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Friday, April 29, 2005

Souls as athletes

Souls are like athletes, that need opponents worthy of them, if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers, and rewarded according to their capacity. — Thomas Merton, "The Seven Storey Mountain"

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Thank you, Connie

Being a writer is a very bipolar experience. I've been on the downward slide of late and I'm desperately digging in my heels hoping to prevent a freefall. As most experienced writers know, when you feel desperate as a writer, NOTHING seems to work.

I keep coming back to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (hereafter known as PPWW) Buzz Bissinger's remark at ASJA conference that he is "uneven" as a writer. Lately, that's how I feel.

Maybe I'm getting bored with the stuff I've always done. Maybe it's time to stretch again. And that's why I'm thanking PPWW Connie Schultz today. She said these six words at the City Club of Cleveland yesterday:

I found my courage in essays.

An always encouraging colleague poked me in the back and said, "She's talking to you." And I was listening. More than 230 people packed the room yesterday to hear what the 2005 PPWW for commentary had to say, many of them were her colleagues at The Plain Dealer and her colleagues at other news organizations. But she directed her remarks at the writers in the audience in general and the freelance writers in particular.

She recognized how self-defensive we independents can be and how we view writing as a mission, not simply a job. And that's a view she carries from her freelance days to her position as columnist at the PD.

Her advice?

• Revise, revise, revise.
• Every good writer needs a good editor.
• Tell a story and get out of its way.
• Read your writing aloud to hear where words aren't working.
• Tell yourself you're writing for the New York Times, even if it's the community paper.
• Sit with an editor through the editing process to learn where things aren't working in your story.
• It's easy to feel beaten down: how you handle it will determine who you will be.
• Don't make apologies for who you are: woman, man, parent, married, single, gay, straight, right, left.

And here are a few more tips offered by her editor and writing coach, Stuart Warner:

• Read everything.
• Seek out advice of writers whom you admire and find out how they are succeeding.
• Seek and accept criticism.
• Don't rest on your laurels.

And finally, Connie left us with this gem from poet Lucille Clifton:

What they call you is one thing. What you answer to is another.

Hey Connie, have time for coffee?

A little fun
Check out this piece from Guardian's Tim Dowling. It's a delightful little spoof on Arianna Huffington's forthcoming group blog. Hah!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Writing as reward

Inspiration courtesy of Anne Lamott from her book "Bird by Bird"…

But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

Monday, April 25, 2005

"Run Like a God"

I did it. Ran 10 miles yesterday in 1:43:47 in what can loosely be described as less-than-ideal conditions.

Cold temps, rain/snow mix and driving winds were not enough to keep hundreds of insane runners from the first-ever Hermes Cleveland 10-Miler. The consensus among those huddled for warmth inside the House of Blues was that you couldn’t wear the T-shirt (a Coolmax tech shirt with the words “Run Like a God” on the back) if you didn’t complete the race.

And so, Lisa and I and many friends and neighbors we knew, braved the elements. I was among many experienced distance runners, most of whom had at least run a half-marathon, if not a whole marathon. My longest race was five miles. But I had trained and so I was not going to let the opportunity pass me by.

On Saturday night, the boys and I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods because I realized what I needed was a waterproof outer layer. So I picked up an extraordinarily lightweight North Face jacket that I hoped would at least keep my upper body dry.

It worked, for a while.

We assembled at Prospect and E. 4th Street to await the start. Lisa and I set out to keep our pace of 10-minute miles. At the first split, near E. 36th Street we were at 10:01. Pretty good, we congratulated ourselves. But the turn down Carnegie Avenue had us heading straight into the wind.

I had an ear band on to protect my ears from the cold. I left the baseball hat at home because I was sure it would blow off. I should have brought it because the bits of snow, ice and rain were pelting my face to the point where I couldn’t see. I kept my head down and just concentrated on the rhythm of my breathing and the sound of my feet splashing through the puddles.

Lisa and I were both dreading the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. It’s a slow uphill grade, high above the flats, exposing everyone to the whipping winds. We marveled at the poor guy ahead of us whose wind pants had the effect of a parachute, causing him added resistance. By mile three, the crazy guy in the running shorts had legs the color of beets. I’m sure that’s what mine also looked like under my running tights.

Heading north down W. 25th Street was no prize, but we took advantage of a slowdown in the wind and managed to make up some time so that by mile five we were at 49:43. While running up the Detroit-Superior Bridge I jinxed myself. I told Lisa that, all things considered, I was feeling pretty great. Cardio was good, pacing was good, legs felt strong. Then on the downhill across the bridge, I felt a shooting pain on the outside of my left knee. “Oooh,” I winced.

