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Friday, December 29, 2006

Remembering an early love

Growing up we always had a celebration between Christmas and New Year's. Today is my grandfather's birthday and had he lived he would be 87. Behind my Dad he was the first man I loved unequivocally.

We were kindred spirits in a way, enjoying each other's sense of humor, outlook on life, idealism and romanticism.

We also shared some physical traits. Relations always told me how I had his "Roman nose." Our middle fingers on each hand turn outward at the tips and our detached earlobes hang rather low. My mom and I also share these traits as well as a romanticized fondness for Grandpa.

He could be an exasperating male chauvinist, particularly infuriating my headstrong modern-thinking grandmother. But he was never that way with me. He instilled in me the sense that my brains were just as beautiful as my smile. And that even when my smile was filled with braces and when my movements were only those of an awkward gangly young girl so unsure about herself that I could still be beautiful in his eyes.

I never felt unsure or insecure or irrelevant around him. He made me, and probably the rest of us, feel as if we were the most important people in the room. His attention to what we had to say, his interest in our thoughts was an early introduction to the headiness of conversation that would help to shape my choice of career.

When I first moved back to Cleveland and took a job with Sun Newspapers, I was unable to afford my own apartment. My grandparents took me in for six months so I could save some money and eventually move out on my own. I enjoyed their routine, two highballs, a toast and a kiss before dinner each night. Grandpa and I would stay up to watch "Newhart" and "The Tonight Show," laughing about the same stuff.

We would quietly read together; he in his Lazy Boy, me cuddled on the sofa. He was forever misplacing his [gl]"asses" (which is what my cousin used to call glasses when his was little). And he would ask me all kinds of questions about my day and my job and politics and culture. Maybe it was all an act, but to me he always seemed genuinely interested in me.

The man I married is not unlike him. In fact, I think Grandpa got a kick out of Danny, calling him my crazy Irish boyfriend. He used to call Danny a brown-noser, but he was really no different than Grandpa.

On my wedding day, I remember pulling up to St. James' Church in Lakewood and he was the first person I saw. My favorite photo of that day is him pretending to shield his eyes from the bride before walking into the church. He and my grandma delayed their 50th anniversary party because of our wedding. Of course I didn't realize that until we were at their party in October and Grandpa, ever the emcee, introduced Danny and I last and explained that because we had to get married in August, they were forced to delay their party.

I danced with him that night and my mom and I said later that it was the last time we did. His health began to deteriorate, first in what seemed minor annoyances. His legs weren't steady and walking became difficult. He was hospitalized several times. I was one of his regular visitors.

The last time I saw him was in Fairview Hospital a few days before he died. I had stopped there after picking up Ryan and Patrick from daycare. Grandma and my mom said he'd like to see me. I was worried about bringing the boys and their runny noses up to see him. But Gram assured me that it would make him happy to see them. Ryan was 2 and Patrick only 5 months old. Ryan climbed onto his bed, saw the band-aid on his bald head and said, "Grandpa do you have a boo boo?"

He laughed heartily at little Ryan. A few days later in the early morning hours with Gram by his side, his heart gave out.

Over the summer, I had the chance to go through his trunks filled with all kinds of things he saved over his lifetime. The contents of the trunk tell of the hopes, dreams and experiences of him as a boy and a man. I need to get back because I'd like to talk to my Gram more about their lives and I'd like to just sit and remember with her.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On hope and resolve

"Hope is what tells us that there is always a tiny something that is possible, some place for God to meet us." — Julia Cameron

"Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?" — Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

If a writer falls in the woods…

If you've ever been in a car accident then you know all about those split-second decisions that can change fate. Yesterday I took Riley for a long walk to the park. We've both been cooped up in the house and needed the exercise.

It was refreshing and I thought I'd worn her out with endless throws of the tennis ball. But I dropped it at one point as we were leaving and, with leash still in hand, she took off. Only I forgot to let go of the leash and my 75-pound dog pulled me up off my feet in something that resembled Superman in flight.

In a split second I was on the asphalt, the brunt of the fall absorbed by my left hand and chin. As I rose I felt dizzy, sure that my legs would give out and breathless from having the wind knocked out of me. I clutched my left wrist, with my pinky finger bleeding and swelling horrifically.

I was instantly freezing cold and shivering and realized I had to walk home somehow. Before I left I considered throwing my cell phone in my hoodie pocket, but decided I would not be chained to modern communication. Oh how I wish I had it then.

I'm no wussy when it comes to pain. The labor and delivery nurse during my last delivery was marveling at how I managed the pains. But this hurt and I was moaning in agony. Somehow I staggered back home and scared the pants off my family when I walked in. Danny managed to pull my wedding rings off from my rapidly swelling finger while Ryan and Patrick fetched ice for my various abrasions.

After a while I felt recovered enough to take a hot shower. But the simplest actions of removing a shirt or washing my hair were excruciating. When I came back downstairs I told Danny that I thought I'd broken my hand or wrist and needed an x-ray. I hate going to the hospital, so he knew I was hurting if I was heading there.

Unbelievably, I did not break anything. They offered to wrap it with an Ace bandage and give me something for the pain. I refused both. I have Ace bandages at home (I have three sons for crying out loud!) and pain meds usually upset my stomach.

I had warned Danny, who insisted on coming to the ER with me, that the docs were going to pull me aside to ask if he'd been beating me. He thought I was kidding, but that's exactly what they did. He was insulted for sure, but he agreed that if asking could help just one person escape a violent relationship then the hassle was worth it to others.

As I gently washed my face before getting into bed last night I noticed my chin had turned a lovely shade of purple in addition to the red abrasion. And I discovered another goose egg over my left eye. Both knees have small abrasions that I didn't notice or feel at all yesterday. Basically, my whole body ached from the impact.

Can't believe I slept at all. The pain is still present today, but it is diminishing. I'll take that as a hopeful sign. Today's walk will be sans Riley.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What the Middle Ages gave us

The Middle Ages implies something less-than, that in-between time connecting the violence of the Dark Ages and the enlightenment of the Renaissance. A time when not much happened and all was quiet.

But as author Thomas Cahill writes in Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe, it was a time of great movements. It was the Middle Ages that brought us Thomas Aquinas, Hildegard of Bingen, Dante, Geoffrey Chaucer, St. Francis of Assisi, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Catherine of Sienna.

In a beautifully designed book with stunning color photographs and maps by Nan A. Talese, Cahill has done a remarkable though cursory job of demonstrating how the Catholicism of the Middle Ages laid the groundwork for western civilization. This is the time when Romans became Italians, when the Virgin Mary inspired construction of a great Cathedral, when St. Francis inspired faith in action, Thomas Aquinas inspired faith in reason and Giotto di Bondone inspired faith through realistic art.

It took me a while to get through the book if only because I lacked the time to read it. But once some free time opened up it is a breezy read, pulling together seemingly unconnected events to give readers a picture of how faith (specifically Catholicism) combined with reason to create our world.

Cahill, who is at work on another in his series "Hinges of History" has amassed a great deal of knowledge presented here as history for the layman. In his quest to popularize the time period, he sometimes resorts to popular culture analogies that jar the reader out of medieval reverie -- at one point comparing the dialogue in Hildegard of Bingen's letters to an episode of "Desperate Housewives." ("Take that, bitch.") Fortunately, those annoyances are kept to a minimum.

The major disappointment, however, is in lack of depth. The history geek longs for more depth and detail in the events only touched upon by the author. For example, he only touches briefly on the love affair between Abelard—who first posited that Christ didn't die to pay for human sin but as an act of "supreme generosity and identification with the human condition," and that the Jews had no idea that Jesus was God and so could not be accused of deicide, a position that would take the Vatican eight centuries (and Vatican II) to come around to sharing—and Heloise, a woman he loved as much for her mind as for her body. It was a modern love and the reader yearns to learn more about the couple.

During medieval times, philosophers such as Abelard did not marry, believing that all energy must be spent on philosophy or teaching.Unfortunately, the nasty Bernard of Clairvaux—he of the "faith believes; it does not dispute" way of thinking—tormented Abelard and eventually poisoned those closest to him. Abelard was castrated in his bed after news of his secret marriage to Heloise began to spread.

In the end, Abelard was broken physically and spiritually at the hands of the Catholic Church.

Fortunately, Cahill has compiled a very readable notes section of the book that describes the works he consulted during research. It's a road map for anyone interested in learning more about this period or about any of the characters.

Throughout the book, the struggle between faith and reason shifts and evolves at times with one gaining the upper hand over the other. But all along that tension impacts everything from science and the development of modern universities to art and even the impact on modern filmmaking.

