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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Writing ... is breathing"

I'm currently reading "Henry & June" by Anaïs Nin, based on the writer's relationship with writer Henry Miller and his wife, June. I shouldn't have picked up this book this week because I'm working on a big writing deadline and it keeps luring me away. But, oh, the inspiration found in her words.... Delicious! Nevermind that I'm writing about education reform. I'm still trying to capture a measure of the passion involved in such an effort. Nin writes luminously of complex emotions, of love and passion. I am humbled, as always, by the power of words.

I'm only 80 pages into the 274-page book, but here are a few passages I've underlined:

– "How late I have awakened and with what furor!"

– “Then at certain moments I remember one of his words and I suddenly feel the sensual woman flaring up, as if violently caressed. I say the word to myself, with joy. It is at such a moment that my true body lives.”

To Henry Miller she writes:

– “For you and me the highest moment, the keenest joy, is not when our minds dominate but when we lose our minds, and you and I both lose it in the same way, through love.”

– “Writing is not for us, an art, but breathing.”

– “I don’t hear your words: your voice reverberates against my body like another kind of caress, another kind of penetration. I have no power over your voice. It comes straight from you into me. I could stuff my ears and it would find its way into my blood and make it rise.”

Reporting as nourishment

One of the reasons I so admire New Yorker Editor David Remnick:

And I would never keep writing — to the degree that I do do it, which is not that much — if I thought it would hurt the magazine. Some people do this — editing — and play the piano. Or they have a rich social life. Or they study Greek. Reporting is what I do. It gets me out in the world. I can’t experience the world entirely through reading the newspaper in the morning.

Water dreams

Ever have that dream where you're gliding through water smooth as silk? It's kind of like the one where I could run for days, only in this one I feel both strong and graceful. Hmmm...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mother's May mayhem

The month of May can be hell on working mothers. Not a day goes by that another request (financial, signatory, donation, etc.) from school arrives home in the backpacks. It’s one thing when you have one child’s end-of-the-school-year activities to track. But multiply it times three and it can put any relatively sane, organized woman into the loony bin.

Isn’t there a better way to handle such needs? Can’t I sign a blanket permission slip at the beginning of the school year when I’m fresh and uber-organized? If we know we’re always taking the fifth grade to Greenfield Village and the first grade to Lake Farmpark and the seventh grade to the West Side Market at the end of the school year, what’s to stop us from signing those permission slips at year’s start?

Maybe it’s just me, but those pesky little $1 and $3 fees for things are really bothersome. In this era of debit cards, I rarely have cash in such small bills available. Frankly, if I do they tend to vanish from my wallet and I’m quite certain get deposited at the local Walgreen’s in exchange for PowerAde’s, Snickers Marathon Bars and LeBron Bubble Gum. Maybe the answer is to have a school slush fund payable at the start of each semester for all those little fees.

One of my most embarrassing moments as a mother came in May 2002. We were in the midst of a lengthy kitchen remodeling project. Having the hub of all family activity disassembled for any length of time is highly stressful.

My kitchen had been torn up since March and I was downright psychotic when my kids told me they needed a quarter each for the Relay for Life Popsicle fundraiser earlier in the week. My reaction was something like this:

“What?! Are you kidding me? Are they seriously going to deny you a 25-cent Popsicle because you turned your money in today instead of Tuesday!!!!!”

“I swear to God they have NO concept of how inconsiderate and ridiculous these pesky little requests weigh on working mothers. Why don’t those busy-bodies trying to tell me what charity to support get a FREAKING JOB!!!”

Yes, there you have it. It was ugly. Downright ugly. I was shaking and panting in front of my horrified family who stood silently, mouths agape. I sent them off to school with their delinquent quarters, refrained from writing a tirade to the principal and then excused myself to go up to my shower and cry.

Fortunately, THAT was my low point.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The abridged version of what women want

A lively dinner conversation on Tuesday night in Columbus had some of the female writers in our storytellers group talking about what women want. In short (and I suspect this is true also of men, though very few would probably say so) is that women want to be cherished.

