly broke into tears at one point in the story because I’ve been this woman and I’ve felt her pain, disbelief, utter inability to articulate anything except feeling like a failure. She’s a mom and a newspaper editor and neither are typically at a loss for words, but this woman’s life had literally spun out of her control and she was questioning everything, but mostly herself.

The woman waved her hands in circles, helplessly. "What I'm trying to figure out—" she paused. "What I'm trying to remember ... Is how I ended up raising this princess ... How I got into ... How to get out of ... this, this, this, this mess."

Have you been swirling in that black hole of utter nothingness? Have you seen the faces of little girls laughing in delight, swirling their dresses and brushing their bangs away from their faces, wondering, “What the hell happened my joy?”

What happened, according to Warner’s article and my experience, is that we’ve been raised to be independent and self-sufficient. That’s a double-edged sword these days. I have never once doubted my capacity to tackle anything or to handle life solo. But the thing is, I don’t have to handle it by myself. No one does. And it’s my problem for not asking for help, for trying to control every situation, for not delegating more, to my children, to my husband, to my extended family and friends, to my colleagues. There, I said it. I have trouble asking for help. I see it as some sort of failure on my part. But we all need help. As my neighbor always says when she's bailed me out of a carpool situation, "Hey, sister, it takes a village."

Mostly, I’m learning, as the Slacker Mom said, to say enough is enough. It’s so difficult to go against the parenting grain and is a real test of character. And for all you moms with young children (by that I mean preschool or younger) it only gets more demanding and difficult as your children get older.

We’re smart, educated women. We’ve got to start acting like it and remember that we have a life to live that is ours, not simply endured vicariously through our children. Because someday, sooner than we imagine, they will be gone and what will we have that is ours?

Warner claims that real change needs to be legislated. I disagree. While certain changes to tax code, benefits and education can help, the real problem and the solution lies within us.

If we are truly pioneers as Anna Quindlen writes in her column this week, then we have it within our power to carve our own path — a more sane path. Quindlen, the patron saint of thinking moms, describes the über-mom’s life as somewhere between “the Stations of the Cross and a decathlon.” Jeez! I’m winded just thinking about that. And it reminds me of the moment I decided to quit working full-time and turn to freelance. It was 1995 and my dad had been staying with us while in town on business. I was in my morning frenzy of loading two babies into the car to get to the sitter and off to my underpaying newspaper job.

My dad stood there mesmerized, following my back and forth, in and out of the house. Finally, he stopped me. “Honey, I’m exhausted just watching you.” I drove to work in tears that day, but it was also the wakeup call I needed to change.

I do need consistent reminding that it’s not all on my shoulders. I certainly don’t want my kids to think of me as a martyr, after all, as Quindlen wrote, there's no way be a martyr and have a good time. And I want to have a good time, to enjoy life. We’re setting models for our young sons and daughters. For crying out loud, let’s set them up for realistic expectations. We owe that to the next generation.

Maybe you just need to repeat this mantra from Saint Anna to keep it all in perspective:

The most incandescent memories of my childhood are of making my mother laugh. My kids did the same for me. A good time is what they remember long after toddler programs and art projects are over. The rest is just scheduling.

Amen, sister!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Lost in translation

Okay, I know this headline is fast becoming cliché, but it really describes an experience I and several of my SPJ colleagueshad yesterday.

We met with a group of journalists from Siberia at John Carroll University. They are here through an exchange with the Cleveland International Program. After my experience in Korea, I jumped at the chance to have a chat with and learn from other foreign journalists. This was quite different in that we were speaking exclusively through a hard-working interpreter in a very structured environment.

I confess to feeling a bit uncomfortable with the format. We sat at opposing tables and provided information about First Amendment, ethics, journalism education and online media. I wanted to have a two-way conversation, but the language barrier proved tough and perhaps the structure was the best approach after all.

The Russian journalists were amazed that we could simply walk into a police station and ask to see the arrest log for the past 24 hours. They asked my colleague and good friend, John Ettorre, how he made money if he had no advertising on his Web logs. He had to explain that he makes a living by writing for other media. Many bloggers are hoping for future payoff.

The most difficult notion to convey was how journalists are educated in the U.S. Valentina Dobrynina, editor-in-chief of Tele-Mir, a newspaper in its formation stages, was trying to understand what things we taught those seeking to become journalists.

Sister Mary Ann Flannery, chair of the JCU Department of Communications, began by explaining that the first thing they must learn is to seek the truth and the larger social responsibility that bears. But that didn’t satisfy and Valentina, through our interpreter, said those are things you learn in church not school. That’s admittedly true, but we were after all sitting in a gothic-style reading room at a religious university.

We then talked about specific journalism subjects — reporting public affairs, covering government, etc., and the value of a liberal arts education, innate curiosity and a journalist’s need to know a little about a lot.