If there's an overall theme to Cahill's book it is that which is similar to Dante's "Divine Comedy"—that power in the hands of the church can become a vile thing.
"(Boniface) was one of the vilest men ever to sit on the throne of Saint Peter, a cleric wholly concerned with his own power and aggrandizement, who took to parading about in the costume of an emperor ('I'm pope! I'm Caesar!' he shouted) and who remodeled the papal crown into the novelty of the triple tiara, symbolic of his vaunted authority as high priest, king (of the Papal States) and emperor over the emperor."
He warns of a similar problem in today's church, that its leaders should divest themselves of robes and trappings of wealth if it is to regain influence particularly in the U.S. Though his view of Catholicism is usually kept in check, he lets his disgust show at the end of the book.
"Dante bewailed the selling of church offices, describing this practice as 'Christ [being] bought and sold the whole day long' in the Rome of Pope Boniface VIII. That was, however, a far less depraved situation than the current one, where, as Dante would be forced to conclude, the twelve-year-old Christ, who conversed with doctors of the law in the Temple of Jerusalem (in Luke 2:41-52), is made to give blow jobs and rammed up the ass the whole day long by the doctors of the law of the New Jerusalem, while the high priests of the Temple stand guard at the entrances, lest any uninitiated outsides should discover what is going on. However shocking these words may sound to some ears, there can be no doubt that this is what clerical dissemblers have done to the Jesus they claim to care so much about. For 'whatever you have done to the least of these … you have done to me.' (Matthew 25:40)."
Harsh words, indeed, but perhaps a view shared privately by many others who struggle to put reason to such acts against the faithful. Despite his ending diatribe against the modern church, Cahill's work is a worthy effort and introduction to a time that should be heeded more closely.

What all of these characters of the Middle Ages—some celebrated, some tolerated and some persecuted—demonstrate is that the shaping of the western world was done not by the popes and bishops, but at the grassroots level, by writers, artists, scientists, philosophers, musicians, builders and theologians.

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe(368 pages), published by Nan A. Talese (Oct. 24, 2006)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas wrapping

Woo! I'm halfway into a bottle of Cabernet and just finished my Christmas wrapping. Thought I'd take a minute to check in with e-mail and see if I missed anything today in my last-minute Christmas crush. Fortunately, all is quiet on the western front.

Danny took the boys to the St. Ed's/Lakewood basketball game to see Devlin
Roe play and give me a chance to get the wrapping done. I'm finished and I've got my jazzy mix blasting on my stereo. Sway your hips to a little Ray Charles — The Night Time is the Right Time. Hmm, that's right.

"Sing your song, Marcy!"
Ba-bay! (Night and Day)
Ba-bay! (Night Day)
Ba-bay (Night and Day)
Oh Bay-bay (Night and Day)
You know I love you! (Night and Day)
There's no one above you! (Night and Day)
To hold me tight (Night and Day)
Make everything alright (Night and Day)
Because the night time (Night and Day)
Oh, is the right time (Night and Day)
To be with the one you love now (Night and Day)
Oh, yeah now (Night and Day)
With that Creative Ink is officially on holiday. May this Christmas fill you with all the joy and blessings of family and friends. And may 2007 bring us peace.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's always about the worst-case scenario

Jill tagged me again. Okay, here goes:
"That is the task my mind has set for itself, the endless surveying of worst-possible scenarios. Despite myself, I am romancing trouble. Despite myself, I stray near the edge of the cliff."
Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance by Julia Cameron.

Okay, Kelly, Jeff and Lori.

Here are original instructions from Dispassionate Liberal.
  1. Grab the book closest to you.
  2. Open to page 123, go down to the 4th sentence.
  3. Post the text of the following 3 sentences on your blog.
  4. Name of the book and the author.
  5. Tag three people of your own.

Starting a writing group

For a few weeks now I've been toying with the idea of starting a Writer's Group, a cohort of serious writers who are looking for a place to share ideas and the joys and challenges of being a professional writer.

I've tested the waters with a few people I know and have gotten a tepid response. I know this kind of thing isn't for everyone. I know that some people prefer to be very quiet and independent about their work. But for me, the collaboration and brainstorming with other writers can be invaluable to my work, not to mention my mental health. Discouragement is hell.

Early this morning while I was reading Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance I realized that I wasn't just being needy. Author Julia Cameron writes that, "creativity occurs in clusters." Think Bloomsbury or the Lost Generation.
"Friends … help us to sort out when criticism has a point and when it is pointless. They help us to tell the difference between being bludgeoned and feeling bludgeoned."
When I hear stories of successful writers, many credit writing groups with simultaneously getting them on the right track and carrying them through the tough times. Given the writing goals I've set for myself in the coming year or two, I believe that kind of support system could be empowering not only to me but to other writers who are open to such a group.

Anyone interested?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Rockets of the future

Over in this part of the county we may not get much play in the Plain Dealer sports pages, but you never know what the future may bring.

The Bay Middle School 8th grade boys basketball team is 9-1 this year, having only lost one game by two points to North Ridgeville. The girls won the conference last year and almost beat the boys in a scrimmage last spring (until the boys realized they had to play for real).

Maybe the Rockets of the future will make the PD Top 25. In the meantime, we're off this afternoon to a tough game at Rocky River Middle School, a big-time rivalry in the West Shore Conference. Ryan (#32) is a power forward.

UPDATE: The Rockets are now 10-1 after a fairly easy victory over the Pirates last night. We're off for the holiday and finish the season the first two weeks of January.

I did it!

Finally finished pulling together my ASJA application. It's in the mail.
It will never rain roses. When we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses. — George Eliot

Monday, December 18, 2006


"It is all too easy as an artist to allow the shape of our career to be dictated to us by others. We can so easily wait to be chosen. Such passivity invites despair. To remain healthy and vital, artists must stay proactive in their own behalf. Writers must write for the love of writing and not merely, or only, to fulfill a book contract." — Julia Cameron writing in, "Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance."
If you're stuck today, just try tackling one small task. Write one sentence, jot down one idea, make one phone call, read one paragraph. All of those small tasks taken together allow you to press on.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Why do you write?

From Orhan Pamuk's speech in Stockholm last Sunday. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Why do you write? This is the question I've been asked most often in my writing career. Most of the time they mean this: What is the point, why do you give your time to this strange and impossible activity?
He concludes his short speech with this:
This prize, which brought back to me the tender smiles of my childhood and the kindness of the strangers, should have been given to me not at this age (54) which some think is too young, but much much earlier, even earlier than my childhood, perhaps two weeks after I was born, so that I could have enjoyed the princely feeling of being a child all my life. In fact now... come to think of it... That is why I write and why I will continue to write.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Shirking the spotlight is a bad habit

Last Friday night we had a terrific party for my husband's 40th birthday. Plenty of family, friends and neighbors came out to celebrate with him and he soaked up every moment of the night. Afterward, he and my sister started talking about my impending 40th birthday.

While Danny is purely at home in the center of the action, pouring drinks from behind the bar, yukking it up with old friends and making everyone from an 85-year-old man to our newest friends feel as if they are the most important person in the world to him, I'm more of a peripheral partier. I'm an observer of the action. He's a larger-than-life personality, not in the least self-conscious about who he is and what he stands for. I'm the person who starts to say something but will back off if I can't seem to get anyone's attention. While he's surrounded by people who have known him all his life, I have only my family to share that experience.

There are times when I can be the gregarious hostess. I can play that part. I've done it hosting parties and I've done it professionally. But it only feels natural if I'm working behind the scenes. After nearly 20 years together, I think Danny's just starting to understand that about me. He kept asking if I had a chance to talk to this person and that person. Honestly, the evening flew by and I feel as if I hardly had the chance to talk to anyone, except for my sister whom I was so glad to have by my side.

Sure I love to be in a crowd and surrounded by friends. But I cringe when the spotlight swings to me. So when talk turned to my 40th I listened and laughed as the two of them planned on my behalf. It wasn't until later on Sunday night that I told Danny that I don't want a party. I don't mean to be a spoilsport. And it's not that I don't want to celebrate such a milestone. Our trip to Ireland is gift enough for me.

It's just that I'm not comfortable in the spotlight.

I'm one of those kids from school who people knew of but didn't really know well. To some degree, I'm still that person. I keep a distance and I'm really not sure why. Perhaps being the victim of mean girls has a longer-lasting effect than I thought. Or maybe my journalistic sensibilities cause me discomfort at being the focus, the story if you will.

I mention this not because I'm proud of this trait, but because I feel it is a great weakness. As a writer, I should want more of the spotlight, I should want to call attention to my work, to what I have to say. But I think I very nearly sabotage certain kinds of work out of fear of the white hot light.

Is it because I'm uncomfortable with myself? With who I am as a person? Is it because I feel unqualified? A fraud? Is it because I fear exposure? The answer is all of those things. Just when I think I'm making progress, I realize how much I hold back—still.

I've got a lot of stories -- some essays, some books, some articles -- in my head. Why don't I write them? Why don't I get them out? I've got my ASJA application half completed. Why don't I finish it? Because I might get rejected? They might not want me?