We ran down W. 3rd and by the time we emerged from under the West Shoreway to the area behind the Browns’ Stadium we were practically running in place. The wind gusts were so strong it felt as if we were on a treadmill. A lanky guy in front of us threw his arms out and screamed into the wind in a failed attempt to tame it.

Winding our way around the Northcoast Harbor, we found ourselves on a long stretch of North Marginal Road in front of Burke Lakefront Airport. There was a turnaround up ahead, but it seemed to be miles away. By this time, both my knees were screaming in pain. I looked down at my legs, which we beginning to feel like lead, and saw water just dripping from my running tights.

My shoes felt like sponges, wringing out water with each step I took. We were nearing the end, I was digging down deep—and struggling mentally—to find the motivation and inspiration to finish. Then Lisa said to me: “Remember how Dan said you couldn’t do this?” Of course, he didn't mean that literally. He only meant that he worried about my getting injured or being in any pain, which of course I was.

But the thought of him and my boys gave me the inspiration I needed to keep running. And so did Lisa. She talked to me, making suggestions for changing my stride to reduce the impact on my knees. And, knowing my running routes, she would put the remainder of the race in perspective: “You’re at Huntington Beach, on your way back home.”

We climbed up E. 9th Street to Lakeside and were greeted with a penalizing wind tunnel that nearly knocked me to the ground. We linked arms momentarily, trying to urge each other on, but then realized we needed both arms to battle the oncoming wind.

Once we hit W. 6th Street, the wind wasn’t as bad, but I was becoming convinced I’d never be able to walk again. A woman we passed, who was saturated from head to toe in her wind pants and shirt, said, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve had children!”

We laughed in agreement and continued on to W. Prospect. And then, coming down Prospect to Ontario, we spotted the truck with the giant clock on top. The finish line! Somehow, Lisa and I found it within in us to kick in a bit to the finish. Once we stopped, we saw a friend who had just finished ahead of us and there were high-fives all around. Lisa and I hugged, incredulous that we made it through the storm.

I grabbed a banana from the box and found my hands were so cold I was unable to peel it. My knees were throbbing and it hurt worse to walk than to run. Lisa said she felt her knee swelling. And then we began to shiver, I mean uncontrollably, like that shiver you get when you’re in transition during labor and no amount of heated blankets from the nursery seems to help.

There wasn’t a dry spot on us. We squished in our shoes, though ironically my feet were not cold or sore. There was a party with bands and food inside the House of Blues, but we looked at each other and said, “Let’s get home!”

I had the heater blasting in my car and couldn’t feel my fingers for most of the drive home. Even though I was parked in the garage, the walk from my car to the door was excruciating. Danny was on the phone when I walked in. The look on his face said I must not have looked very good.

“Oh my God, Wen,” he mouthed. My entire body was trembling violently with cold. Mikey kept saying, “Are you okay, Mom?” I laughed and said yes, but that I was very cold and needed a hot shower.

When I bent down to untie my shoes, water streamed out of my waterproof jacket and pooled on the kitchen floor. Every layer was completely saturated. Patrick picked up one my socks and it was literally dripping with water.

But I made it. It was quite an accomplishment. Had the weather conditions been better, I’d have felt terrific. Spent most of yesterday wrapped in a blanket, with my space heater blaring. This morning, I was able to get out of bed unassisted. I feel pretty good and am proud of myself for finishing. It would have been easy to wake up yesterday and say, “No thanks.” Once I commit to something, I need to see it through, no matter how painful. And last night, as we went to bed, Danny said: "I'm so proud of you." Knowing I had his support meant everything.

I’ll enjoy a few days rest from running and then will resume my training. Our next race is the River Run Half Marathon on Sept. 11. I'm pretty sure we won't be battling snow then.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Gearing up for Sunday

I'm addicted to Trader Joe's Cranberry Almond Crunch cereal. Just powered two bowls. I'm carbing up in anticipation of my race on Sunday.

Can't believe the turn in the weather. It's supposed to be 40, rainy, breezy, yuk. Think of me while you're sipping your third cup of coffee and poring through your Sunday paper. I'm dreading running over the Carnegie Bridge to 25th Street (brrrrr!). Gotta quit thinking about that. Lisa and I are heading down to House of Blues after lunch to pick up our packets.

Think positive thoughts, think positive thoughts...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Writing is a personal and fragile act

One of the questions on the survey at the ASJA conference was about keynote speakers, as in whether or not they add to a conference. I was thinking about that this afternoon and I’ve concluded that what they do is provide inspiration, and in the middle of panels and workshops and seminars, that little bit of inspiration is what can propel you through more panels and workshops and seminars.