It wasn’t until a follow-up conversation that my colleague and friend, Jay Miller, was able to say what we should have said: That no amount of training and education can replace a reporter’s ability to speak truth to power. I’m not even sure if that will translate, but Jay’s explanation hopefully will: “But what it means is, the most well-educated person, maybe even the most skilled writer, will fail as a journalist unless he or she is willing to ask the most powerful person he or she knows the most disrespectful, most threatening questions. Such as: ‘Mr. President, is it true that you failed to complete your Air National Guard duty during the Vietnam War?’ Or ‘Mayor, is it true you put your brother on the city payroll and didn't require him to do any work?’ ”

More news on newsblogs
The venerable Poynter Institute has started a conversation with MSM (that's mainstream media for my family)leaders about the value of blogs on their sites. It’s a mixed bag of responses, but at least someone is having the conversation.

Once again, I’m going to point to my two favorite examples of MSM blogs. Joel Achenbach started Achenblog at the beginning of the year on the Washington Post. His pieces are light and entertaining and I’ve been so bold as to invite him to speak in Cleveland. His response: Wendy, hi, thanks so much. I don’t know when i'll be in cleveland again but i do like it there. maybe when i'm inducted in the rock and roll hall of fame??? Won’t hold my breath, but I won’t shut the window either. Why is it that daily newspaper reporters never use caps in e-mails? Puzzling...

And finally, since I confess to being a bit of an Anglophile, here's one of my favorites from The Guardian. Loved this ditty from Sean Clarke:

This morning, I thought it would be a terrific wheeze (Hah! Great word!) to write a post about biblical humour, inspired by this story about Italian researchers working on the subject. It put me in mind of an argument by David Chidester in his book Christianity: A Global History.

Chidester argues that much of Jesus's advice for life is subversive, if not downright cheeky. The idea, for example that if someone asks for your cloak you give him your shirt as well. Chidester says men in first century Palestine wore only two pieces of clothes; take off your shirt and you'd be starkers, which would be a good way of embarrassing anyone foolish enough to ask for your cloak. Not a sidesplitter, I know. Nobody around here thought it was funny either.

Then I thought about it a more, and discovered this article. It quotes the episode when Elijah challenges the worshippers of Baal to light a fire by appealing to their God. When nothing happens, Elijah taunts them thus: 'Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened' (1 Kgs.18:27). Again, it's definitely sarcasm, and might be funny if properly delivered, but it's hardly Catch 22."


Anyway, my whole point in sharing these with you is that I think Cleveland needs to have this kind of fun, behind-the-scenes newsblog. It can work with either a single personality (ala Achenblog) or the community approach such as The Guardian. Brewed Fresh Daily is the closest thing we currently have thanks to the hard-working efforts of George Nemeth. But I would love to see the PD pick up on this idea as it relates to news and features. The underlying problem is that the PD’s site (Cleveland.com) is too many things and I fear such a blog will get lost in the drivel. Too bad the PD doesn’t have its own site similar to so many other major dailies. Anyone know the story there?

This one’s for the girls
I don’t often do this on Creative Ink, but I’d like to point you to my reviewof “Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much” by Anne Wilson Schaef in today’s PD. (You’ll have to scroll down to the second review in the column.) Reason? I don’t know a woman today who doesn’t fall under the “doing too much” category and just want to share some of the wisdom in this book. Some of its complete crap, but much of it is worthwhile.

Today’s mantra: “It’s not that God didn’t give us all the time we need. It’s what we have done with time that is giving us a problem.”

Amen, sister. Need to get back to work, but since I haven’t moved since 8 this morning, think I’ll go for a run first. That’s what I’m doing with MY time. Or maybe I should dance?

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22). There's music under your skin. Be a dancer. Dance vigorously to shake off the cords of embarrassment and the shackles of needing to fit in. You are accepted just as you are.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

What's all the kerfuffle?

With such plentiful word choices, why settle for the usual lexicon when the alternatives are so delicious? I’m always on the lookout for interesting and new (at least to me) word choices and came across three wonderful examples yesterday that simply rrrrrolll off the tongue.

All three were found in articles in the New York Times. The first is kerfuffle, which simply means disturbance or fuss. I heard it first out of my Aussie friend’s mouth while on a bus ride from Suwon City to Seoul back in November. Peter Lewis of Australian Broadcasting, was regaling us with a joke about a dog on an airplane (you had to be there) and mentioned the kerfuffle it caused. The bus erupted in laughter and I would venture to say the hilarity was due in measure to his word choice (and his dead-on delivery).

Danny saw my notes about the words scribbled on a notepad on my desk last night and started chuckling when he read kerfuffle. “What’s that mean?” he asked. I told him and he’s now adopted that as one of his new favorites. When the boys were arguing about something downstairs, I heard him walking down the steps yelling, “What’s all the kerfuffle?” Stopped the kids, cold.

Then I saw the word canoodle, which means to fondle or pet. I giggled just trying to imagine a bad movie in which an actor tells his lover he’d like to canoodle her. Hah! Taught the boys that one when I told them to canoodle (as in pet, not fondle) the dog.

So many great words are found in other languages. Prime examples are some found in this review by the PD’s Karen Long. The review discusses a book written by Christopher Moore, subtitled "A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World." Unfortunately, on Cleveland.com you can’t see the sidebar with a sampling of words, their pronunciations and their meanings. The trash guys have already been here to pick up my recyclables, so I don’t have the piece in front of me to share. You lexicon lovers may simply have to purchase the book.