Some pitches need following up, so why do I keep putting that off? Because they're not good enough? I'm not smart enough? Pathetic!

So many times I've told writers that they have to move beyond self-doubt. That it's unproductive and paralyzing to their careers to stay static. And yet here I sit with ideas everywhere, but going nowhere.

With 2006 coming to an end, I took time to pull together a file of information labeled, "2006 Taxes." Financially, 2006 was my best year yet. But that's never been my measure of success. Instead, that review was a much-needed exercise in understanding what I've accomplished. Here's a brief list:

-- book manuscript on chronic pain/pain management
-- centennial book on Judson at University Circle
-- two large Web projects (one local; one national)
-- first piece in major national magazine
-- interviews/profiles of some of my favorite journalists
-- first place award for religion coverage for Thomas Merton article
-- in-depth narrative on education reform
-- interviews with curator from Israel Museum, Archbishop of Jerusalem, St. Francis scholars, cathedral historians, Sudanese refugees, German exchange students
-- spoken to fiction writers, high school and college journalism students, professional journalists on leadership and freelance writing and spoke to a religious group about Thomas Merton
-- spoke to journalists visiting from Russia, Moldova and Africa about Judith Miller and federal shield law
-- traveled professionally to Indianapolis (several times), Chicago, Alabama, Ohio University, Cincinnati, Columbus (several times) to share what I know and believe about journalism

So why all the angst, Wendy? Once the calendar turns, you're in your 40th year. Quit acting like an insecure child and become the person your inner writer is screaming to be!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mid-week inspiration

A couple of thoughts from the books I'm reading:
The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware. — Henry Miller
In writing about the power of the Norman cathedrals, particularly Notre-Dame de Chartres, the late Harvard historian Henry Adams believed that the Virgin Mary was the force behind the art:
"the highest energy ever known to man, the creator of four-fifths of his noblest art, exercising vastly more attraction over the human mind than all the steam-engines and dynamos ever dreamed of … All the steam in the world could not, like the Virgin, build Chartres…. Symbol or energy, the Virgin had acted as the greatest force the Western world ever felt, and had drawn man's activities to herself more strongly than any other power, natural or supernatural, had ever done; the historian's business was to follow the track of the energy…."
Author Thomas Cahill goes on to say that Mary was not mysterious, but was accessible to every old peasant woman, to the humblest of the church.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

From Reuters CEO Tom Glocer

Reuters CEO Tom Glocer gave this speech to the Globes Media Conference yesterday in Tel Aviv. It's an interesting take on the opportunities and challenges to covering news in partnership with citizen media. In reference to the doctored stringer photo from conflict in Lebanon, Glocer said Reuters learned three key lessons:

The first is accountability. The upside of the flourishing blogosphere is that beyond our own strict editorial standards, there is a new check and balance. I take my hat off to Charles Johnson, the editor of Little Green Footballs. Without his website, the Hajj photo may well have gone unnoticed.

The blogosphere provides accountability. They’re not always going to be right. Indeed, many of the accusations levelled at traditional media are partisan in nature – but some are not. We have to listen to the bloggers – we shouldn’t ignore them.

The second lesson is about the trust of our audience. We learned at Reuters that the action of one man – a man who wasn’t even a full-time staff member – could seriously hurt the trust in our news, built assiduously over 155 years. His stupid decision to clone smoke cost us.

We learned that your reputation is only as good as the last photograph you transmit, or the last story you file.

The final lesson we learned was this – more than ever the world needs a media company free from bias, independent, telling it as it really is, without the filter of national or political interest.

Could federal law water down state shield laws?

San Francisco Chronicle is reporting the following:

Twenty four states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, legal scholars and a slew of news organizations have filed court briefs in support of two Chronicle reporters facing jail for refusing to divulge who leaked to them transcripts of grand jury testimony in the investigation of steroids supplied to Major League Baseball players.

New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer filed the "friend of the court" brief Thursday at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was also signed by his counterparts from the other states, including California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

They argued that state laws protecting reporters in most instances from revealing their confidential sources could be rendered "meaningless" by a lesser federal standard. Before a federal court could require reporters to give up their sources, the states contend, it must show that "the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in confidentiality.''

(Bold is mine)

"Hearing America" on the radio

American Public Radio has compiled Hearing America: A Century of Music on the Radio, an interesting look at radio's evolution over the century. The following could just as easily describe the early days of the blogosphere:

George Schubel's story is typical of the time. Station owners like him were improvising American broadcasting. They were figuring out what audiences wanted to hear by trial and error. By the mid-1920s, in a big city like New York or Chicago, you could tune in to upwards of 35 different stations, with a remarkable diversity of programs. Some more appealing than others.

It was interesting to read the transcript, but I'd much rather listen to this on the radio. Some programming just works better that way. I'm reminded of Ken Burns' "Jazz" program, which premiered on PBS in early 2001. It was just OK on TV, but it was spectacular on radio. I love this cover image from one of the last issues of Avenues magazine, promoting the program. It's the incomparable Billie Holiday singing while Duke Ellington looks on.

The podcast of "Hearing America" will be available Dec. 18.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Are we done with toys?

Yesterday I took the boys to Crocker Park to jostle their brains a bit about Christmas gifts. They have never been big "I want" kids and that can make gift-giving challenging. The answer this year has been, "I don't know" or in Ryan's case, "Minutes" for his phone that my sister got him for his birthday.

Suffice to say our trip was a success in that I now have a good idea of what I will get them this year. But as we were driving home it hit me — we're really past the days of toys.

Michael was my last hope, but this year it's all about sports and video games. His original list contained a bunch of football jerseys. I had to explain that you can't "play" with jerseys. He has since revised (several times) and included a few toy-ish items.

But another sign that we're getting older is looming even larger. Michael still believes in Santa…for now. However, he's asking all the questions that are tell-tale signs not believing.

How does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?

How does Santa get ready for Christmas is he's at the mall?

How can Santa be in more than one place?

How will he know which tree to put our presents under (we have two)?

Ryan and Patrick have been great about keeping the magic alive for him, but I fear that won't be enough after this Christmas. How short-lived is that time...

Add this to my book list

About 10 years ago, I picked up "A Marriage of True Minds: An Intimate Portrait of Leonard and Virginia Woolf" at a library book sale. It was a fascinated glimpse into one of the literary world's most collaborative and tragic partnerships. The tenderness of Leonard Woolf toward his fragile wife was wrenching. And the sacrfices he made emotionally and physically to that relationship were astounding. Around the same time, I had also picked up Leon Edel's "Bloomsbury: A House of Lions," and so dove headfirst into reading about that era and the prolific work produced by its members.

This review in Sunday's New York Times Book Review jostled that interest about the quiet, sensible member of the Bloomsbury bunch. From the review about Victoria Glendinning's "Leonard Woolf: A Biography":

His life was, in some ways, willfully ordinary: even on the day of Virginia’s disappearance, he “entered in his diary the cumulative mileage of his car, plus the mileage for that day,” and on the afternoon of her cremation, he went to have his hair cut. And yet, as Glendinning notes, the page of his diary on March 28, 1941, “is obscured by a brownish-yellow stain which has been rubbed or wiped. It could be tea or coffee or tears. The smudge is unique in all his years of neat diary-keeping.” In recording these small traces, Victoria Glendinning has given us the measure — noble, engaged and quietly passionate — of the man.

Obama is hope for my generation

I'm not going to get all Barack Obama-crazed just yet, but I do think the Senator from Illinois has something that our country desperately needs — well-spoken passion and a world view that was shaped by something other than the Vietnam War.

He represents a generation of adults who grew up in a globalized world, one that views societies as less-dualistic and more in terms of shared values. Regardless of where we live, our primary goals are to feed, clothe and house our children, give them clean air to breath and clean water to drink, provide an education that allows them to excel as adults and give them to tools of understanding that promotes peace among societies.

The hype surrounding a 2008 presidential bid is growing. Although he is praised for his charisma, his hopeful message and his charming personality, Obama also is criticized for his inexperience. I'm willing to bet that his inexperience could be an asset.

As much as I would like to see a woman elected president, I don't believe that Hillary Clinton is the one. She is of the generation that has been leading our country since 1992. We need a generational shift in leadership more than a gender shift (though ideally we'd like both!). She comes with baggage that is difficult for many voters (not necessarily me) to overlook. And she has failed to captivate with a resounding message.

I have doubts that Obama will be elected and there's still much more to learn about his vision for this country. But I do think it's high time that our generation steps up to leadership plate and at least takes a few swings. Who knows? We may just hit one over the fence.

"On Faith" is a disappointment to dialogue

It would be nice to give On Faith, the attempt at religious coverage by Newsweek and the Washington Post a fair shake, but I'm pretty skeptical of this type of coverage. Why? Because what it does is little more than pit people with strong religious convictions either for or against one another with little effort at achieving broader understanding and tolerance.