The keynote speaker at the ASJA conference last weekend was Buzz Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Friday Night Lights.” He told the audience that he is always self-conscious about talking to other writers, but his descriptions about writing and the process of writing are worth sharing.

“Writing is such an incredibly personal act and an incredibly fragile act. What works, simply works and I hesitate to get involved in anyone else’s process,” he says. He spoke openly of his insecurity and says he takes to editing much as he does to all self-improvement, by shutting off the lights, hiding under the covers, curling up in the fetal position and sucking his thumb.

“Writing is hard. I feel your pain and frustration, but also the exhilaration that is still found in the joy of the writing process. There’s no better feeling then when you get on a story that’s going to take you to the Promised Land.”

Bissinger edited the 2003 Best American Sports Writing anthology and says it was a testament to the innovative, creative nonfiction still being done today, despite our age of “dripping, drenching celebrity.” And he was particularly pleased to read the work of many community papers without the stable of prize editors whose sole work is to enter contests on behalf of the usual suspects.

But he cautions writers against taking the easy road. “I worry about reporting. It’s what informs all of nonfiction. Can I get inside that subculture enough?” he asks. The gold is in taking readers into a world they think they know, such as high school football, and revealing so much more.

“I like to write with power and passion instead of that pseudo-intellectual processed cheese that reads as if you’re on autopilot,” he says. Many editors and critics like to play it safe. And that can make success as a writer a somewhat elusive lady.

“I’m uneven as a writer and even more uneven as a human,” adding that he was twice divorced and married for a third time a few weeks ago in Las Vegas. “I fear the curse of dullness. I have sentences I’m embarrassed about, but I also tend to swing for the fences when I write, to engage with the reader in a blood pact so they are seeing and tasting what I’m writing about.”

It’s all about access. It can be a day or a season, but access allows you to grab the detail and to soak up the stuff of life.

“Reporters and editors ask way too many questions. The key is to observe and listen,” he says, adding that was a skill he learned the hard way. When he was a young cops reporter in Minnesota a police chief looked at him and said: “Jesus, you talk a lot.”

“Every piece must be leavened with the shoe leather of good reporting. Be creative, go for the interview no on thinks you can get, pore through those court documents for the one detail you need. And then structure your story by focusing on the narrative engine that keeps the reader going.”

His suggestions for developing better narrative techniques: read mysteries for the way in which they drive narrative through plot, drama and character. Read columns for the ability of a columnist to draw readers in a short space. “They are called stories for a reason and you need to remember that.”

“What makes a story sing is passion, the willingness to bury ourselves and sweat over every detail. I do stay up at night thinking about structure and how I can tell the story and how I can keep the reader with me.

“The way you can lift the reader out of the monotony of life and dump them into a world so fresh and vivid and exciting, that’s exquisite and heady. That’s why what we do, no matter how hard, will always, eternally be worth doing.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

At times, not the brightest bulb

It goes without saying that I simply adore my boys. I mean I'm crazy about these guys. They make me laugh harder than anyone else and their little-boy worldview touches my soul.

But I swear to God there are moments when I wonder where they left their brains. For the past hour and a half I've been tracking down my two older boys because they were determined to ride their bikes to school today, regardless of the forecast for afternoon thunderstorms.

Now normally, I don't mind a little rain. After all, there's nothing like swishing through puddles in your bare feet after a summer rain. But this was a bit more.

Patrick and his friend Joe managed to get home in the nick of time. I feel somewhat responsible for the Banks boys this week because my friend and neighbor, Patty, has been in Dallas for two weeks training for her new job.

When the thunder and lightning started, I grabbed my car keys in search of
Ryan and Nick. As I was leaving, Joe and Patrick started outside.

"What are you two doing?" I asked, with my arms outstretched in their very best "Would someone Pull-eeze give me a break?" gesture.

"Uh, going outside?"

"Uh, no!" I snapped.

"Can we at least play in the garage?" You have to know these two. At age 10, they are both the middle of three boys. Although I find them probably the most creative of our collective six sons, they are also known for getting into things like spray paint and staple guns.

"Don't get into anything. I'll be right back," I said.

As the rain came down in buckets I realized I was still in my work clothes (as in dress slacks, heels and blouse) and I would likely have to figure out a way to muscle two large bikes into the back of my van.

Ryan and Nick attend Bay Middle School. It's on Wolf Road, a main east-west thoroughfare in the thriving metropolis that is Bay Village. Rarely, however, do they take the straight way home. That would be too obvious. As I headed toward the middle school I had to think like a 12-yar-old boy. "Where would I go in case of rain?"