In a few hours I’ll be meeting with some journalists from Siberia. I’ve been practicing my Russian greeting (phonetically it sounds like “Dobray Din” or good afternoon) for the occasion. But I stumbled across a great Soviet word in a New York Times piece about a new book called, “On Bullshit” written by a retired Princeton philosophy professor.

The writer explains that this professor’s work began circulating “samizdat” style in the early 1980s. According to Webster’s, the word’s origin dates to 1967 (the year I was born) and it means: “a system in the USSR and countries within its orbit by which government-suppressed literature was clandestinely printed and distributed.” How very KGB…

There’s another word that’s been bandied about of late, particularly on blogs and in op-ed pieces. Bloviate (when describing certain pundits), which means to speak or write verbosely or windedly. It’s awfully close to what some might call a blowhard, which actually means braggart.

Of course as journalists we must always be mindful that our job is to be able to communicate clearly. One of my biggest pet peeves is the use of jargon in the business world. If you’ve ever covered business, small or big, there’s a compulsion among its ranks to throw every bit of jargon your way in the context of an interview. The challenge for the journalist comes in translating the jargon into plain English for the masses.

I literally cheered aloud this morning when reading this piece by Alison Grant in today’s business section of The Plain Dealer. Her article is titled, “Optimizing oratorical strategies: (Using plain English in the business world).” Clever headline.

Anyway, Grant writes that the business world is filled with pouffy, opaque language and “stupefying clichés.” The good news is that there’s a counter movement of businesses taking aim at the jargon offenders by developing techniques and software aimed at identifying and suggesting alternatives for such language. And for good reason — it’s good business.

“An analysis of communications from Dow Jones companies found that straight-talking companies performed better than ones using vague, unclear language,” Grant writes.

And if you’re one of those business folks who prefers “utilizing (that’s another of those words found in my 'never use' list) buzzwords” just think about what jargon-speak did to Enron — and its investors.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Love letters

Had to share this piece from yesterday’s Washington Post because it speaks to a romantic part of me that longs for the days of beautifully composed letters

Writer Kristin Henderson, who has written about how military spouses are coping with the war in Iraq, unlocks the secret of love letters from some of the most famous literary correspondents (such as Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton and Morton Fullerton), but she also writes of love letters to Civil War soldiers and modern-day e-mail romances that span the globe.

The love letter, whether it’s handwritten or electronic, represents the tangible. Lovingly written letters can cause a pheromonal reaction in its recipient and can be the closest thing to having your loved one near. It's why people throughout time have cherished them, dressing them in ribbons or tucking them safely into secret boxes.

She writes: “Walking hand in hand. Eating together. Lying together in each other's arms. Romantic love is so closely linked with physical contact that when we can't see or touch the ones we love, they can start to seem like figments of the imagination. Then we long to feel the reality of their skin beneath our hands, their breath against our cheek. Maybe that longing is what impels us to write, the longing to make the other person real again, because, unlike phone calls, which exist only in memory once we hang up, the written word lasts. It's real.”

This thing called love

Maybe it’s just me, but the papers have done an extraordinary amount of coverage devoted to a holiday that began as the Catholic Church’s check on sexual passion.

In this op-ed by Stephanie Coontz she writes: “For thousands of years, love, passion and marriage were considered a rare and usually undesirable combination,” adding that few young people, even centuries later, were expected to marry on the basis of such irrational emotions as love and sexual attraction.

“When the church declared Feb. 14 St. Valentine's feast day in 498 A.D., it was not trying to celebrate romance. Rather, the Church wanted to replace the existing holiday, a festival honoring Juno, the Roman goddess of love and marriage. Church fathers probably hoped as well that a Valentine holiday would undercut the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, which began each Feb. 15. According to Roman custom, on Feb. 14 - the night before Lupercalia - boys would draw names from a jar to find which girls would be their sexual partner for the rest of the year.”

Coontz, who is a history professor and author of the forthcoming book, “Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage” (a rather convoluted title that would probably work well if shortened to read simply, “How Love Conquered Marriage), wrote about how high expectations and choice can increase chances for huge disappointments. Apparently, though, that’s also the silver lining.

“But today's high expectations are a monumental improvement over the past, when violence, adultery and day-to-day misery were considered normal in a marriage. So when couples look soulfully into each other's eyes tonight over a romantic Valentine's dinner, they might take a moment to remember that despite the risk of divorce today, never before in history have people had so many opportunities to make marriage fulfilling.”

When the fire and light of early romance evolves into a gentler, softer love of many years, it takes a little more effort to keep it burning brightly (or even slightly). Sadly one of the great detriments to loving marriages is modern parenthood.

In another op-ed in today’s New York Times by Judith Warner, author of “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety," she writes of how our culture of playing Supermom and Superdad is killing our marriages.

Consider the opening of her column: “Your young child shows up at your bedside five minutes before the alarm clock is set to ring. She climbs in. She is warm, her hair is silken, and she nestles perfectly into the curve of your torso.

“You experience something like plenitude - until the alarm clock rings and your spouse's arm stretches out to shut it off and comes to rest upon the two of you. That arm is bristly and heavy, and feels, somehow, laden with demand. What demand the poor thing carries is not clear, but whatever it is, it feels like too much on this particular school morning when, after the usual rites of teeth brushing and sneakers and mittens are through, you've got to plan how, on this day of all days, you will most adequately express to your little loved ones just how deeply - and how festively and chocolate-drenchedly - you love them.”