There is no end to people who practice and evangelize their religion with verve. What is lacking in this country is understanding of and tolerance for other ways of viewing God, including not believing.

Can we create opportunities for learning from episodes of misunderstanding? Can we break through our ignorance and respect forms of religious practice while not relinquishing our own? Can we truly learn to respect each other's differences and recognize that we are all ascribing to some form of a good life?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday odds and ends

Hang on, friends! I’m hell on wheels today.

Questions going through my brain today

• “How awkward will the holidays with the Bushes be now that Bush the First’s pals have mapped a way for W to fix the Iraq quagmire?” Did anyone see Larry King ask James Baker and Lee Hamilton why they didn’t consult George H.W. Bush? Hilarious!

• “What is the average life expectancy of a washer and/or dryer?” Mine are 14 years old and it’s taking 90 minutes to dry the typical load, thus prolonging the already agonizing exercise of laundry for five. I’ve already warned The Big Guy – major appliance purchase is coming in ’07. Who knew those cute little baby clothes could grow into an assortment of gi-NOR-mous jeans and sweatshirts (times 3)?

• “If I wear my wool coat tonight, it will probably be warmer but get all smoky. If I wear my leather, it will be less warm, but I’ll be able to hang it in the garage tomorrow to air out while I wear the warmer wool coat shopping with Mom and Jenny. Hmmm, which to wear?” Danny’s 40th birthday party is tonight and as much as I’d like to think the establishment will be smoke free, the events manager informed me that enforcement of the new smoke-free law doesn’t begin until January. Need – OXYGEN – can’t breath.

• “How much would it cost to hire someone to organize my office?” Seriously. The problem is not so much the dreaded piles right now as an effective filing system so that the many ideas swimming in my head can actually be acted on in a timely manner.

• “How many ideas can one person hold in their head at one time?” A-one, a-two, a-three…

• “What did I do with that big receipt?” Hmmm. Better check online to make sure the checkbook is up to date before embarking on tomorrow’s Christmas shopping excursion.

• “Should I bundle up and run outside, skip the run and just take Riley for a walk or stay indoors and do my cardio Pilates?”

• “How long does it take to switch my blog to the new Beta Blogger?" Answer: two hours!

Another example of why I read the sports pages

It’s no secret that I live with four sports-crazed men. So of course I’m going to absorb some of their sports-loving vibe. One of my more annoying qualities (to them, anyway) is my propensity to ask detailed questions about rules, penalties, plays, etc. At Ryan’s last away game, Danny physically positioned his body away from me when I asked about a foul. Okey dokey then, I’ll just sit here quietly — or not, because I can't, because I'm curious.

I was asking them recently about the origin of the Heisman Trophy (which Ryan has been following closely, seeing as though he's a huge Troy Smith fan). They tended to blow me off or give me some lame answer about who is in the running this year and why. But that wasn’t my question. Who started the Heisman and why?

My thanks to PD reporter Mark Gillispie for this and this in today’s PD. My guys didn’t know that John Heisman (they didn’t know he had a first name that wasn’t Heisman and ended with Trophy) was from Cleveland. And they certainly didn’t know about his impact on the game – the center snap to the QB, the "I" formation, the flea flicker, the sweep (Ryan’s favorite) and the forward pass.

Nice job, Mark. I love that kind of backstory reporting. is new and improved has launched its new and improved Web site. Check it out for yourself. I love the new My Manuscripts and My Folders section. I’ve already filled My Manuscripts with nuggets of ideas I’m working on. I’ve bookmarked the site and now have a better mechanism for searching and querying the many ideas in my head and markets I can pitch. Always good to offload ideas into paying work.

Help the homeless
Last February I wrote about the annual Homeless Stand Down. This is an important social service for our city’s homeless. Here’s a look at the dates, what’s needed and how you can help:

The Homeless Stand Down is just around the corner and we need your help. For those of you who are not familiar with the Homeless Stand Down (HSD) it is a winter festival of respite, resupply and reconnection for the homeless in Cleveland. Over the course of four days we provide hot meals, haircuts, massages, access to health and social service providers, free winter outerwear, toiletries and much more.

Dates: Saturday, Feb. 10 (at Pilgrim Congregational Church) Friday, Feb. 16 (at the Cleveland Convention Center), Sunday, Feb. 18 (at Trinity Cathedral) and Monday, Feb. 19 (at First Church Cleveland UMC)

Donations Needed:
• 700 each NEW ONLY men's winter coats, men's boots, men's underwear, men's socks, men's winter gloves, hats, scarves, and totes/backpacks (these can be used)
• 700 Men's personal care kits (see attachment for details)
• $20,000
• 2400 Bag lunches (see attachment for details)

Volunteers Needed (application due by Jan. 12, 2007 and available by request):

-- 400 event volunteers

-- 100 office and sorting volunteers

-- 50 haircutters (applications upon request)

-- 10 physicians (applications upon request)

-- 50 massage therapists or Reiki practitioners (applications upon request)

For further information on how you and/or you congregation can become involved, please contact Sarah Sommers at 216.271.0230 or

My “Recommended for You” reading list from Amazon
Isn’t it spooky how Amazon makes suggestions of what to purchase based on what you’ve bought. It’s all very Big Brother. Here’s what they suggest for books:

Six-Figure Freelancing by Kelly James-Enger (definitely, yes)

The Tulip and the Pope: A Nun’s Story by Deborah Larson (possibly, looks interesting)

Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing(probably not because I've never been very impressed with Writer's Digest books)

Get a Freelancer Life:’s Insider Guide to Freelance Writing (nope, because I've been a freelancer for a while)

Humble Pie: St. Benedict’s Ladder of Humility by Carol Bonomo (not sure)


Awake My Soul: Contemporary Catholics on Traditional Devotions by James Martin (not sure)

Now, here is what is definitely on my Christmas book wish list in no particular order:

“Intimate Journalism” by Walt Harrington
“Writing for Story” by Jon Franklin
Chekhov short stories
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
“The Looming Tower” by Lawrence Wright
“The Woman at the Washington Zoo” by Marjorie Williams
“Personal History” by Katharine Graham
“Lincoln at Gettysburg” by Garry Wills
“Little Girls in Church” poems by Kathleen Norris
“On Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” by Marcus Borg

Of course this a fluid and ever-growing list.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A brief word about salvation

From Monday night's RCIA class:

"The Bible is not a personal book because when you read it as such you will always find your truth. Scripture serves a liturgical function. It represents the public documents of a church community and as such is meant to be read and heard in public, not alone. The Bible is talking about overturning worlds and you can't overturn worlds on your own."

And so began our discussion of the Gospel According to Luke. Father Bob is teaching us to be "scripturally suspicious" to be detectives in understanding what the scriptures are really trying to convey.

He is quick to point out that the word of God is not limited to the Bible. Writing, music and art all have something to say about the universal messages in the Bible. The church, to its detriment, mistakenly thinks it has a lock on some of these themes. Take peace, for example. Let's hope that much more than the church is talking about the need for peace in our world.

By way of example we listened to a recording of Judy Collins singing, "Song for Sarajevo" with a choir of children from Sarajevo singing along with her:

But when I close my eyes I dream of peace,
I dream of flowers on the hill,
I dream I see my mother smiling.
When I close I my eyes I dream of peace.

It was difficult to sit there and not feel the tears welling as you imagine the life of a child during the Balkans War. I fought the tears, others in class did not.

God speaks to us through love and relationships or through a loved one's tender touch just as he does through music, art and writing. This is salvation, from the Greek word salve, which means "to heal." Father Bob says that 99.9 percent of Catholics believe salvation is something you receive only upon death.

"If life is a test to see if we can get to heaven, then what are we living for? That would mean that God is mean and small. If you have to earn it, then it's not salvation. And if you're being good so you can go to heaven, then that's not being good, it's being scared. Eternal life is having God with you. You don't get it upon death, you take it with you."

The ultimate expression of healing (salvation) is forgiveness. We don't forgive because it's the only power we have over the person who has hurt us. It's our only way to punish them. Luke's gospel is about Jesus' resurrection over and over. When he heals the paralyzed man who was lowered through the ceiling on a stretcher he tells him to "stand up," which is code for "be alive." There's no word for resurrection in ancient Hebrew or Greek so it is translated into "stand up."

Through this miracle, Jesus shows us that we, too, have the power to forgive, to say "stand up" to someone, to restore them to health and life. (Once again he turns their world upside down.) Hatred must be passed on by memory; it must be bred in order to stay alive. That's why ethnic conflicts run so deep. Healing the person and the community are part and parcel of Luke's gospel.

"We are both forgiver and forgiven; healer and healed. Jesus says we have to see ourselves as both."