Their bikes weren't at Martin's Deli so that meant they didn't get far from school. My next stop was at their friend, Connor's house. Sure enough, there was a rack of bikes in Connor's garage.

When I get to the door I kindly asked if my darling son and neighbor were there. Ryan nonchalantly came to the door.

"Hey mom. What's up? How'd you know I was here?" (I love that he can be so completely unruffled by my sudden appearance at his buddy's house.) Well it certainly isn't because he called to say he was safely under cover!!

It seems that young Nick thought enough to call his very concerned Grandma and tell her he was safe. When I drilled Ryan he said, "I didn't know if you'd be home."

First, I'm nearly always home when they get home from school. Second, I have this handy little contraption known as a cell phone, that he frequently uses to share stentorian belches for my amusement (or lack of).

So with a break in the weather, I urge them to high-tail their little heinies home before the skies open up. By the time I pulled into the garage, to find Patrick and Joe disassembling Patrick's old bike, it was raining buckets.

Ryan came up to my office in nothing but his boxers, completely soaked and did his best, "Look at me!"

Told him to hit the showers. And so now it's 4:30 and I've not gotten much done this afternoon. And I'm choking on the scent of Ryan's deodorant spray. YUK! Guess it's better than the alternative. So when they all ask me why I have to finish work at night, I'll just pull up this post by way of explanation. Because now I have to jump back in the car and pick up young Michael from after-school care.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

NYC Vignettes

9 a.m. Sunday, April 17 / Handbags
Ah, a spectacular day in Manhattan and I’m headed into the subway at Grand Central. Jump on the Lexington Local downtown to Canal Street because a friend of mine tells me I can find some goodies in the way of cheap handbags in Chinatown.

Of course, I’m instantly accosted about a Louis Vuitton bag even as I’m coming up the subway steps. I duck into a few of the tunnel-like storefronts wedged between legitimate storefronts and peruse the merchandise.

Many Asian families are busy unloading trash bags full of handbags, jewelry, watches, wallets, scarves and sunglasses to sell to every red-blooded, purse-toting American woman. I can’t buy. Feels illicit and goes against my conscience. I know I’m in the minority, but it doesn’t feel right. Can't help thinking that my decision to buy may help fund terrorism.

Instead I head back up Broadway and take in fabulous Soho. This feels like real New York, whatever my impressions of real New York may be. There are friends seated on the front stoop discussing last night’s festivities and young mothers walking with their children back from the market. With the Chrysler building as my northern guide, I know where I am headed…

10:15 a.m. / Surfers in Washington Square Park
Heard a New Yorker say that this week is the pinnacle of New York spring. How lucky I am to be here. I’m going to have to lose the leather jacket soon. The sun is getting very warm, very quickly. I take a seat with a great view of the arch and New York University. With my notebook in hand I begin to just scribble away random thoughts and contemplation.

Now here’s a sight you don’t expect in Manhattan — a young couple walking through the park with surfboards under their arms. Hmmm. Wonder if surf's up on the Hudson. A girl of about 8 is zooming across the concrete on her scooter while simultaneously taunting her younger brother. A young film student is working on his masterpiece and coercing his subjects to follow his direction. Dogs, lots of dogs. A rather boisterous lot are they.

The arch gives the park a European feel. But the presence of a man dressed as a wizard reminds you that this is indeed New York City with all of its requisite eccentrics. There’s such energy here. It’s palpable and ubiquitous and I find it inspires me creatively. Of course it could also be that the past two times I’ve been here have been for writing conferences — also a source of infinite inspiration.

I’m a pretty frugal New York traveler. For this conference, I roomed with my good friend, Jill Zimon, to share costs. We had a ball together. Our similarities continue to delight me. We had similar outfits, nearly the same suitcase and we each had TWO cosmetic/sundry bags. Is it possible to find one to fit all our gear?

Airfare is not bad and I’ve hardly spent any cash. Of course, my husband says it’s because I don’t eat when I travel. Hey, I pack my energy bars and bottled water for sustenance. Did have some fabulous coconut ice cream for dessert last night that made me want to strap on a grass skirt and do a little hula. Mmmm. Even shared a second helping.

Met a lot of editors at national mags this weekend and have a lot of pitches to work on. My briefcase contains a running list of half-baked ideas that I hope to chew on a bit more this week and next. After two days of talking nonstop with so many people, it’s nice to sit quietly, to contemplate, to absorb, to simply be.

I see the Empire State Building. Seeing as it’s my third trip to the Big Apple, maybe I’ll go to the top.