I do feel confident that my boys know I love them infinitely, without my killing myself for them. But there's an unspoken parental pressure to go the extra mile for our kids. And so I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon getting Patrick and Michael ready for Valentine’s Day today, crafting containers for kindergarten Valentines and reminding Patrick to address his. At 12, Ryan has outgrown parties and cards and his basic attitude about the holiday is, “Who cares?” But I can remember with absolute sweetness and light the first hand-made Valentine he brought home from preschool. It had his chubby little handprint on the cover and the pride with which he bestowed this gift to me still brings tears to my eyes.

My good friend and fellow mother of three, Jill Miller Zimon, wrote about how this holiday has evolved from our younger romantic notions of fire and flowers to one that is wholly connected to our little darlings. In her debut column, Mommy Matters, for Cleveland/Akron Family Magazine she describes how slowly yet eventually, we become our children’s love slave. (She and I have often remarked that we must have spies in each other’s homes since our lives seem to exist on parallel planes.)

Though it’s something I continually work on, at times with more success than others, I want to share Valentine’s love with those I care most about — my family and friends. And to my hubby who patiently endures my neuroses and serves to remind me daily of the goodness in life. I feel blessed to have known incandescence…

“Nobody has ever measured, even poets, how much the heart can hold.” — Zelda Fitzgerald

Friday, February 11, 2005

My love affair with magazines

I have a problem, a real sickness. I’m addicted to magazines. Can’t seem to stop saying, “yes,” to subscription notices. Until yet another weekly news or literary magazine arrives and my husband (and mailman) proclaim, “Enough!”

It’s ridiculous really because I have so little time to read them cover-to-cover. And so, painful as it was, I wrote, “cancel” across by subscription notice to “The Economist.” I want so badly to read it weekly, but just can’t find the time.

My copies of The New Yorker are neatly stacked next to my favorite reading chair. I feel guilty when I can’t get to them right away. But a friend of mine once said that The New Yorker isn’t offended if you get to it late. That’s good advice. Plus I’ve learned to be a more discriminating reader. There are certain writers whom I read regularly (for example, Caitlin Flanagan, Sy Hersch, Kate Boo and Malcolm Gladwell), but sometimes those marvelous fiction pieces are just screaming, “Read me!” And so the stack, which includes the winter Fiction Issue, grows ever taller.

Since I’m a fan of the back story, I enjoyed Jon Friedman’s interview with New Yorker editor, David Remnick, on MarketWatch today. I knew he was a young editor, but if he’s 45 now, that means he was named editor of one of the country’s leading magazines when he was 38! That’s enough to make one feel less than.

Friedman writes of Remnick’s noble vision—to explain our world, his commitment to truth in journalism and his loyalty to his writers: “Remnick's curiosity to understand how the world works hasn't dimmed a bit. It's as if he is able to use the pages of his magazine to give himself and his readers an idea about how we live and explain why we should care about Washington, popular culture, the media, fiction and criticism.”

"’This is a happy place,’ says Ken Auletta, the New Yorker's star media writer. ‘The people like and respect him.’

"’An editor has to hold the hands of often-neurotic, very needy people,’ Auletta says, referring to writers…. ‘David has a good bedside manner, and he'll read your piece four or five times before it goes into the magazine.’”

Remnick’s attention to the words and the writers of them is what makes The New Yorker part of my must-haves of magazines. And that’s why I’m wrapping up my week with this post and heading downstairs for a glass of cabernet, last week’s issue and my favorite chair.

I’ve been somewhat slower in warming to The Atlantic, though again, I’m finding certain sections and writers I enjoy more than others. The book reviews are always interesting, though rather loquacious. As a reviewer (guess I can call myself that now), I’ve often wondered what it would be like to write a 1,200-word review instead of a 300-word review. How would I go about thinking and preparing differently with that kind of space? Hmmm, would be an interesting exercise and perhaps one worth taking someday.

Writers, by their very nature, often retract at the notion of being pigeonholed into any one genre. However, if I were forced to choose one type of writing to pursue for the rest of my days it would be personality profiles. There’s so much to learn about life and living from poring into other people’s lives. And so I’m looking forward this evening to reading Paul Starobin’s profile of Vladimir Putin, “The Accidental Autocrat” in The Atlantic.

But back to my sickness. In the interest of appeasing my husband and mailman, I’ve made a conscious effort to pare down my subscriptions somewhat, (though the ability to write them off as business expenses is always a handy excuse for keeping them). "Time, Wendy," says Danny. "When do you have time to read all of these?"

Point well taken. Since I’ve not been doing as much business writing, I thought having subscriptions to four business magazines was excessive. First to go was The Economist, as previously mentioned.

Although I enjoy the sassy tone of Business 2.0, I’m also doing even less tech writing these days, so that one had to go. I like Fortune Small Business, but haven’t read it in at least six months so I let that sub lapse as well. And just when I was about to cancel my Inc. subscription, they went and pulled together an amazing March issue that I just read end to end.