Next Monday is the last class until late January. I won't be able to attend because Patrick's Christmas Concert is that night. But I'm looking forward to reading the article he has assigned us on salvation. I won't be able to pick it up until next week, but I suspect it has something to do with universal salvation.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tips for newspaper blogging

From the most recentAmerican Journalism Review comes this list of tips for newspapers considering blogging:

Blogging Tips

Dallas Morning News Editorial Page Editor Keven Ann Willey led her staff in launching the nation's first editorial page blog. Here are her suggestions:

1. Be brief and informal. Breezy, conversational tone is good. Two hundred words is too long. Go for the quick hit, light touch, witty aside. Attitude required.

2. Don't be too proud to blog.

3. Respond to previous blog postings. This is about conversation, after all. It's the back and forth that makes a blog engaging.

4. Vary your topics. Don't be a wonk.

5. Don't write anything you wouldn't want your mother to read in the paper.

6. Use hyperlinks.

7. Incorporate interesting, provocative reader e-mail. The best blogs are two-way streets.

8. Be quick to correct yourself.

9. Don't feel obligated to answer all blog-generated e-mail.

10. Don't over edit; but designate a blog boss.

Meme from Jill: Five little known facts about me

Jill tagged me on this meme: Five Little Known Facts About Me. I'm tagging Kristin, Kristen and Lori Hmm, here goes:

1) I have no feeling in the toes of my left foot. This was the source of my sister's constant entertainment growing up. She'd dig her nails into my toes asking, "Can you feel that?" Nope, and I never have. I can't spread my left toes either. When I attempt to make that motion, my toes constrict. Aside from the toe numbness, I always have cold feet. My feet are not my finest feature. Bruised toenails and callouses from running, small in size but high in arches and definitely turned outward in a duckish fashion. In college a girl in my dorm asked if I was a dancer based on how I walk and the disrepair of my feet.

2) I have a propensity to get into little mishaps with my cars that absolutely makes my husband insane! And before him, I drove my Dad nuts. It started when I hit a car in the parking lot of the bank shortly after I got my license. Not long after, I backed into my dad's car as he waited at the end of our driveway while we were rearranging cars for the morning. Ugh! Makes me shudder at the memory. I swiped my side mirror off my old van on a cement pillar at Tower City and, in my haste to pick up Mikey from school, backed my current car into my husband's car on the opposite end of the driveway. He came screaming out of the garage with his arms up helplessly up in the air yelling, "Every f--cking car!" The kicker was my car was fine, but I left a corner dent in the back of his.

3) I like to sing at the top of my lungs in my car, particularly on long drives. Goes back to my hidden desire to be a blues singer in the Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Diana Krall sort of way. When I was a senior in high school I took voice lessons from a woman who was a blues singer. I was — and still am — very insecure about my singing voice. She tried her best to get me to sing with gusto by pushing in my belly and telling me to hold a note until the tip of my nose vibrated. Sometimes I still try it to see if it works.

4) My husband says I have a phone phobia, but I don't. I just absolutely HATE to talk on the phone at night largely due to the amount of time I spend on the phone during the day. If I have the choice, I'd much rather talk to people in person. The mere sound of the home phone ringing after 7 makes me insane. "Who dares to disturb my quiet evening!?"

5) I like all the lights on in the house when it's gloomy outside.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Latest UB story on Our Lady of Guadalupe

It's not yet available online, but my latest Catholic Universe Bulletin story sits on A1 next to Pope Benedict's trip to Turkey. Here's the text.

Catholic Universe Bulletin
Dec. 1, 2006
Queen of the Americas
Our Lady of Guadalupe feast reaches all Hispanics

By Wendy A. Hoke

For centuries she has been called upon to comfort, defend and protect. Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Marianist apparition who appeared as a native Aztec on a Mexican hilltop to a widower in 1531, is responsible in part for converting millions of indigenous people into Catholics.

Today she is known as the patron saint of the Americas, or the Queen of the Americas, as some Hispanics like Victor Pena of La Sagrada Familia refer to her.

For the faithful, like Eva Pena of Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain, she is hope.

Sitting under her peaceful gaze in the sanctuary at Sacred Heart, Pena pauses from the history of Our Lady and says, “Can I tell you a personal story?”

Six years ago her husband passed away after a short bout with lung cancer. Several months later, her oldest son had a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with a stage four malignant brain tumor. Surgery was performed, but doctors warned that he might never be the same, experiencing possible blindness, deafness and inability to chew properly.

“My friend told me to pray, to pray hard. So every day I would pray to Our Lady,” she said. Surgeons were able to remove 90 percent of the tumor. Within two months of his surgery, Pena’s son was back at work. He has been in recovery for five years.

Pena’s story echoes that of Juan Diego, the Mexican Indian Christian who was on his way to church when Mary appeared to him on a hill in Tepeyac near Mexico City. “Our Lady gave Juan Diego a message to take to the bishop, that she wanted a church built on the hill.”

In order to convince the bishop of her appearance, Our Lady filled Juan Diego’s tilma (cape tied around his neck) with fresh roses, which were not known to grow in this region, particularly in winter.

“When Juan Diego removes his tilma and the bishop sees all the roses, he is astounded,” she said.

At the time, Spanish missionaries were not very successful in converting indigenous people to Catholicism and much blood was shed in the process of trying to do so. But the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe changed that since she appeared not as a white European Madonna, but as a Native Aztec Indian, speaking in the native Indian language.

Her likeness, beautifully rendered in the mosaic in Sacred Heart Chapel, is filled with symbolism. Her red robe represents the blood shed through wars with native people. She wears a Christian cross at her throat and an Aztec cross on her womb. She is framed in golden rays of the sun, a symbol of Aztec culture. On her head is a crown of 12 stars and a rose pattern is on her cape.

She has been called upon to cure the sick, including Juan Diego’s uncle for whom he was praying at the time of the apparition. Alcoholics have turned to her for help in abstaining from drinking.

Her feast begins Monday (Dec. 4) with nightly novenas, some in Spanish and some in English, and runs through Dec. 12.
Eva Pena looks forward to the celebration. She grew up with a Mexican mother and an Italian father. Her mother prayed the rosary daily. “I grew up honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe for how miraculous she was.”

“We honor Our Lady for her many miracles and for who she stands for,” said Pena.

The feast day begins with an early morning service, called Las Mananitas, a good morning song traditionally played with mariachi band. Sacred Heart (440) 282-7172 and La Sagrada Familia (216) 631-2888 on Cleveland’s West Side both begin the day with traditional song and mariachi music.

Following Mass said in Spanish, both parishes host a celebration party with dancing and traditional Mexican food. It’s a big event drawing big crowds from all cultures. All are welcome, but plan to arrive early to get a seat.

At St. Mary in Painesville (440) 354-4381, Las Mananitas begins at 4 a.m. A procession of children dressed in traditional Indian costumes like Juan Diego and bearing gifts of food and flowers precedes the evening Mass, according to Christina Garcia.

“Las Mananitas connects us with Mexican culture,” explained Garcia. “Our Lady of Guadalupe adopted us; she’s like a mother to the Mexican people. The first thing Mexicans want to see when they cross the border is Our Lady to thank her,” she said.

Although the feast is largely centered on the church, it also is celebrated in some homes as part of the Christmas celebration.

“We put a statue in our home all during December with lights around it because that’s how we start Christmas. We’ll put her next to the Christmas tree so we can remember her all during December,” said Garcia.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Macedonia will celebrate with an evening prayer service with its PSR students, according to Father David Trask. Although it is not home to a Hispanic community, Father Trask said Our Lady greatly influenced the church’s founding pastor.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Review listed on

Just received an e-mail from Alicia Shepard, author of "Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate," about an upcoming appearance in Arlington, Va. She referenced the book Web site, so I thought I'd see if she were planning a trip to Cleveland.

Instead, I found my review of the book listed on the here along with some heavy hitters. File this under "very cool."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

SPJ/City Club event is tomorrow

From SPJ Cleveland:

Nov. 30 -- “News Media Newly Delivered” at the City Club

The Cleveland chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and The City Club of Cleveland will present three news experts who will discuss and answer questions about the current transformation and the future of news for traditional mainstream radio, television and print. The luncheon event, which is open to the general public, is from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006.

Each panelist is responsible for managing the direction of their respective news operations. They will address their current transitions, and predict the future, for getting their news “products” delivered to consumers:

• Mike McCormick is news director of Channel 3-WKYC Cleveland, part of the Gannett Broadcasting group, a major news and media producer,
• Tom O’Hara is managing editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper and part of the national Newhouse News Service, and
• Darren Toms is director of news programming at WTAM-1100 AM Cleveland, part of Clear Channel Communications, a global operation with 1,400 radio stations.