11:50 a.m. / The cellular customer you are trying to reach...
Okay, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. I’m standing in the never-ending line to go up 86 stories to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I’m not so good in lines. Really I just want to get up there and call the boys to tell them where I am. They’ll get a huge kick out of that. They keep asking why I haven’t yet gone. The reason? Lines!

The walk up Fifth Avenue is delightful. I pass by many churches and admire how the pastors stand outside the front doors welcoming the very finely dressed New Yorkers inside. Why don’t suburban churches do that?

By 12:30 I finally get to the top of the Empire State Building. Not sure Mikey would do well in this line. As soon as I get up there I realize I have no cell phone service. Oh well. The view is spectacular and I imagine it’s worth seeing at night.

Got to hustle back to the hotel to check out by 1.

1:20 p.m. / Resting
I’m sitting in Pershing Square having an omelet for lunch and basically just taking a load off my tired dogs. Switched into my running shoes since I’m trying to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

My waiter is ALL attitude. I’ll forgive him since I’m sure he’d rather be acting. After slyly checking my NYC map, I decide I can make it to the Upper West Side and to Columbia University and still have time to get back to the hotel and grab a cab to JFK. Gotta hoof it down 42nd to Times Square station and catch the red line number 9 uptown.

2:10 p.m. / New York Firsts
I’ve had a few firsts this trip. Successfully hailed my first cab on Friday night, took a photo of a couple from Indiana at Times Square and finally made it to the place I’ve been dying to see — the Upper West Side.

Columbia University is spectacular. I was ready to become a college student again. Bongos, Frisbee, packs of Greeks, sunbathers and music emanates from the quad. Reminds me of the East Green at OU in the spring.

Wanted to grab a sweatshirt from the bookstore, but it was closed for inventory. So I walk down Broadway right into a street festival. The sounds and smells of so many cultures are intoxicating. Crepes, gelato, gyros… the food smells heavenly.

3:45 p.m. / My future chauffeur
Don’t know what I was thinking flying in to JFK. When I booked my flight I didn’t even look at the airport. Oh well. Live and learn. I have an extra-friendly cab driver who clearly enjoys speaking. On the way in on Friday, the guy never said a word until I paid him, that is. How much are you supposed to tip a cab driver? I think I overpaid because suddenly mister can’t-be-bothered started talking up a storm.

This guy asks me if I played the lottery as we pass a billboard announcing the Mega-millions is at $168 million. “If you win, I’ll be your chauffeur,” he says. And then he laughs and turns up the Doors’ “Light My Fire” on the radio. We’re driving through Woodhaven in Queens.

“See those houses over there? They sell for $1/2-million,” he says.

“Really?” They are tiny city houses with no yard.

“I live in Brooklyn and you see a house for sale that looks like it’s falling down and ask how much — $700,000. Those (pointing to the left) are new apartments for low-income housing. Go for $240,000. That’s New York,” he says.

My driver is originally from Russia. He moved to Germany and then Israel before coming to the U.S. He speaks five languages and considers himself primarily Israeli. He is married to a Russian woman who emigrated to the U.S. when she was 5. He says she’s American. And he has two daughters who were “made in America.”

He used to drive for black car limousine service. When I tell him I’m a writer he asks if I know Mr. Newhouse. He used to drive for Mr. Newhouse, more specifically for Tina Brown. “You know her? New Yorker and Talk magazine?”

“Yep,” I say. “What was she like?”

“She was very strange. She used to sit in the back seat and talk to herself. But I think people who talk to themselves are very smart,” he says. He’s also driven Maria Shriver and Bono from U2. (Eeek!) After three visits, I still haven't had a celebrity sighting.

6:35 p.m. / International runway
We’re finally taxiing to the runway. Behind us are Czech Airlines, Korean Air, Alitalia, Finnish Air, South African Airlines, British Airways and Lufthansa. Next time I come to this airport it will be for a connecting flight to Europe.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The long run

My good friend, Lisa Best, talked me into running a 10-mile race with her this Sunday. This is my same friend who ran the Cleveland Marathon last spring and a half-marathon in Arizona in January.

I, however, have never run more than five miles. Under Lisa's guidance, I'm training for longer distances. Today my charge was to run eight miles in preparation for Sunday. She keeps telling me that the key to running distances is getting your head out of your way. "If you can run five, you can run 10. It's all mental," she says.

Got up this morning and ran for 80 minutes straight. It was incredible. At one point I felt a rush as if I were high. Those endorphins were pumping overtime. My legs felt great (despite all my NYC walking this weekend) and my cardio was strong. I ran eight, but could have gone longer.