It was filled with interesting (and concise!) articles related to some things I’m working on now so I guess that one is a keeper. Besides, I’ve been reading Inc. for four years and do feel somewhat loyal. (Jeez! I just realized I’m a marketing stereotype. Brand loyal white woman aged 37.)

And so I close this week wishing you all a pleasant weekend, happy reading and soulful writing…

“If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.” – Stephen King “On Writing”

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Give 'em Hill

Do we really want to think about Election 2008? We may have no choice given the buzz around a new poll and the potential historical significance of its results. It seems Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 campaign for president is unofficially underway.

According to very early numbers reported yesterday in aUSA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll she is a 40 percent favorite among Democrats, blowing well past John Kerry and John Edwards, and six percentage points ahead of the Republican frontrunner, former New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani.

"Whether she runs or not, this is significant," according to Kathleen Casey, associate director of the Center for Women in Politics at Rutgers University, as reported in USA Today.

Significant indeed. Back in 1992, dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” I interviewed EMILY’s List President Ellen R. Malcolm at the Ritz-Carlton in Downtown Cleveland. EMILY is not a person it’s an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast” (it helps the dough rise). There was so much excitement about women in poltics then. That year six Democratic female U.S. Senators and 20 new female congresswomen were elected. By all accounts, it was a good year for women in politics.

But women have failed to field strong national candidates despite the efforts of EMILY’s List (though admittedly it only serves one side of the electorate — Democrat and pro-choice). Elizabeth Dole was a Republican name bandied about for a while during the early days of the 2000 presidential election, but she essentially vanished from the national view until she was elected to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate in 2002. She could be planning something for the future. A Google search revealed the Friends of Elizabeth Dole site currently under construction.

USA Today reports: "In one respect, the results are not surprising: Clinton, the only former first lady ever to be elected to office in her own right, is one of the most prominent and controversial people in American political life.

"But her poll status also represents a historic breakthrough: No other female candidate has had such a serious chance of winning a major party's nomination for the presidency."

There are a few interesting dynamics at work. First, Clinton
“fired the shot heard 'round the campaign,”
as New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin wrote on Jan. 30, when at a speech to an abortion-rights group in Albany, N.Y., on the 32nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision she appealed to both sides of this debate to find “common ground.”

Goodwin called it the “perfect two-fer. On one level, it was about Roe vs. Wade. At heart, it was about her.

“Come together over abortion, she seemed to say, and meanwhile, look at me. I'm not so bad, I'm really a moderate. Really.

“Testing. Testing. It's the new-and-improved Hillary, trying out some fresh material for 2008. And why not? Somebody has to be president.

“Coming at a time when Dems are sifting through the ashes trying to figure out who they want to be when they grow up, Clinton showed she already has her own answers,” Goodwin writes.

And it seems that she also has figured out a way to sincerely talk about religion, something John Kerry was unable to do (then again he’s a Catholic and a New Englander and neither are known for proselytizing faith).

But one op-ed columnist on Yahoo News says that Clinton’s ability to “talk convincingly about faith without sounding like a hypocrite or a panderer” is what distance her from her male Democratic colleagues. John Leo writes here “On church and state, she says, ‘There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles.’ Rather, she said, believers must be allowed ‘to live out their faith in the public square.’

“You don't have to be overwhelmed by Hillary Clinton's sincerity to conclude that she is making some smart moves now. She is beginning to distance herself from Democratic dogma.”

I’m not sure if she can go the distance. There’s no question that she’s a polarizing figure. But she’s worked hard in the Senate and has, until recently, quietly gone about serving her constituency.

Leo writes: “Once in the Senate, she made a beeline for the Armed Services Committee because she understood that the first female president will have to be a hawk, just as the first Catholic president (JFK) had to be adamant about not aiding Catholic schools.”

Would I love to see a woman leading this country? Absolutely! But so much is going to be riding on that pioneer to the presidency. There's plenty of time to plan, strategize, campaign, raise money, make strides. I'm hopeful that there are no guffaws along the way. Clinton strikes me as a very smart, savvy woman, but, more important, as one who knows herself well. So at the very least, she’ll give us something interesting to watch and, perhaps, inspire the next generation of women to serve.

In case you’re curious, visit the official “Draft Hillary Clinton for President”site.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Who is Deep Throat?

Never let it be said that journalists don’t know how to have a good time, granted my husband would say it’s a geeky sort of amusement.

His digs aside, even he had to admit this poll from Editor & Publisher is just good fun. Readers are asked to guess the identity of Deep Throat, the most infamous journalistic source in memory. Among the early favorites — an ailing U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and former President Gerald Ford.

E&P’s Greg Mitchell writes that former Nixon staffer John Dean’s op-ed in the L.A. Times earlier this week and the release of the Woodward & Bernstein archives last week has touched off the feeding frenzy of speculation. Among Dean’s assertions: Deep Throat is ailing and that former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee has already written his obituary.

This event and its players certainly pre-dates me. I was 5 years old in 1972. But I’ll never forget not even being able to blink when first watching “All the President’s Men.” If I had any doubts about my chosen profession, that movie chased them away. I still have my very yellowed, tattered paperback copy of Woodward & Bernstein’s book by the same name.