Moderator of the question and answer session that follows is SPJ’s Denise Polverine, editor-in-chief of

The event is at The City Club, 850 Euclid Avenue, 2nd Floor, downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Admission is $15 for SPJ and City Club members, and $25 for nonmembers. To reserve with a credit card, call the City Club at (216) 621-0082 or toll-free at (888) 223-6786 or (888) CC-FORUM. Corporate and nonprofit tables are available for this event. Register today.

About this New Series: “News Media Newly Delivered” kicks off a fresh and innovative joint SPJ-City Club educational initiative that features experts who will examine:

· The changing state of mainstream media’s approach to delivering the news,
· How the public and journalists are responding to the news evolution,
· Implications of media ownership, regulation and technologies for an informed democracy, and
· What media critics like and dislike about local news,
· Series participants will also attempt to predict the future of news and how consumers will
want and use it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Things that make you go, “Hmm…”

Gospels writers were not interested in what happened during Jesus’ lifetime, they were interested in what it means. Modern thinkers have difficulty getting their heads around the fact that the bible is not history or biography of Jesus. It is written accounts of who Jesus is for the believer.

Around the second, third and fourth generations of the Common Era as the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life began to die off, the Gospels began as a way to commit to the page the rich oral histories of his life. [What if no one had troubled to begin that effort? Would his extraordinary life be lost forever?]

Catholics tend to conflate the Gospels. We focused last night on the infancy gospels. Since we don’t read them often enough, we tend to blur them together. Did Luke write about the magi or was it Matthew? Did Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem or were they living there? Were there three magi or only three gifts? Was Jesus born at home or in a stable?

Compounding the problem is that the peculiarity of each Gospel is lost in the translation process, which mushes it all out to the point where it all sounds the same. But it's not the same. The writers of each of the four gospels are each writing a separate account. They don't presume you've read the other guy.

And about those miracles…

No miracle is told to impress us about the miraculous act. They are signs of what all humans need. We need to see ourselves in the stories in order for them to having meaning to us. But we've missed the meaning and the reason for the stories.

The fundamental method of Jesus’ teaching is parabolic. But he didn’t tell them to comfort. He told them to turn our world upside down, to confront. Our reaction to these stories should be, “I don’t know what you mean by that but I don’t like it.”

But we don't realize this because preaching has let us down. It focuses on the moral/ethical comfort available in a parable. A shepherd leaves 99 sheep to get his one lost sheep. Aw, isn’t that a sweet story about compassion? No! It’s weird and doesn’t make any sense. Why would you risk losing 99 sheep for one?!

The point is that God’s actions are extravagant. We human beings are stingy. Jesus’ teaching helps us to rearrange our thinking but as a result we’re left scratching our heads wondering what to do. Hmm...

Let's take one parable. The story of the prodigal son is not about the prodigal son. It’s about the older son who is jealous of the father’s mercy toward his younger brother. [Whenever we read, “A father had two sons” in the Bible, we should know that the younger son – the underdog – will prevail.]

The prodigal son story shows how we are jealous of God’s mercy. It’s not fair that people who break the rules and run away get a party upon their return. It’s akin to arriving in heaven and saying, “What’s she doing here?”

We realize, then, that we are not God. We don’t get to say who gets in and who doesn’t; who gets punished and who doesn’t. “God’s mercy is so huge that we can’t take it in unless we accept we need it, too,” says Father Bob.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Newsroom bloodletting continues

Okay, I understand there are newsrooms that have been bloated for a while. And I don't disagree that a little trimming is good for the bottom line and the increased productivity and opportunity for the remaining journalists. But this one cut struck me as alarming and here's why.

The Bangor, Maine, paper has made the decision to lay off its one statehouse reporter. Instead of having its own original reporter, editors will rely on the fine folks at AP. Although I have no doubt that decision will cut costs in the short run, I also think it's a terrible mistake to lose your newsroom connection to the statehouse because at the very least you're shortchanging readers and at worst you're reducing oversight and creating an environment that could breed corruption.

If you think I'm overreacting, just look at the mess of scandals that have plagued Ohio state government. But it goes beyond that.

Other than your local school board or city council, no other area of government impacts daily citizen life more than state government. Issues are decided related to school funding, job creation, higher education, public assistance, insurance, tax rates, public health, the environment, roads, bridges and waterways, parks and beaches. Those are only the tip of the iceberg because at least in Ohio, state government also has debated who can marry, who can adopt children, the role of religion in public life, what is taught in our science classrooms and how many tests your kids have to pass to graduate high school.

The powerful of our state government have twice helped to determine the Presidential election. Some of those same people are now headed to jail. The entire Coingate mess came to light years after the original red flags were sent in an audit. Why? Probably because there are fewer and fewer reporters working in the statehouse bureaus, developing sources and expertise on certain beats. In other words, no one was watching the pot of spaghetti until it bubbled over.

Good public journalism needs to do more -- not less -- in reporting about how state government impacts our lives. Editors in Bangor just made it easier for state officials to be less accountable to the citizens of Maine.

R&B's greatest gather here to honor late Gerald Levert

Danny just called to report that Mayfield Road in front of The Civic in Cleveland Heighs is jammed with stretch limos as R&B's finest convene for the late Gerald Levert's memorial service today at The Civic. Although none of this is confirmed, co-workers of his claim to have spotted Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder in the crowd. There's also been a possible Janet Jackson sighting. Again, absolutely no confirmation, just pure speculation.

Here's the announcement of activities on his Web site:

GERALD LEVERT "Celebration of Life" - Friday, November 17, 2006
The life and legacy of Gerald Levert will be publicly celebrated on Friday, November 17, 2006 with a musical tribute. The program will begin at 12:00pm with doors opening promptly at 11:00am. The location is as follows:

The Music Hall - Cleveland Convention Center
500 Lakeside Avenue (East 6th Street @ St. Clair)
Cleveland, OH 44114

A special area has been dedicated for fans that wish to come and pay their final respects to one of the most incredible voices and performers of our time. Seating will be on a first come, first served basis. All celebrities, VIP’s and media must contact W&W Public Relations, Inc. for further instructions.

In lieu flowers, the Levert family is asking that donations be made to the R&B Foundation. Checks should be written in the name of the R&B Foundation and forwarded to Andy Gibson c/o Trevel Productions, Inc., 13816 Cedar Road, University Heights, OH 44118.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Downie announces major changes at Washington Post

Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. announced a major newsroom shift for both the Post and It will be interesting to see how this change occurs. The Washington Post has been a leader in daily journalism and it appears to be breaking ahead of the pack once again.

Here's evidence of a key component of that leadership:

We also are working on ways to expand and increase the impact of our journalism on The re-launches of Health, Food and Home will be accompanied by the launch of a related section of the Web site. Our plans for coverage of the two-year 2008 campaign, which is beginning now, will include both re-direction of newsroom resources for expanded political coverage in the printed newspaper and significant initiatives on In her new role as editor of, Liz Spayd will help us think first about the Web site for all of our best journalism. (Bold is mine.)

Here's the full memo as posted on Editor & Publisher:

Phil and I met yesterday with the newsroom's senior editors to discuss proposals and make decisions as we continue to transform our newsroom, the newspaper and our relationship with We have much more to do to maximize readership of the printed newspaper, build audience on the Web site and further reduce costs in the newsroom.

As you have noticed from developments at other newspapers, readership and economic challenges remain daunting. Our goal is to be the one newsroom that does this right. We must produce high quality, compelling journalism and carry out our public service mission while adjusting our cost structure to shifting advertising revenues.

We are not just cutting costs. We believe that everything we are doing will make the newspaper stronger and increase readership of the printed paper and

We are re-directing newsroom staff and resources to our highest priority journalism in print and on the Web. In form, our priorities include original reporting, scoops, analysis, investigations and criticism. In content, they include politics, government accountability, economic policy and what our readers need to know about the world – plus local government, schools, transportation, public safety, development, immigrant communities, health care, sports, arts and entertainment.

We are moving reporters and editors within and among staffs to accomplish this. In particular, we are moving a number of reporters from general assignment positions to more specific assignments and beats. We also are centralizing reporting and editing of some core subjects across staff lines. Metro now has responsibility for all education coverage. We will build on the model of Sandy Sugawara's cross-staff coordination of immigration coverage to do something similar for that and other core subjects. This may lead to the movement of more reporters and editors around the newsroom.

In the process, we will continue to shrink the newsroom staff through attrition, as low-priority positions become vacant. We also are tightening up the paper's news hole, beginning with the reconfiguration of the financial market tables in today's Business section, which saves two pages of newsprint each day. Other newshole reductions will be scattered throughout the newspaper, so readers will not lose significant content.

We are continuing to renovate sections of the paper to make them more attractive to readers. The re-launches of the Health, Food and Home sections are scheduled for early next year. Work is also well underway on creating a new Style and Arts section in the Sunday paper. The revamped Outlook section is an example of the improvements we are seeking.