First thing I did was call Lisa to tell her, "I did it!"

"That's great, now I'm going to coach you for a marathon in the fall," she says.

Today's horoscope from the Washington Post

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22). There's the music coming from your stereo, and then there's the music coming from your heart. Either one you listen to brings you answers, lifts you, fills your senses and changes your mood in an instant.

Another NYC weekend

Just returned last night from a phenomenal weekend in New York City at the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual writing conference.

My head is swimming with ideas and I'll be spending much of this week getting all those thoughts and ideas organized into outlines for stories and pitches for national magazines. I'll write about more New York experiences as time permits this week.

The ubiquitous energy of New York City feeds my creative soul, as does the company of some terrific people. I'm especially grateful to the generosity of Susanne Alexander, who, as an ASJA member and fellow Cleveland freelancer, was incredibly welcoming.

And special thanks to my roomie. We had a great time, Jill. Let's compare notes later this week.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Scars are spurs

Damn! How ‘bout that Tina Brown bringing it on home in this WAPO column about New York’s annual Matrix Awards.

This was the teaser from mediabistro’s Daily News Feed that led me to read on:

Women in their fifties are finally blowing past the men who didn't hold the door. They've been in the workforce for 30 years — and they're unapologetic about their sense of success.

The column begins with Oprah Winfrey’s comment about O, The Oprah Magazine editor-in-chief, Amy Gross being “a real woman, not an aging female.” Gross was one of the women recognized at the event. Brown says the roar of applause signaled that the women gathered in that room at the Waldorf-Astoria knew exactly what Oprah meant.

And so do I. I’m part of that generation of women who were raised to be autonomous idea warriors. We may be a little slow in revving up, but make no mistake, you will hear our roar.

I’ve had some great models of strong women in my life. When I turned 30, my editor at the time wrote me a note about how this decade is only the beginning of feeling empowered. And it only gets better, she says, now in her mid-60s.

I’ll be 40 in two years and I’m embracing the idea with gusto. I would never want to be the naïve, insecure, tentative creature I was at 20. Nor would I want to be the matronly, insecure, tentative creature I was at 30.

Last weekend, SPJ hosted a workshop for young working journalists on reporting. I spoke about interviewing, but was touched when a young female journalist said: “You’re young and attractive, how do you get people to take you seriously?”

It’s tough. I battled with this for a long time and, to some extent, still do. My advice to her and to anyone is to be a professional through and through—in your manner of speech, dress and conduct. Be very good at what you do. Speak up and be heard. We simply have to be prepared for a good dressing down when we do speak up and we're reminded of our age, gender or station in life.

Several years ago I was editing a large chamber business publication. During an editorial advisory committee meeting, I was passionately defending research on a story about business continuity planning. I was strong in my defense of the subject's importance for small business owners and said as much to one of the women on the board.

After the meeting I was pulled aside by another woman a few years older than me who proceeded to tell me that I was out of line in expressing my passion for the subject, that I had to remember I was dealing with volunteers and that it was clear to her (a behavioral consultant) that I was defensive. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.

Later at my office I emailed the much older woman with whom I was verbally sparring and apologized to her about being so strong in my defense. She promptly emailed back that no apology was necessary and that woman today spend too much time trying to figure out when to speak up and when to demure. And she, for one, would gladly work with someone with the moxie to speak up and be heard.

I capitulated, but went home that day knowing that I wasn't a defensive individual, but one with moxie!

It takes these kinds of experiences, scars if you will, to help us become more confident. And it takes being older to realize how to dress and look more comfortable in your own skin. I'm still working on that one, but hope it's something I'll master.

Brown writes of 47-year-old CNN reporter, Christiane Amanpour (a terrific name!) arriving to the Matrix event in a black pantsuit with a T-shirt that reads, “SEXY.” And how Camilla Parker Bowles’ “rather used” look is what gives her an edge. But she ends with the mother of all strong women: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Her scars are spurs,” says Brown.

Clinton’s message at the Matrix luncheon — Nothing is sexier than survival.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Testing my new wheels

Took my new wheels for an easy three-mile spin today. No, I didn’t get a new car only a new pair of running shoes.

I’ve needed a new pair for quite a while. Think I put well over 700 miles on my previous pair. I'm sure that's not a good thing, especially at my age. Kept thinking I would buy new ones after the first of the year, but since I run outside it didn’t make sense to trash a perfectly good pair in the snow and slush.

Finally got motivated yesterday to buy after I’ve been researching for a while. I’m not much of a shopper, but when I finally decide to buy, I’m pretty definite about my buying decisions. Since I’ve been running a bunch, I made the decision to spend more than my usual $50.