So who else is in the running? Former President George H. W. Bush, Alexander Haig, William Safire and even actor Hal Holbrook, who played Deep Throat in the movie version. Apparently Holbrook did a dead-on impersonation of Deep Throat, according to Woodward, with the chain smoking and angry attitude. Too bad Bob, Carl and Ben, you’re ineligible in the voting. Who's your pick?

Daydreaming

The boys and I had a chat recently about the value (and appropriateness) of daydreaming. I for one am one of those parents who wholeheartedly believes in the power of the imagination and letting it wander to the hinterlands (just not while getting ready for school in the morning). Time is of the essence.

Sadly, I've no time for daydreaming this week. But thought I'd share the lyrics of one of my favorite daydreaming tunes. Consider this my gift of a 10-second daydream. Who knows, these Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn lyrics could send you off into a hazy reverie...

Day dream why do you haunt me so?
Deep in a rosy glow
The face of my love you show

Day dream I walk along on air
Building a castle there
For me and my love to share

Don’t know the time
Buddy I’m in a daze
Sun in the sky
While I move around, feeling hazy

Day dream don’t break my reverie
Until I find that she
Is daydreaming just like me.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Running on empty

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22). The stars whisper to you -- pause to listen. They say things like "Be careful not to fall in love with someone's potential." You are observant and willing to see things how they are now instead of how they ought to be.

I’m not sure what to make of today’s horoscope, but I like the way it sounds. I like the idea of stars whispering to me. But maybe I need to be more attentive because I don’t hear anything right now and I know why. I’m treading on overload and can’t possibly handle much more without a significant rest.

I feel like the student whose Zen teacher illustrates his life by continuously pouring tea into a cup even as it flows over. When the student yells, “Stop, the cup is full,” the teacher replies: “And so it is with you.”

And so it is with me. Wise women (and men) say that when your life and mind become overwhelmed, you need to empty in order to take in new information. I don’t need to empty, but I could certainly use to refresh. I crave stillness, quiet and rest.

For a year, my sister has been inviting me to her brother-in-law’s cabin in southeast Ohio. It sounds and looks (at least in pictures) like a wonderful escape — big stone fireplace, modern bath and kitchen, lots of woods for long walks, no landline or TV reception. In fact, it sounds like just the place I need to unplug from my very plugged-in world.

With sudden urgency, I realized how much I need a break. It didn’t hit me until last night when my husband and I had a spirited discussion over how long we were going to stay at the cabin with my entire family on President’s Weekend. His fourth-grade basketball team has a game on Sunday afternoon and he thinks we should get up and leave Sunday morning in order to attend. My every weekend is filled with basketball games and carting kids here and there and running to the grocery store and getting to Mass and tackling painting projects and washing floors…. The last thing I do on the weekend is rest.

But I was near hysterical in my response to my husband, demanding to know why a CYO basketball game is more important than spending a relaxing long weekend with my family. He muttered something under his breath about me being a lunatic and not recalling that we had already discussed coming home early.

I wanted to scream, “I CHANGED MY MIND! I WANT TO STAY LONGER! I NEED TO STAY LONGER!” Instead, I walked into the living room (my room) and picked up my self-help review book: “Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much.” It would be funny, except that I’m too raw emotionally to see the humor.

I fought back tears of rage, exhaustion and frustration as I realized that a break, a change of scenery, a few days away from home and office (which are one in the same and can be hazardous to my mental health) are exactly what I need.

Though I contemplated saying that out loud, I hesitated. How can I say I need a break when I traveled alone so much last year? But the fact is, those were not restful trips. I was actively working. But there was that guilt, like my nearest and dearest friend. “How can you possibly say you need time alone when you were away so much in 2004?”

Next weekend will not be restful in the way that being alone would be. My entire extended family—10 adults, 7 kids and 3 dogs—will be there. But it represents a change in scenery. I can take Riley for a walk in the woods, run and laugh with Danny and the boys, sip tea with my sister. I won’t have to think about e-mail, deadlines, cell phone calls, the condition of kitchen floor or the unfinished painting project at least for a few days. And that’s all I need right now. Just a little break to refresh … at least until I can get my few days at the beach.

“The world is full of women blindsided by the unceasing demands of motherhood, still flabbergasted by how a job can be terrific and torturous.” — Anna Quindlen



Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ten years gone, but not forgotten

Ten years ago today, my grandfather passed away. It was a major turning point in my life. He was the first person to die whom I was really close to. And aside from my dad, he was the greatest male role model in my life. I always fancied myself his favorite grandchild and I’m not sure why I felt that way. Perhaps he made us all feel like his favorite. That was simply his way.

As a child, he was larger than life to me. During his prime Emil Litvak was 6 feet tall and had wispy white hair. He had a perpetual tan whether or not he had just returned from Florida. (Must have been the Ukrainian olive skin.) Near the end of his life, people used to tell him how good he looked (and he did!), even the funeral director admired his skin tone. “Don’t they know I’m not well?” he used to ask. He did deteriorate quickly, but in my memory he remains virile and as vivid as if I saw him yesterday.

When my parents went away on vacation, he and my Gram would stay with us kids and I can still hear him singing in the bathroom while he shaved. I used to love to grab a seat and just watch him. He sang a lot. Every Easter, he used to strut from side to side and sing to us kids.

“The Easter time is the time to shine
And the time to shine is the Easter time.
The Easter time is the time for eggs
And the time for eggs is the Easter time.”

He loved old forties music and Spike Jones and Fred Waring and used to regale us kids with his music. But my favorite was a little ditty he (in his deep baritone) and my Gram (in her lilting soprano) would sing together.

Gram would sing:
“Mares eat oats
And does eat oats
and little lambs eat ivy.”
(only it sounds like mairzy dotes and dozy dotes)

And Grandpa would respond in his deep voice:
“A kid’ll eat ivy, too,
wouldn’t you?”

In their sprawling ranch on Engle Road, my grandparents would entertain constantly. It was a curious kid’s dream to be in that house with many wonderful places to hide and observe the many interesting people who came to celebrate anything and everything. Very early on, it was a place where I honed my observation skills just absorbing the atmosphere.

Grandpa had a friend named Kenny Bly, who looked as if he could be his brother. The two were out on the patio one evening with their caps and cigars and howling about something. I watched them from my little perch behind the bar in their great room. I smiled and thought they were two of the best friends I'd ever seen and I wanted to join in their fun (though I’m certain it wasn’t suitable for a 8-year-old little girl).

As I headed off to college freshman year, my grandparents were off on their own adventure—a Grand Tour of Europe. Grandpa always seemed so cultured and worldly to me. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and was in the Reserves for many years after that. He was a Brook Park City Councilman in the 1960s.

He read constantly and was interested in everything. He was fluent in French and used to converse with my sister, causing me to be envious that I couldn’t participate. At Lincoln High School on the near West Side, he starred in a play, performed in French.

Although he was a plant engineer for PPG Industries by trade, he also was very creative. He was fascinated with flying and wrote a lovely little story in 10th grade about flying that was magnificent and captured the romantic he was until the end. When I find a copy, I'll post it here. He was a Scripps-Howard Junior Aviator and earned his student pilot's license at age 17.

He adored my husband and got on with him famously. And perhaps he even saw a little of himself in Danny. At my younger brother's wedding in 1996, Danny had imbibed just a little too much. He was a happy drunk and my Gram pulled me aside laughing and said, "Your grandfather is smiling down on your husband right now." And that made me smile. I remember my senior year in college Danny bought me a leather bomber jacket for Christmas. (They were all the rage in the late 80s.) We were at my grandparents on Christmas Eve and Grandpa hammed it up for the camera by donning my new jacket and pulling his cap on backwards. He looked simply wonderful and vibrant at age 70.

I always had the sense that Grandpa appreciated my mind, my energy and my passion. How fortunate I was to share this with him as an adult. I lived with my grandparents for six months when I first moved back to Cleveland. While he and Gram sipped their nightly highball, he would ask all about my day as a cub reporter. He was interested in politics and arts and culture and education. He even put up with me when I was a tad moody. “You were rotten!” he would say. And I was sometimes. But he could be, too. Living with him I saw how he would sometimes antagonize my Gram. But she was one tough cookie and could hold her own. No matter what they argued about, they were always outwardly affectionate toward one another.

On August 10, 1991, my wedding day, he was every bit the dashing gentlemen having shown up for Mass looking for all the world as if he'd just stepped off a yacht—crisp white linen pants and navy double-breasted blazer were a nice contrast to his white hair and tanned complexion. I later learned that it was Gram who dressed him. He was colorblind. Actually, I think she shared that with me as we were laying out his clothes for burial. My favorite photo from my wedding was a picture taken before the ceremony from behind him in which he’s pretending not to look at me (the bride) seated inside the car. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more beautiful photo of myself and it’s because, in addition to being my wedding day, he made me smile all the way to my toes.

I was so oblivious in my wedding bliss that I didn’t realize that my wedding plans interfered with Gram and Grandpa’s 50th anniversary. I was still oblivious in October when they threw themselves a big party. Grandpa had the microphone and was introducing everyone table by table and sharing little stories about them. He came to our table last and said, “It’s because my granddaughter Wendy had to get married in August that we are having this party now.” I was so young and stupid, I didn’t even realize. But I danced with him that night and, as my mom later recalled, it was the last time he danced.

Grandpa’s health began a steady decline. He was diabetic and had high cholesterol. Eventually, his balance began to falter and he shuffled around hunched and unsteady on his feet. In January 1995, he was admitted to Fairview Hospital to have a stent put into his head to drain the excess fluid from his brain. I came to visit him one day and had Ryan who was 2 and Patrick, 5 months, with me in the waiting room. Gram told me he wanted to see the boys and me, so we went into his room. Ryan promptly climbed onto his bed.

“Grandpa, do you have a booboo?” Ryan asked, pointing to the band-aid on his head where the stent was inserted.

Grandpa laughed heartily. It was the last time I saw him alive. My dad called on a Friday morning while I was working at Sun Newspapers, telling me that in the early morning hours Grandpa’s heart gave out. I was stunned and yet not. Danny picked me up from work and the moment I saw him, I cried. He pulled into parking lot at Great Northern and just held me while I let out my grief. It was the only time I did so. Later I learned that Grandpa would likely have had to move to a nursing home. Gram couldn’t continue to care for him on her own. He wouldn’t have wanted to live like that. And so in the end, at age 76, his heart stopped.