We will make more progress in presenting our coverage more effectively in news sections. We will take a new approach to story length, which remains an important challenge, despite the progress already made in some parts of the paper. We will soon publish story length guidelines for the staff, along with ways to adhere to them. Our goal is for the newspaper to be filled with stories of different sizes and forms – and to provide both reporters and editors the tools to better edit for length. Our philosophy will be that every story must earn its length, so readers will want to read and finish more stories.

As part of this approach, we will better coordinate the preparation of related stories, photographs and graphical elements – and the design of pages on which they will appear. Visual journalism will be given still more importance in the printed paper.

We also are working on ways to expand and increase the impact of our journalism on The re-launches of Health, Food and Home will be accompanied by the launch of a related section of the Web site. Our plans for coverage of the two-year 2008 campaign, which is beginning now, will include both re-direction of newsroom resources for expanded political coverage in the printed newspaper and significant initiatives on In her new role as editor of, Liz Spayd will help us think first about the Web site for all of our best journalism.

The senior editors will meet again early next month to take more steps to re-direct resources to provide high quality journalism on key strategic subjects that matter most in print and stand out on the Web. We will have another newsroom staff meeting on Thursday, December 14 to tell you more about what we are doing and answer your questions.

This remains a challenging time, but also one of great opportunity – the opportunity to transform journalism for a new era in The Washington Post and on Even as we reduce newsroom staff and costs, we will have amply sufficient staff and talent to make this transformation.

It is the most important change that I will lead as executive editor. It reminds me of my early days in the newsroom, when Ben Bradlee began boldly transforming the paper during the 1960s and 1970s. The newsroom was well less than half the size it is now, and we were underdogs. But we found our edge, produced original journalism and had fun creating The Washington Post all of you joined.

Now, we're taking the next step.

Consider, by contrast, that the person leading the dialogue about what our local newspaper should cover is a Metro columnist. It's a great exercise in learning what people want, but will it hit a tin ear? And who will have the vision, the leadership and the fortitude to see such sweeping changes enacted?

Couldn't help but notice that someone asked about self-help book reviews. As you may remember, I used to review books about religion for the PD. I stopped at the end of 2005 because I was burned out on the genre. Religious/spiritual book reviews never appeared again in the self-help column. I had long ago suggested they add those reviews to the Saturday religion pages, since that's where people are reading about religion. Good idea, I was told, but it never happened. Apparently, moving a 250-word book review involves more than just copy and pasting content. It's rearranging editing schedules, designing a slot on the page, etc., etc. I don't know this, of course, but I'm just guessing at what may or may not have prevented a good idea from being acted on. Or it could simply be that as a very long-term reader, journalist and contributor to the publication, my opinion was ignored or shoved to the lowest of priorities list. That's fine. I just offered up the suggestion.

To be fair, the newshole in Arts & Life is nothing and that is a travesty, one wholly outside the control of the newsroom, and a reflection of display advertising declines. But it's a chicken-and-egg thing. If you create a quality product, won't more people (advertisers and subscribers) support that product? Or maybe you can't create a quality product without financial support.

The A&L front usually has a column, cover story and one other not always focused on what's happening in Northeast Ohio (say news about a new TV show that will be one for five weeks and then get cancelled). Once you get beyond the lame-o celeb gossip that can be had 24/7 via Web, all that remains is a story jump or two; comics, horoscope and TV listings; and film directory and Nielson Ratings. This is the coverage from a community that finds the arts so important it just voted to support public funding for arts and culture.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Some usage stumbling blocks

If you want to piss off a journalist, just mark up his or her published copy with a red pen, mail into the newsroom and sign it "Miss Crabtree, former English teacher." I'm not saying mistakes don't occur in print, sadly they happen all the time. But journalistic writing is not Chicago Manual of Style and it's not the same as writing a term paper.

Copyeditors work their magic over stories, moving commas to the appropriate places, changing their to its when describing something like a company, changing like to as, etc. They, too, are not infallible. I've had copyeditors add info to make my story incorrect. One once changed reference to Darmsala to read "Darmsala, Tibet." Of course I heard from a million people who called me a ninny for not realizing Darmsala is in India. I knew that; tell it to the copyeditor. In a Sunday Arts profile about Frances Mayes, I referenced the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun, starring Diane Lane." Enough said, I thought. A copyeditor inserted, "and Sharon Oh." The actress' name is Sandra Oh.

Hence the need to always insist on seeing the final version of your edited copy before it goes into print. Those are two clips I never use even though the book review with Darmsala error has been picked up as a blurb by many. Enough about the human foibles of copyeditors. Good ones make average writers great; mediocre copyeditors can make a good writer bad.

Good writers pay attention changes and log them into their grammatical memory bank. Unless you were born with the copyeditor gene, you're never going to remember all this stuff. Writers write and obsess over reporting and word choice, but not necessarily over where to insert the comma.

Although I always check final published copy against what I turn in, I also find there are certain certain things I can never remember and others I can never forget.

In the can't forget category are:
• utilize vs. use (this was grilled into me in J-school) it's use, not utilize. Only the business world prefers utilize and I cringe every time I hear it. It smacks of icky jargon and puffery. I've been known to correct people who use it in my presence.
• Ditto for the word irregardless and towards (it's regardless and toward)
• less vs. fewer (less refers to quantity; fewer to number)
• lay vs. lie (hens lay eggs; people lie down)

However, there a few usage rules that always cause me to hesitate.

The use of may and might may always slow me down, or is it might always slow me down. I'll be cruising along while writing and throw out one of those words, pause and then try to keep going because I'll go back to check on proper usage in the editing phase. But the word will sit there on the screen, nagging at me as I strain my brain to remember the usage rules, reading it aloud both ways to determine what sounds correct.

Another is more importantly, most important. Can't ever seem to keep the usage of those clear in my head. I don't need to keep them straight in my head because Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" is always close by. And it is more importantly, most important.

As for may vs. might, S & W advise: "Save the auxiliaries would, could, should, may, might and can for situations involving real uncertainty." In other words, don't dilute the authority of your writing by waffling with such words. When in doubt, find another way to say what you want.

Okay, good tip. Now I've got to get back to editing the piece I wrote yesterday that is due this morning.

Two views on writing from Stephen King

I've never read any of Stephen King's novels, but I have read his book, "On Writing" — a must read for any serious writer. Here are a couple of pearls from King to start your week. Happy Writing!

King on content:

I don't take notes; I don't outline; I don't do anything like that. I just flail away at the goddamned thing. I'm a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can't sell it as caviar.

And King on process:

I work on what's important to me in the morning, for three hours. Usually, in the afternoon, I have what I call my "toy truck," a story that might develop or might not, but meanwhile it's fun to work on…. I begin to pile up some pages, and eventually it'll get shifted over to the morning…. Working on a new idea is kind of like getting married. Then a new idea comes along and you think, "Man, I'd really like to go out with her." But you can't. At least not until the old idea is finished.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Alterman on dropping editorials from paper

Writing in The Nation, Eric Alterman provides some provocative ideas on losing unsigned editorials altogether in daily newsapers. Here's his conclusion:

Wouldn't most papers be immediately improved by dropping their editorial page and increasing the ideological range and informational expertise of their contributing columnists? I'll go even further. Why not heed the examples of Britain's universally admired (liberal) Guardian and (conservative) Economist and drop the frequently phony distinction between "fact" and "opinion"? Why not just let reporters tell us what they know to be true and how and why they know it? Such a solution would borrow what's most engaging from the blogosphere without sacrificing the crucial function of newspapers in a democratic society. What's more, it would offer the potential to re-engage people in a (Deweyite) discussion and debate without dumbing down their sources of (Lippmann-like) information.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Narrative Magazine is a must-read

Last summer while searching for possible writing workshops, I stumbled across Narrative Magazine, an online-only publication featuring the work of some of the marquee names in narrative writing.

It's been a wonderful source of delight in an unexpected format. One doesn't usually expect to read longer narrative works online only. One of my favorite stories from the most recent edition is Life is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days by husband and wife writing team, James and Kay Salter. I saw in this piece a literary version of mine and my husband's own life with food.

THE MEAL IS the essential act of family and clan. It is the ceremony of being, the long record of marriage, the school for behavior, the prelude to love. Among all peoples and in all times, every significant event in life—be it wedding, triumph, or birth—is marked by a meal or the sharing of food or drink. The meal is the emblem of civilization. What would one know of life as it should be lived or nights as they should be spent apart from meals?

What would we know indeed.

Through trial-and-error the two lovingly learned cooking together. Over the course of their marriage they have documented many of their recipes and entertaining successes in a little brown book that serves as the basis for their book by the same (Callaway Editions, October 2006). Reading through the calendar of their epicurean successes reminded me of the many meals Danny and I have prepared for our families and friends over the years.

I had never thought of documenting those before, but reading their piece made me realize how cooking and food is a fundamental part of our marriage and we should being documenting it for our boys. My mother sometimes jokes that Danny and I have food as a hobby. I suppose that's true. For even when we lack sufficient funds, we're always opening our doors to feed the masses of family and friends.

We have different kitchen styles, and yet they seem to complement one another. I'm the more cautious cook, following extensive recipes and savoring the time-intensive preparation of food using my hands. Danny is more free-wheeling, creating incredible concoctions on a whim by tossing a little of this and a little of that into the pan. He's not afraid to experiment with spices and has found no meat unworthy of consuming with gusto.

Aside from the physical, pheromonal act of cooking, we also enjoy entertaining. We've done everything from basic pizza and wings to lobster tails and linguine with clam sauce. In two weeks we'll prepare our famous Thanksgiving feast for my family, stretching our cookware and serving dishes to their outer limits.

It'll begin with our grocery shopping trip, one that can't be rushed and can't be reserved for the last minute. We'll be searching for the usual as well as some special ingredients to create a traditional meal with a twist. We'll spend Wednesday night before Thanksgiving prepping a few side dishes, but most of our cooking will be done Thursday morning, filling our house with that hunger-inducing aroma of butter, celery, onion and garlic sauteeing in a pan.

Oy, I can smell and feel the hunger pangs now.

See, reading good writing prompts me to think in ways I hadn't previously and this is one example from just one piece I read in this magazine. There's also a wonderful essay written by early 20th century novelist Elizabeth Bowen, titled Notes on Writing a Novel.

And Seattle Post-Intelligencer book critic John Marshall wrote a nice backgrounder on the magazine and its founders earlier this week. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Howie Kurtz needs a vacation

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz is pretty surly this morning in writing about the media coverage of the election. After a "if you'd just listened to all-knowing me" he starts in on the obvious course of action for journalists.

Now it is the solemn duty of journalists to cope with all kinds of questions:

What will be the impact on the Democrats' pet legislation? The final two years of the Bush presidency? The 2008 elections? The war in Iraq? Nancy Pelosi? Rahm Emanuel? Denny Hastert? Karl Rove? Hillary? McCain? Obama? The House Republican staffers who will lose their jobs? The playing-to-the-base strategy? The future of democracy? The fate of the civilized world?

Man, there is so much to chew over that we could keep this going for the next month--and undoubtedly will, unless something better comes along, like another gay clergyman sex scandal or something of that ilk.

There's nothing reporters like better than a change in power, because it gives us winners and losers the opportunity to build up some new faces--profile-writers, on your marks!--until we inevitably discover they are flawed human beings and start tearing them down.

My, my, but his cynicism has rocketed to the top of the Washington Monument. Maybe old Howie just needs a vacation. After all, it's really exhausting when you know everything.

Friday, November 03, 2006

His strength is within

The many ways in which my children inspire me sometimes catches me off guard.

We're transitioning from fall to winter sports, which given the weather is just in time. Patrick's last football game is tomorrow afternoon. My son, who was petrified to play last year after having the wind knocked out of him, has been a beastly cornerback earning defensive player of the week after the first game for some fierce tackles. He has consistently pulled guys twice his size down in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage or on the sidelines. Nicknamed, "Hoker," he's also been a leader firing up his team with his stomps and screams after particularly aggressive hits.

Who is this skinny kid in the red Under Armour and matching red tube socks who was afraid to ride a roller coaster this summer? Is he settling some score with himself?

When Danny and I tried to explain to him that he didn't have to play football this year, he finally told us, "Yes, I do. I have to do it for me." There is no better reason in this world to do something. He would prove to himself, regardless of what we said, that he had what it takes.

Whatever the source of his newfound confidence, I remain in awe.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Appeals Court denies WAPO Cheney records

Not altogether surprising, but still a bad omen is news of the decision of a federal appeals court to block the Secret Service from turning over logs that would disclose the identity visitors to both Vice President Dick Cheney's home and White House office.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Our inability to get symbolism

People living the Medieval Ages saw the whole world as symbolic. Some say that the real crisis in modern times is that we are impervious to symbolism. That in our linear world, we see symbols merely as pointers. Religion is all about symbolism and if we can't get that, we can't get religion.

Last night's RCIA class was a calibration of what we've done so far. What have we learned, what has disturbed, what has excited and what has dismayed us? "All learning should complicate your thinking," says Father Bob. We were once 6-year-olds who walked into a classroom, had all this Catholic religion dumped into our heads, swallowed it whole and now it resides there like cement. It takes some chipping to knock it loose. Here's a sampling of the many wonderful fragments we've shared:

-- We're recovering our Jewishness and the Jewishness of Christ. Jesus was, after all, born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died a Jew. He is not the founder of Christianity, nor was he the first Christian. And by the way, he was Jeshuva and his mother was Miriam. We have Romanized their names.

-- One of the great weaknesses is that we can't get outside our modern world to understand the ancient world. For example, our relationship with light (as in Christ is the light of the world) is completely different than the ancients. Our modernity can be counterproductive to understanding the fundamental images in the Bible.

-- The Bible stories are our story, too. Religion offers no solutions and no answers. In the Book of Job, Job seeks a reason for everything and in the end there is no reason. It's one book, written by one author with one point of view. The books of the Bible don't agree with each other. "If you take Job literally you are in huge trouble," says Father Bob.

-- The battle in heaven when Lucifer falls is not a part of accepted Jewish or Christian canonical literature. The story is referenced in the Book of Daniel, but is found in an apocryphal writing known as the Book of Enoch.

-- A huge amount of Catholic legend is found in apocryphal writings, including anything about the birth of Mary and her parents. "It's a nice story, but it's not part of the official canon," says Father Bob.

-- What is the responsibility of the ordained and of the laity to update their knowledge?

-- If you've never been to an Easter Vigil, you're missing a huge chunk of Catholicism.

-- Catholics don't give much feedback. They either don't say anything or they walk away completely.

-- How many thousands of dollars in therapy fees could have been saved if only we realized our bad body image stems from Augustine and the Manicheans?

-- Christianity closed its canon within a couple of decades to our impoverishment. Where is our story since the New Testament? It is found in phenomenal writings of the early desert fathers and mothers and of more contemporary writers and thinkers such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

-- Religion binds people together and provides a way for them to read the world. All religions create, maintain and oppose other worlds. That's their function and why they are conservative by nature. It's also why radical fundamentalism persists.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A story that needs to be told

One of the most frustrating experiences as a freelance journalist is not finding an outlet for stories about which you feel passionate. I've had that happen to me on a number of occasions, but one haunts me, one makes me want to apply for a fellowship, one calls to me when I least expect.

Amina Silmi was deported from the United States more than two years ago in a case that reeked of coldness, tragedy and cultural misunderstanding. What I learned from my nearly two-inch file of research on that story was that Amina's situation was far from unique. She was swept up in the post-9/11 world that found mothers on the Alien Absconder List because of what their estranged husbands did without their knowledge.

The case swung from the highs of a Board of Immigration Appeals ruling that gave the family hope, to the lows of the Immigration Customs and Enforcement (appropriately known as ICE) decision to send her back to Venezuela. Overnight, the tone of the ICE spokesman changed from encouragement for Amina's case to cold and matter-of-fact.

When asked about the fate of her three American-born children, he coldly stated that she chose to leave them here.

She "chose" to leave them here. How does an illegal immigrant, a woman, a Muslim left alone by two husbands "choose" anything in her life?

I thought it an odd characterization of the events as they unfolded. Amini was heartbroken. We spoke after she arrived in Venezuela and in between sobs she would rage in anger and then become despondent, collapsing again in tears. When I asked about her decision to leave her children behind she responded, "This place is not for my kids. These people here are hungry and poor. I can’t support my kids here. I sacrificed my kids and I’m missing them so much. The government broke three hearts by sending me away.”

Her oldest daughter was 12 at the time her mother was deported. She would be nearly 15 now. I often wonder how she and her younger brother and sister are faring. How does a young girl navigate being a teenager under such circumstances? A year after Amina's deportation, I pitched doing a follow-up story on how the kids are managing without their mother. I was shocked by the response I received from the editor. She said that while Amina's story was unfortunate, she broke the law and as such her readers would never be interested in reading about her and her kids.

Such insenstivity, such a black-and-white view of the world seems to me a perilous trait in an editor. No matter now because the publication is no longer even in existence.

But the characters in this story still reside in my head and I still think their story is worth telling. It seems that other newspapers also find such stories worth telling. This week's featured series in the Nieman Narrative Digest contains a package of stories about an 11-year-old American-born girl dealing with the loss of her mother who was deported to Guatemala after a traffic stop revealed she had violated an eight-year-old deportation order.

It appears in The Charlotte Observer, which didn't feel compelled to quell a story even though her mother broke immigration laws.

I wonder now if we care a litte bit more about the complexities of immigration issues. Do we care what happens to three young Muslim children? Or have we simply become a nation that has forgotten how to care?