Ended up with a pair of Asics GT-2100 GELs. Sounds like a snazzy sports car, and the prices reflect that. Though I spent $89.99 I could have spent $50 more! I like running, but not enough to spend $140 on a pair of shoes.

My son wanted me to go for the Nike Shocks. I tried them on, but those shock absorbers under the heels felt bizarre on my feet, not at all natural. I’ve been a fan of New Balance running shoes but on a whim decided to try the Asics. After all, if the editors of Runner’s World deemed them “Choice," they were good enough for me.

I’ve got these scrawny ankles that fan out into a wider foot, making fitting shoes often difficult. Though I typically wear size 7, I bought a 7-1/2 to keep from damaging my toes (though that may be a lost cause). I liked how the Asics grabbed hold of my ankles and made them feel as if a rolling an ankle would be impossible. So I kicked the tires, or the tips of the toes on the ground, did a few deep-knee bends to feel how they cushion and jogged a bit in place. “Sold!” I told the young salesman. In and out in 30 minutes.

This morning I opened the box and unwrapped them from the tissue to really put them to the test. I snipped off the tag—or shall I say TAGS….

There are five tags attached to my shoes. Five! What I’m paying for is no less than the miracle of modern science. One tag simply gave instructions on the care of my new shoes. Another told me about the durable outsole technology that offers “weight reduction, flexibility, traction and durability.” Well, all right. Sounds good to me.

It seems the GEL in the name refers to the cushioning system. “The ASICS GEL Cushioning System has the ability to absorb shock by dissipating vertical impact and dispersing it into a horizontal plane.” Huh. I visualize the impact of feet hitting the pavement sending shockwaves out the sides of my feet. Watch out for my wake.

3M Scotchlite is the reflective material found on my shoes. The tag even has a diagram demonstrating how the reflection bounces from a car’s headlights back into a driver’s eyes. I don’t normally run in the dark so that wasn’t a compelling buying decision.

And finally, there’s Speva, which is made from special polymers used in the midsole to give me “bounce back” properties. Very cool. If I was at all hesitant, there’s a tiny little sticker on the box that reads, “Accepted American Podiatric Medical Association.” Well now, even the docs think this is a good shoe. Given the tattered condition of my feet, I feel so much better knowing the foot docs approve.

My test drive was a success. The new kicks work well, nice heel-to-toe cushioning. Could’ve run for five miles today, but I’ve got too much work to finish this morning. Of course maybe it’s not the shoes that inspired my distance this morning, but the new Nike athletic bra. There’s nothing like the feeling of binding anything that moves to make you feel as if you’re a gazelle in spiffy new shoes.

Friday, April 08, 2005


I'm a compulsive list maker. I get it honestly. My mother is the queen (and dad is not too shabby either). Visit to my parent's home and you'll undoubtedly find all manner of Post-It notes stuck to the kitchen cabinet nearest the phone, calendar and junk drawer.

The best part is reading what's on her list: Call kids (hee, hee), bank, taxes, paint moulding, fertilize lawn. She's also the woman who, like my grandmother as well, writes out her menu for major holiday dinner right down to the rolls and beverages. Why leave anything to chance? Wouldn't want to forget to the jello salad in the fridge.

Anyway, the reason I bring up lists is that I'm feeling pretty kick butt today because I've crossed everything off my list. The last remaining item was "blog" and, well, here I am. This has been quite a week of lists. Tons of work, many details on which to follow up. But the best part is the week is over, sort of.

I'll be speaking tomorrow morning to a group of young journalists as part of SPJ's Sharper Your Skills workshop. I'll join my two favorite cohorts — Jay Miller and John Ettorre talking about reporting.

So have a great weekend and with any luck we'll be able to get outside for a spell, where true to my mother's form, I'll have a whole other list.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Our little-girl hearts

The strangest things can reduce me to tears.

The first time I saw the movie version of “Little Women,” starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon, did I cry when Beth dies? No. I sobbed, I mean uncontrollably, when Jo opens the package to learn that her book has been published. Such an accomplishment for a woman, particularly in the 1800s. Of course, I had read the book several times and knew the story intimately, so I’m not sure why that moment stuck me so.

All I can come up with is that it hit a chord deep within me that perhaps until that moment I hadn’t known existed. And every once in a while, I’ll remember the profound emotion I felt watching that scene and wonder to myself what it means for me.

Since I was in third grade, writing has been the only thing I’ve wanted to do with my life. When spoken words fail me (often), it’s the written word on which I can count to accurately express my feelings. Throughout my high school and college days and even early into my career, my dad who has always been my biggest supporter, used to say to me, “When you win the Pulitzer….”