At one point near the end of his life, he asked me to write his obituary. I joked with him at the time that it would be a long while before I’d have to think about that. When it was time I found it to be one of the most difficult and most rewarding things I’ve ever written. How do you condense an entire person’s life and impact into 250 words? Somehow, for him, I managed. Just as I somehow managed, as did my sister, a reading at his funeral Mass.

He’s with me still and I’m so delighted that he got to know two of his great-grandsons before he died. How he would marvel at them now. Mostly, I hope that the woman I was just beginning to become when he passed away would make him smile and make him proud.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Saying farewell to nigh-night

At 6:30 this morning I was baking a birthday cake. At 7:30, Danny and I went into Michael’s room and awakened him singing Happy Birthday. Hard to believe, but my baby is 6 years old today. As he reminded us, it now takes two hands to say how old he is.

As the youngest, we’ve been a little more indulgent with him than we were with his older brothers. He slept in his crib until he was 3, showing absolutely no signs of wanting to leave its confines. We were firm in having Ryan and Patrick give up their binkies when they were young. With Michael, who never had one, we’ve been more lenient.

Since he was about 6 months old, he would pull the crib sheet off his bed and cuddle with it. His favorite was a red crib sheet that he literally dragged around everywhere as he got older. (I can still hear my mom saying to my dad, “He drags that damn sheet around!”)

After Riley the dog arrived, the red crib sheet bit the dust. Michael loved to play tug-of-war with her and seemed to have no problem doing so with his “nigh-night.” Eventually, Riley began to think of the nigh-night as her own and promptly tore it to shreds. No problem for Mikey, who then chose to carry around blue nigh-night. (There also was a white nigh-night, but that never seemed to hold favor.)

Whenever I would broach the subject of giving up nigh-night, Michael would say, “But I’m affected.” Ryan would howl with laughter and correct him, “You mean addicted, Mikey.”

And he was addicted. Every morning before school I would remind him to say goodbye to nigh-night. He would grab it tightly to his face, inhale deeply and say (his voice muffled by the fabric), “Goodbye, nigh-night. I’ll miss you.”

In the beginning of the school year, he would race upstairs when he came home to get his nigh-night fix. But as the school year has worn on, he would go longer and longer periods without it. So in January I told him he had a month left with nigh-night. When he turned 6, he would have to give it up.

I think he’s ready. This morning as he was getting dressed I asked him what he needed to do. “Give you nigh-night.”

“But can I just say goodbye,” he asked.

And so I helped him put into words what nigh-night meant to him.

“Goodbye, nigh-night. I’m a big boy now and don’t need you anymore,” I said.

“Goodbye, nigh-night. I’m a big boy now and don’t need you anymore,” he repeated.

“Thank you for comforting me all these years,” I said.

“Thank you for comforting me all these years,” he said.

“I’ll always remember how much you meant to me,” I said.

“I’ll always remember how much you meant to me,” he said.

And with that, he handed over what remained of blue nigh-night. It’s actually two pieces, thanks once again to a tug-of-war session with Riley.

Last night on the phone my sister asked me if I was seriously going to pitch it.

“Are you crazy? I’ll hang on to it just in case." Plus, someday I’ll pull it out of his baby box and sniff it and remember how that damn sheet was part of our lives, more important, part of Mikey for six years.”

Happy Birthday, my little groundhog. Mommy loves you.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Getting back to the arts

A few weeks ago I wrote about the demise of a dream called Avenues Magazine. What I neglected to share is that during my five years there, I received a crash course in art history, architecture, playwriting, dance, opera and classical music.

I’ve always been artistically inclined. I spent seven years playing flute and studying with teachers at the Baldwin-Wallace College Conservatory of Music. I’ve never shied away from theater, dance or classical music. In fact, those things speak directly to my soul and, when done well, can cause the hair to stand up on my arms and cause me to weep for their beauty and soulfulness.

When Avenues closed, I had begun work on a series of articles about arts outreach. Unfortunately, I couldn't turn all that work into something saleable elsewhere I think because I was too emotional to think clearly. But the idea of building audiences for the arts is something about which I feel very passionate. Stay tuned for more info on a new project that addresses just that.

On another artistic note: I found an ad in Amy Bracken Sparks’ Angle magazine announcing that CMA is reinstating what used to be called The May Show. This annual event used to be a great place for local artists to exhibit their work. While looking over my photos from my honeymoon in Aruba, a newspaper photographer I used to work with joked that I could enter them in the May Show. Not because they were good, but because I had put the same roll of film through my camera twice and the result was double images on the prints. Some were kind of cool. But I digress…

Now known as The NEO Show, (honestly, can we PLEASE get away from using NEO? Team Neo, NeoBio, blah, blah, blah) it is a juried exhibition of work in all media: painting, works on paper (prints and drawings), sculpture, metals, jewelry, ceramics, installation, film/video, performance (dance and musical), photography, textiles, web-based and interactive art by artists living in 15 counties throughout Northeast Ohio.

The exhibition will be on view, free of charge, July 10 through Sept. 4, 2005. Artists take note: The deadline for submission of the entry form, slides, video and DVDs is March 18.