We want to know we're thought of as something other than the replacer of toilet paper. That our talents span our minds and our hearts as well as our ability to scour a sink to a gleaming shine. That part of what makes us sexually attractive is the way we think and look at the world.

So gentlemen, if you want to make your sweetie's day, tell her that you cherish her mind as well as her body. Trust me, you'll enjoy the response. After all, 98 percent of seduction is in the mind. The rest is just pheromones.

Great reader?

What does it say about me that I haven't read any of the books on the NY Times list of great books of the past quarter century?

I thought about reading Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy once. On several occasions I've held Toni Morrison's "Beloved" (the ultimate winner) in my hands, contemplating a purchase. But I've never read Philip Roth, Richard Ford or Don DeLillo and I'm sure I have no other reason other than I wasn't compelled. And I'm still not compelled.

My reading habits, much like my music-listening habits are quite eclectic. I'm a big fan of the little-known authors, the ones who don't create a stir but quietly go about their craft. Currently I'm reading David Guterson's "Our Lady of the Forest."

I recently returned with a collection from Sister Jen's Lending Library, including:

"Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys
"Henry & June" by Anaïs Nin
"The Birth of Venus" by Sarah Dunant
"A Widow for One Year" by John Irving

And I add those to my stack that already includes:

"The Queen's Fool" by Philippa Gregory
"Any Bitter Thing" by Monica Wood

My reading is kicking into overdrive as it does from time to time, typically when I'm thinking about writing something different. Hmmmm...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Update on blogger lawsuit

Hot off the MBA presses:


Moments ago, lawyers for the advertising agency suing MBA Member Lance
Dutson filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal in U.S. District Court in

The notice reads simply:

"Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1), Plaintiff Warren
Kremer Paino Advertising, L.L.C. hereby dismisses the above-captioned action
without prejudice."

The decision to withdraw the lawsuit comes on the heels of a withering media
campaign orchestrated by the Media Bloggers Association on behalf of MBA
Member Lance Dutson. Hundreds of bloggers responded to the MBA's call to
arms and were joined by media outlets around the world in highlighting the
heavy-handed tactics of the state contractor.

"As it should be, the story of 'Warren Kremer Paino and the Maine Blogger'
is now a cautionary tale", said MBA President Robert Cox, "future potential
plaintiffs would do well to consider WKP's experience in attempting to
silence a blog critic through the Federal courts. Our message is simple:
'Don't Mess with the Bloggers'"

A big round of thanks is in order for the lawyers who volunteered their time
on Lance's behalf including MBA General Counsel, Ronald Coleman of the
Coleman Law Firm, Greg Herbert of Greenberg Traurig and private attorney Jon

"This demonstrates precisely what we have said all along," said Coleman,
"Suits like this are premised solely on the anticipation that there will be
no push back from the little guy. Here, there was."

"The plaintiff failed to understand it's a new world", said Stanley, "This
is a text book case of how blogs work. This result could not have come about
without the blogosphere. Lance's defense team was put together through the
blogs and pressure was brought to bear on WKP through the blogs."

"This is a great victory for the First Amendment and bloggers' rights, and
Exhibit A in a future case study of 'How Not to Handle an Internet
Critic''", said Herbert. "We are extremely gratified that Mr. Dutson will no
longer have the threat of litigation having over his head and censoring his

"This will make the Cinco de Mayo celebration tonight that much sweeter (and
may even mean it starts earlier) for the Dutson clan", noted Dutson on his
blog, "Maybe there's something more profound I should be saying at this
moment, but frankly, I'm going to go pick my wife up from work now, throw
her in the car, and buy her a very large cocktail."

Praise for narrative writing

Some random thoughts from last Saturday’s Sharpen Your Skills workshop sponsored by Cleveland SPJ:

• People who are no longer in the business of journalism are able to tell the truth about the business of journalism.

• Writers will procrastinate until the fear of not making a deadline eclipses the fear of not being good enough. (paraphrased from Joe Mackall, author of the memoir, “The Last Street Before Cleveland” and associate professor of English at Ashland University)

• When writing narrative nonfiction, fill your notebook but then choose wisely to find the essence of your story. Choosing the right details to include is an art form.

• Narrative nonfiction does not have to be long. Despite current newsroom beliefs, it can be accomplished in a six-inch police short just as it can in a 26-inch feature.

• Narrative nonfiction is more about writing from your heart and less about writing from your head. (paraphrased from Tom Hallman, Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer from The Oregonian and leader of SPJ’s Narrative Writing Workshop)

• Good narrative journalism has a sense of urgency or immediacy to the story.

• When we leave who we are out of our work, the piece suffers. (Joe Mackall)

• Narrative nonfiction has a voice and that voice is you. It’s how you see the world and tells a bit about who you are.

• Mackall recommended Walt Harrington’s book “Intimate Journalism”. “The introduction is worth the price of the book,” says Mackall.

Check out River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative edited by Mackall and Dan Lehman, also a professor of English at Ashland. It doesn't pay but the exposure could have a long-term payoff.

An inspiring morning and all the more reason to give narrative a try. Go ahead, fight for it!

Thursday, May 04, 2006


When my older brother, Chris and I were 10 and 12 we used to wander around the woods and undeveloped tracts of land surrounding our Cincinnati subdivision.

We (and our neighborhood pals) called it the Smoky Mountains (as opposed to the Great Smoky Mountains). In reality, our playground was multiple mounds of earth pushed up by bulldozers and left for several years to become fertile ground for cottonweed, goldenrod, thistle and all manner of wild vegetation.

But it was our playground and we would spend hours every day wandering up and down the hills, playing hide and seek or war or adventure. My mom never worried about us being there. It was better than roaming in the creek, which ran along the northern side of our development.

Of course we did that, too. And we were busted when we went into the creek in our synthetic leather tennies (available at K-mart). The odor emanating from the shoebox was a dead giveaway. Our neighbors across the street were at least five years older than us (though they seemed a lot older than that) and they used to swing from grapevines into the creek. As fun as that appeared, I never did it because I was terrified of getting in trouble.

One day those boys brought home a four-foot snake and put it in their trash can for all to see. That was enough to turn me off of the creek for good.

My mom always describes that era of our lives as very innocent. Today as parents we have to worry about whether or not our children will be safe outside of our watchful eye. But at the same time, we want them to be explorers, to be curious, to discover things for themselves, to open a cottonweed pod and see the milky substance inside.

A couple-hundred feet down the road from my house is a new park. I don’t know if it’s open to the public yet, but Riley and I have been exploring. There’s a long road that goes back a half-mile and opens to nothing more than a lake (actually a retention basin that keeps our neighborhood storm sewers from flooding our basements during heavy rains) and a parking lot. Other than that, it’s empty fields and woods.

This is what green space should be.

Last night was gorgeous and so we walked there with a tennis ball, which we eventually lost. Once we were beyond the gate at the entrance to the road (which if unpaved would resemble a country lane lined with purple, pink and white crabapple trees) I removed the leash and let Riley run.

She’s a Labrador retriever, a bird dog, and she had all kinds of fun sniffing around, chasing after geese and birds. People always tell me how labs are smart dogs (I’ve always been a little skeptical). She quickly found the path through the tall grass that surrounds the lake. We managed together to find the path that circled its entirety.

Though she’s still a puppy, I’m amazed at how well and attentive she is to me. She may gallop ahead a bit, but then she’ll stop, turn around and wait for me to catch up. So maybe she does have more sense than is usually apparent at home…

As we made our way around the lake, I noticed in the woods some makeshift forts. Just the kind we used to make in our Smoky Mountains. I’m going back later to take pictures to send to my brother, Chris. I’m sure he remembers those forts and mud pies. Only he put his exploring skills to good use and eventually became an Eagle Scout and a member of the U.S. Air Force. And today, as the father of two, he also is a Boy Scout leader teaching others about exploring.

My older brother Chris and nephews Todd and Brian have already been out camping and exploring this spring.