My mom once said to me that she was concerned that I felt pressured by his words. I explained that I never took them literally. I knew that he meant them as an expression of his respect for my talent. But deep down I think we all harbor hidden desires for such recognition. I mean, what writer wouldn't want to win a Pulitzer? And at the same time, having that kind of white-hot spotlight sounds positively horrifying to me.

All those fears of feeling a phony, a poseur, inadequate, unworthy come rushing to the surface and cause near panic. When I say I fear both failure and success, that’s what I mean.

But I’m encouraged today because I have a new model for handling success graciously. Connie Schultz wrote a most beautiful column today thanking the many readers and supporters who have congratulated her on her Pulitzer win. It was a moving tribute, particularly for any female who was deemed “the smart one” in the family, or the one who personified "sense" in the vein of "Sense & Sensibility."

I wasn’t going to write about my good news this week. I wanted to be cool and detached like all those New Yorkers whose every gesture telegraphs, “But, of course, I won.”

Then it hit me: I don’t live in New York, no matter how much black I wear … in this part of the country it’s just plain rude not to say thank you.

Then she goes on to tell the story of a father of three daughters who twice attempted to call to congratulate her. A factory worker, like Connie’s dad was, he simply wanted Connie to know that he makes his daughters read her regularly and tells them that they can do anything with their lives, no matter what their dad does for a living. Connie is living, writing proof.

A father’s love for his daughters is a mighty powerful thing. And though they may be of few spoken words, particularly as we grow older, their ability to whisper of faith in our deepest desires speaks volumes to our (still) little-girl hearts.

Thanks, dad, for believing in me even when I don't believe in myself.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Rivers crashing

The clouds gathered together, stood still and watched the river scuttle around the forest floor, crash headlong into haunches of hills with no notion of where it was going, until exhausted, ill and grieving, it slowed to a stop just twenty leagues short of the sea. — Toni Morrison

With imagery like that, is it any wonder that Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature?

Feel as if I've been on — and continue on — a great quest. But like that river in Morrison's imagery, I feel as if I've been charging along with little rhyme or reason to my life.

Woke up the other night in a panic. Certain areas of my life are falling nicely into place. Panic bolt through me when I contemplated that life being good would cause suffering in my creative life. I know, I know, it's a silly thing. But it's there and as a priest once told me, feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are.

I'm doing my darndest to keep focused on the present, but living a self-employed creative life can be a strain on that process. Things are going well creatively. My phone keeps ringing and the work keeps coming. And it's good work and I'm very grateful. But I'm always waiting for the bottom to drop out and so I'm looking three to six months down the road. And I continue to kick myself for things I wish I'd done better. Why is forgiving oneself so difficult?

I don't mind charging hard. That's my personality. But I just hope I don't fall caput short of the sea. And so every once in a while, on a beautifully warm spring day, I have go outside and remind myself that life is good, all is well, kids are happy and healthy and to remember to enjoy now. Try it, guilt free.

Other odds and ends
So much has happened in the past week. Here's my quick take on the world:

• May Terry Schiavo finally rest in peace. And may her family let go of their petty differences and forgive one another for their human frailties.

• The outpouring of love for Pope John Paul II has been fascinating to watch. And I have to say that I've learned things about him that I hadn't realized. When he was elected I remember thinking how young and spry he looked. And yet age and illness were unkind to him physically. But he really served as a role model for the elderly. Despite chronic, nearly debilitating pain, he carried on an active life until his death. May we all be encouraged by his example. And may the Cardinals choose wisely our next pope.

• A big, hearty congratulations to Connie Schultz on her Pulitzer Prize for commentary. She's a bright spot at the PD and a must-read for me. Her column last fall about the Catholic women who feel outcasts in their church was profoundly moving. Connie gives hope and inspiration to many who follow in her footsteps. Savor the moment, Connie. You've earned it!

• My network newsperson of choice has always been Peter Jennings. I'm sorry to hear of his lung cancer, but I wish him godspeed in his recovery. He is the lone grown-up on network news and I welcome his calm demeanor during the great events of our time.

May we all, in this time of both goodness and grief, learn how to stop and look up and be grateful for the gifts that are ours. I'll let Toni Morrison say it better:

You love like a coward. Don't take no steps at all. Just stand around and hope for things to happen outright. Unthankful and unknowing like a hog under an acorn tree. Eating and grunting with your ears hanging over your eyes, and never even looking up to see where the acorns are coming from. — Toni Morrison

Friday, April 01, 2005

Nature's gifts

Comes like an idiot, babbling, and strewing flowers.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay