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Friday, June 30, 2006

The Merton article

Here's the text of my award-winning Merton article. Big thanks to Dennis Sadowski at the Catholic Universe Bulletin for indulging my interest in the subject, and to Ann Augherton, managing editor of The Catholic Herald in Arlington for running a slightly different version of this story.

Thomas Merton: Leading us toward the contemplative life
By Wendy A. Hoke
Catholic Universe Bulletin
Nov. 18, 2005

He was only 53 when he died, and had only been a Catholic for 30 of those years, but Thomas Merton found a way to touch the contemplative within all of us.

Most Merton scholars agree it was his transparent yet imperfect search for grace, his introspective, powerful writing, and his interest in the ecumenical that calls people of all faiths to his work.

His writings are often found in today’s religious literature, regardless of faith orientation. Many believe he is a good contemporary example for Catholics. But he will not be part of the new official American Catholic Catechism because for some he was too contemporary, too imperfect.

For the struggling and the searching, however, he has been a welcome voice for nearly 60 years.

First published in 1948, his autobiography “The Seven Storey Mountain” became a bestseller at a time when religious works were not included on the New York Times Bestseller list. Worldwide, his autobiography has sold multiple millions of copies, having been in continuous publication. His body of work has been translated into 29 languages, including Indonesian, Turkish and Croatian.

Merton’s international reach goes beyond publishing. His writing is the touchstone for interfaith discussions, a form of literary advocacy for social justice and peace and the very embodiment of his quest for the divine while struggling with being human.

“It’s not anything immensely new, but Merton has interpreted the spirituality of the Catholic Church in a way people can understand and with some depth to it,” said Paul Pearson, director of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.

He was an ordinary man struggling with his own spiritual life, but his willingness to share that struggle so openly mirrors our own.

How does a monk manage to capture contemporary life? Because he brought with him significant life experiences. Merton was born in the 20th century, lived through war and was educated in different religions. Before converting to Catholicism, he lived a Bohemian New York lifestyle. “He had an enormously broad vision of society and the world even within the confines of the monastery,” said Pearson.

“He felt that being a Christian, even being a monk, you have to be engaged and educated about what’s going on so you can have a response—either in an active or contemplative way,” said Erlinda Paguio, president of the International Thomas Merton Society (ITMS), also based in Louisville. He was honest and open in his search for God, in his search to become whole.

Merton’s legacy
Educated at Columbia University, Merton could tap into the well of the intellectual and the ordinary person, said Ursuline Sister Donna Kristoff, president of the Cleveland chapter of the ITMS. “He read Joyce and Sartre and he understood the 20th century politically and culturally,” she said. He did that through a network of friendships and vast correspondence that kept him very well informed.

But being removed from the world also gave him a wider perspective and a bit of distance for observing everything from the Vietnam War to Civil Rights movement.

Merton, who is not without his detractors because of his humanity, has been referred to as a lapsed monk primarily because at the end of his life he was engaged in dialogue with Eastern and Western monks.

Pearson believes he was simply living what Vatican II suggested—talking to others about their faith while firmly rooted in your own. That’s what his writing shows when he died tragically on Dec. 10, 1968 in a Bangkok hotel room, having been accidentally electrocuted.

Sister Donna Kristoff remembers picking up a thin book with a burlap cover while a senior in high school. It was Merton’s “Seeds of Contemplation.” “I remember reading it in an hour and thinking how beautiful it was.”

She entered the convent the following September, but was not exposed to him there. An art teacher, she eventually wrote a paper on Merton and icons. “He had a gift for translating a lot of ancient traditions into modern language. He was pious and austere, but he also showed there was a human person behind the contemplative,” she said.

And he left room for people to find their own way toward contemplation.

Finding Merton
“People come to Merton through all sorts of rooms,” said Jonathan Montaldo, former director of the Merton Center and editor of the recently published “A Year with Thomas Merton.” Many are drawn to the spiritual Merton, others are interested in his insights into Buddhism, others love his photography and many love his literature, he said.

By tapping into the primary sources—the desert fathers and mothers and mystics—he revived the early church writings and built on that wisdom, making connections to the wisdom of Zen and hermit history, Sister Kristoff said.

Regardless of how he is discovered, his impact is lasting. “Merton’s ability to leap forward to communicate to new generations amazes me,” said Montaldo.

Sister Kristoff agreed. “He opened the avenue of contemplative prayer for the ordinary person, a movement that has experienced renewal in the church,” she said.

Merton recognizes that spirituality is not an ideal situation. It’s filled with both light and shadow. “Merton’s talent is that he wrote in order to find God in his own experience, not in someone else’s,” said Montaldo.

Contemplation, Merton believed, is for everyone and he was criticized for that belief. But that was also his gift.

“Merton recognized the face of God in everything. He knew it theoretically and experientially and that’s why his writing has authenticity and power, and why he continues to be read,” said Pat O’Connell, editor of the Merton Seasonal and professor of theology and English at Gannon University.

“He doesn’t pontificate answers from some elevated eminence. The fact that he’s flawed and admits it makes him so much more meaningful,” said O’Connell. “He is Catholic with a small c and big C. He’s very faithful to the religion and someone who saw that religion as a way to open up to the universality of all humanity.”

Monsignor William H. Shannon became editor of his five volumes of letters and said Merton helped him to realize, “Contemplative life is human reality, not just monastic reality,” he said.

Some of his work could even be considered prophetic. “Last year we saw publication of ‘Peace in Post-Christian Era,’ which was banned in 1962,” said Pearson. “Though we are no longer talking about the Cold War you can substitute terror or Iraq for communism because the overall picture hasn’t changed.”

“Like any good writer, he speaks to you in different ways at different times,” said Shannon. “He was a born writer. Fortunately, he had an Abbott who recognized and encouraged him in his writing.”

Many Merton scholars believe that he did not want to become a myth for children at American parochial schools. He did not want to be an idol or guru with a following. But his contemporary messages seem more important today than ever before.

“Merton's writing … is a source of unity, a bridge for Catholics and all spiritual seekers to cross over and find a common ground in the search for God through their ordinary lives,” said Montaldo.

Pilgrimage to Bellarmine

The Thomas Merton Center is an archive based at Bellarmine University, a small, liberal arts Catholic College in Louisville, Ky., near the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery where Merton lived.

Though there are also collections at Harvard University and St. Bonaventure, Bellarmine remains the official repository. Started by Merton in 1963 when it was suggested he find a home to deposit his many manuscripts, the Merton Center is currently home to 50,000 items including photos, drawings, calligraphy, manuscripts and journals. There are 20,000 letters of correspondence with 2,100 individuals. It contains 260 doctoral and master’s theses and 1,400 photographs.

The center’s mission is to preserve and collect materials related to Merton’s life and work. Just this year, it acquired 14 calligraphies and some more letters, according to Paul Pearson, director of the center.

“We’ve reached the point where all manuscript material has been published. But we’re never quite sure because something new may come to light,” he said.

Merton was a prolific letter-writer and the center has entire sets of correspondence from some individuals. It also contains large exchanges with his publishers, with Dorothy Day, a Muslim scholar in Pakistan and with Latin American poets.

The center is open to public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visit for more information.

The local chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society meets at 7:30 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month from September through May at Ursuline College Mother House.

T. Williams on dullness

“I don’t believe in dullness. I believe in passion and wonder and excitement. I believe in people having a storm in their hearts, a great big furious storm that sweeps all trivialities away like scraps of paper or dead leaves.”

— from Tennessee Williams’ Mister Paradise

New and improved

I invite you to visit the new and improved, which launched today. When I took on the new part-time position on May 1, this redesign was well underway. My role was to help make sure that resources for members, chapters and leaders were up to par and easy to navigate.

So take it for ride, see what SPJ has been working on and please consider joining our ranks.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Breaking news out of U.S. Supreme Court

Breaking news from Washington Post. Reporter William Branigin writes:

The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions are unconstitutional.

In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized under U.S. law or the Geneva Conventions. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion in the case, called Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. recused himself from the case.

The ruling, which overturned a federal appeals court decision in which Roberts had participated, represented a defeat for President Bush, who had ordered military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. About 450 detainees captured in the war on terrorism are currently held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

The case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 36-year-old Yemeni with links to al-Qaeda, was considered a key test of the judiciary's power during wartime and carried the potential to make a lasting impact on American law. It challenged the very legality of the military commissions established by President Bush to try terrorism suspects.

The case raised core constitutional principles of separation of powers as well as fundamental issues of individual rights. Specifically, the questions concerned:
• The power of Congress and the executive to strip the federal courts and the Supreme Court of jurisdiction.

• The authority of the executive to lock up individuals under claims of wartime power, without benefit of traditional protections such as a jury trial, the right to cross-examine one's accusers and the right to judicial appeal.

• The applicability of international treaties -- specifically the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war -- to the government's treatment of those it deems "enemy combatants."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Behind the URL resumes at BFD

A lashing of apologies to George at Brewed Fresh Daily for letting my suggestion of blogger profiles lapse for a while. Paying work got the better of me, but now I'm back to profiling Northeast Ohio bloggers.

The latest is Daniella Lindquist-Dufaux of American Pink Collar. If you'd like to get into the queue for Behind the URL, send me an e-mail.

Time to make the donuts

I'm not sure when it started but for quite a while now, Danny and I will drag ourselves out of bed, muttering, "Time to make the donuts." That's particularly the case when we've been on one of those work-home benders that gives us little time to talk and makes as feel as if we're hamsters on an exercise wheel.

But this week we've been using the line as a way to roust Patrick and Ryan for their summer jobs. Patrick is a Safety Town Counselor and Ryan has been doing a mishmosh of babysitting, pet sitting and lawnmowing this summer. This morning Danny asks Patrick, "What time is it?"

"Time to make the donuts," he mutters into his waffles.

How is that one line seemed to sum up the early morning drudgery/responsibility of going to work? I decided to Google the line to see what I could find.

This bit says that Fred the Baker was really autistic and living at Walbrook Psychiatric Institute in Cincinnati. Oh, wait, I think that was another character.

This one says that the commercial was named by the Television Bureau of Advertising as one of the five best commercials of the 1980s (was it really that long ago?).

The founder of Dunkin Donuts even wrote a book about his career in 2001 titled, “Time to Make the Donuts.”

But then I found that Fred the Baker, also known as Michael Vale, died last year at the age of 83. Turns out he studied acting at the Dramatic Workshop in New York with the likes of Rod Steiger and Ben Gazarra. But he is remembered for being Fred the Baker.

The ad man who wrote those first Dunkin' Donuts commercials is Ron Berger, now CEO at the advertising giant RSCG. CNN tracked him down on his BlackBerry in Mexico, on vacation.
"We went through hundreds of people in the auditions because the role was so defining. As soon as Michael Vale walked into the bathroom in his pajamas and said 'Time to make the doughnuts, time to make the doughnuts,' we knew," said Berger.

Google lists a number of times the phrase is used in headlines for everything from sports stories to business stories to features about kids and jobs. Hey, wait, that sounds familiar, too. So the phrase is a cliche, but it's a good one.

Jeez! Now it’s 8:30 and I’ve killed time Googling Fred the Baker when I really need to get back to making the donuts.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

CYO and Christian values

UPDATE FROM COACH SHERWOOD: It’s a program for Bay kids. It's a tiny district and it needs all the players it can get. "Our approach is to get kids involved in the game of football and if we can get them to stay and play in our football program that's great," says Sherwood.

This is downright hilarious. It seems that the Catholic Youth Organization, also known as CYO, has launched a “landmark program that puts Catholic values ahead of winning….”

Whoa! Wait a minute! This IS groundbreaking. You mean winning at all costs and creating a bunch of St. Ignatius and St. Ed’s hopefuls is not what CYO athletics is about? (Yes, that is filled with dripping sarcasm.)

After years of dashing children’s hopes and self-esteem by forcing them to ride the pine for games on end while the select few get the spotlight, it seems the good folks at the Diocese of Cleveland have created a policy that offers equal playing time for basketball players. David Briggs writes:

Under the new "No Child Left on the Bench" rules in the Cleveland diocese, each fourth- to sixth-grader on basketball teams of 10 or less (which is the great majority of squads) must play at least half the game. Seventh- and eighth-graders must play at least one quarter.

Pardon me while I clean up the coffee I spit out upon reading this article.

I’ve had plenty of experiences with CYO athletics as both the parent of athletes and the wife of a coach. In my experience there was nothing less Christian than that program. But hey, if it has suddenly had a spiritual awakening then that’s fabulous. Good for CYO.

I have one question: Why wasn’t this a policy all along?

It's part and parcel of the elitist mentality that pervades the parochial school structure. I say this having had a son who played every down of every football game, both offense and defense. I recognize that some kids thrive under this culture, but it can be downright destructive to others.

CYO runs afoul of Catholic values through parents who insist on winning and creating personal vehicles to spotlight their child’s athletic talent. It's been a program about reliving glory days, about egos and bragging rights and feeding the Ed's/Iggy athletic machine. If that's its mission, then let's be clear that the less-talented needn't join the team. The flaw in that argument, of course, is that these are children who all develop at different rates. You need only bring up the story about how Michael Jordan was cut from his 10th-grade basketball team to realize that there is such a thing as late bloomers--and early flamouts.

Danny’s last year of coaching Ryan’s CYO basketball team was in fifth grade. You'd think the coaches meeting was the NBA draft, where dads piss and moan and argue about what players they want to draft for their team.

Danny told me it was such a disgusting display (remember, we’re talking about grade school athletes) that he told them he’d take whoever, just to be congenial and move the process along. And that’s what he got. They gave him Ryan and some kids who had never played or even touched a basketball.

At the outset, Danny told the parents that his philosophy was equal playing time. The kids are too young and undeveloped at this age and what they need is playing time. On his team they probably wouldn’t win much, but every kid would play a half—and every kid would score a bucket in a game.They didn’t win much that season. And some of these kids passed the ball off as if it were a hot potato.

But Danny was determined to give them a good experience.

During the final games in the tiny St. Mary’s of Berea gym, Danny’s faith in his players was put to the test. All but one had scored in a game. They were losing big-time, but the scoreboard wasn’t the issue. Danny was trying to figure out how to get the ball into this boy’s hands so he could shoot a basket.

This boy looks as if he belongs more in a lab than on a court. Danny, who is quite animated on the sidelines, is waving his arms and yelling, “Get the ball to Wadi!” The clock was ticking down and he missed two shots already. Parents on the team knew what he was trying to do and started to cheer wildly. Then little Wadi got the ball at the top of the key. He hesitated for a moment and Danny yelled, “Shoot! Shoot!”

Swish! The ball went into the bucket. The entire gym erupted in cheers and the look on that little boy’s face put tears in my eyes. He was incredulous at first and then so, so proud. Danny was jumping up and down like a maniac on the sidelines yelling, “Way to go, Wadi!”

It was the highlight of the season. They lost the game, but all the players on Danny’s team got so much more from the experience. They learned about being a team, about supporting each other and that miracles can and do happen.

We’ve since left the world of CYO athletics and I’m not sorry. Patrick and Michael play on rec teams and Ryan now plays in interscholastic sports for Bay Schools. There are no more dads coaching their kids to greatness. It’s about team, sportsmanship and pride in your school and your community. Some would call those “Christian” values. For us it’s a more wholesome atmosphere.

During our orientation to Bay Middle School, one parent asked about the school’s policy on athletics. The principal at the time replied:

“Our interscholastic teams begin in seventh grade, which is the state standard under the Ohio High School Athletic Association rules. That's the norm unless you go to parochial schools where competition begins in kindergarten.”

The audience of parents laughed, but there were enough of us from parochial schools that we laughed even harder knowing just how true the sentiment really was.

The final straw came last summer. One of the CYO football coaches called our house and spoke to Ryan. He told him he’d get a lot of playing time and that he could get a scholarship to St. Ignatius or St. Ed’s if he played on the CYO team. He didn’t ask to speak to us, he told this to a 12-year-old.

I was livid. How dare he call our house and make promises he couldn’t possibly keep to a young kid. It was highly unethical, but hardly surprising. Ryan very confidently told him thanks, but no, he was playing for Bay.

About an hour ago I dropped Ryan off at Bay High. The varsity football coach was taking him, two other eighth-graders and the freshman, JV and varsity quarterbacks to a camp in Warren. He knows he loses potential good players to the Catholic high schools where, frankly, many of the Bay boys don’t even get to play.

So he’s nurturing his program from middle school on up. As a fifth-grade teacher he gets the kids excited about Bay football in addition to teaching them math. Every summer he runs a weeklong football camp with his varsity players as counselors and he discourages the Catholic school kids from attending.

CLARIFICATION FROM BAY HIGH COACH GARY SHERWOOD: It’s a program for Bay kids. It's a tiny district and it needs all the players it can get. "Our approach is to get kids involved in the game of football and if we can get them to stay and play in our football program that's great," says Sherwood.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Merton article wins in religion coverage

Just learned that my article on Thomas Merton that appeared in the Catholic Universe Bulletin tied for first place in Best Religion Coverage in the Ohio SPJ Awards competition. Here's the scoop from the Ohio SPJ Awards:

Best Religion Coverage— This prize is awarded for the
best coverage (story or series) on religion/ethics/values,
stories that explore spirituality, address the search for
faith among modern complexities, or underscore
journalism‟s place in matters of the soul.

First Place (tie): “W hat W ondrous Love Is This: In the Face
of Devastating News, the Former President of Ohio
Dominican, a Nun and a Scientist, Chose the Road Less
Traveled,” Ray Paprocki, Columbus Monthly.

First Place (tie): “Thomas M erton,” W endy Hoke, Catholic
Universe Bulletin.

Sadly, the story no longer available online.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Loving wireless

How did I live without wireless for so long? After just a few short days, it seems impossible to believe I could ever again be chained to the DSL line.

I'm blogging from the comfort of my living room couch, with Mikey snuggled next to me asking, "Does the Internet work down here?" "How about in here?" It's been fun just moving from room to room to check out the signal. So far so good.

I also love the features on the new Microsoft Office. When I get an e-mail, a tiny little window opens on the bottom right-hand side of my screen with a brief description of the e-mail I received. If it's urgent, I can tend to it immediately, if not no biggie.

Tranferring files from one laptop to the other was a huge pain. The boys keep asking if they can delete my old stuff. It's not hurting anything just sitting there so I told them to leave it for now. I haven't yet figured out how to transfer e-mails and I'm not sure I will. That's okay because I have the old ones archived on the old laptop. But I suspect there may be a few e-mails that have slipped through the black hole in between. If you haven't heard back from me on something, chances are I didn't get the e-mail. Feel free to resend.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Len Bias -- gone 20 years now

Do you remember hearing the shocking news about the death of University of Maryland basketball player and Boston Celtics pick Len Bias? At 19 years old the thought that someone so athletically gifted, so young could be gone was stunning. And that it was from cocaine was even more shocking. It shouldn't have been a shock. Cocaine was all over college campuses in the '80s.

Todays' Washington Post has an interesting retrospective on Bias' life and death. Reporters relive with others the night he died of a cocaine overdose just days after he was the second pick in the NBA draft, how the University of Maryland - College Park was forced to reveal the low academic performance of its basketball athletes and how NBA greats welcomed the chance to go head-to-head on the court with this young phenom.

But the piece in the retrospective that really moved me was this one about his mother, Lonise. She has turned Len's tragic death, and that of his younger brother Jay a few years later, into an educational opportunity. She has found strength in God and the grace to persevere in the wake of knife-piercing pain. As a mother, I am in awe of her strength and grace.

As I read the story I learned that Len had two other siblings. The article doesn't give their names, ages or even say whether or not they are brothers or sisters. I wanted to know, but I respect their need for being something other than the late Len and Jay Bias' siblings. Today they have their own children and the article ends with sentiments of a grandmother who knows how to find the spirit of her lost sons in the laughter of her grandchildren.

News conversation

If you're even remotely involved in the pratice of news gathering and dissemination you should be reading Jay Rosen's PressThink. He's the a rebel outside the newsroom pushing journalists, editors and publishers to think bigger about the news experience -- and to think about it more as a conversation than pronouncements from on high.

Jay's got a provacative piece in this morning's Washington Post. He talks about the 10 years of news online and how it's finally dawning on the newsroom honchos that "repurposing" stories does not an online strategy make.

Newsrooms big and small often move with the quickness of a brontosaurus. But this statement by AP chief Tom Curley may signify that they have finally caught on to the changes that have taken place without the newsrooms.

"When the Web was born as a commercial content enterprise back in the mid-'90s, we thought it was about replicating -- that is, 'repurposing' -- our news and information franchises online," Curley said. "The news, as 'lecture,' is giving way to the news as a 'conversation'."

This summer, SPJ in Cleveland has invited editors and reporters from The Plain Dealer to talk more about the difficulties in making the shift. I'll keep you posted on the time, date and place. Don't prejudge their position, but plan to come if for no other reason than to encourage them to push for more creative and transparent news delivery online.

Let's move the conversation forward with open minds.

As Rosen concludes:

"To survive you have to be open."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Live with my new MacBook

Wow! I'm am thrilled with this new laptop. Microcenter was out of stock so Ryan, Patrick and I headed to the Apple store at Legacy Village where we received top-notch service by very knowledgeable folks. I've been installing and registering software and hardware since 4 this afternoon. After a break for dinner, chatting with neighbors and a dash to the store for a spare USB cable, I'm finally up and running.

Bonus today was that I also picked up my very own iPod Nano. No more borrowing Danny's or Ryan's. And I can fill it with all my own music. And I'm able to take advantage of some timely rebates, bringing my total purchase about $500 under budget.

This thing is fast, but I'm still getting used to the new look of some familiar programs. And I've got a lot of files to transfer from the old laptop.

One pesky problem: Does anyone know how to set preferences on Dashboard so it doesn't give me the weather in Columbus? That's the nearest city to us in the time zone chart, but I'd really like to have Cleveland weather pop up.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Farewell, old gal

This has been a hectic six weeks for me. I've finished up some major projects, been traveling a lot, started a part-time job that I'm having difficulty keeping to part-time and I've managed to get a few new assignments that will make writing this summer a load of fun.

I don't mean to neglect all my blogging activity, but it's been a necessity of late. By next week I hope to have settled into more of a summer routine to get some regular posting online. By then I'll be doing it from my new MacBook. Woo Hoo!

My trusty G3 iBook has been good to me over the past five years. It's been around the country and the world with me. It's seen my first daily newspaper feature that led to regular daily newspaper work, my first national magazine columns and stories and has nurtured me through my upstart blogging efforts.

But like the old gal she is, she's a little worn and weathered. The space bar no longer works, which means I've had to retire her traveling days. It's a little tough to get through the airport with a USB keyboard under arm. She's a little slower these days (actually a lot slower) and that gets plenty frustrating. My writing has worn out the letters E, R, T, S, H, N, M on my keyboard.

She also lacks some of the modern technological conveniences that didn't seem important in 2001 -- CD burner, wireless, DVD player. The battery has long-since outlived its usefulness, lasting at best a mere 15 minutes.

After taking the new MacBook for a spin, I can't believe the sharpness in display, the speed, the very cool dashboard feature and the Web-related software. I can kiss Classic operating system goodbye with the newest version of Microsoft Office, which runs on OSX.whatever the latest version is.

For the time being, my little iBook will find a place as the family computer until I get the kids their Dell in time for school to start. But we don't even want to think of school one week into summer vacation.

Monday, June 05, 2006

One more call

Noted journalist, author and Case prof Ted Gup once told a group of SPJ folks the following (and I'm paraphrasing slightly):

"When you think you're done reporting, make one more phone call. You'll never be sorry."

He shared this nugget in light of a piece he wrote for Esquire magazine about corruption in a southern town. Gup described how many calls he had to make to accurately and colorfully describe the sound of a 2 a.m. train barreling through this sleepy town and how its residents collectively roll over at its arrival.

As I am fine-tuning my piece on small schools transformation at Cleveland Heights High School for KnowledgeWorks Foundation I found that advice most helpful. I'm thinking of taping a little reminder note above my laptop that reads, "One more call."

Thank you, Ted, for reminding us to push ourselves further.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Lament of the fashion challenged

I've never been a fashionista, in fact I'm quite the opposite. I'm a female who hates to shop and tends to hyperventilate when spending money. My sister (who is a miraculous shopper) chides me that I'm famous for carrying something around a store for an hour and then putting it back only to leave empty-handed.

This isn't a source of pride for me, it's rather embarrassing. I have good taste, I just lack the will and the know-how (and often the cash) to indugle it.

A result of working out of my house for so long is that I really have no professional wardrobe. I'm not talking necessarily suits, though I do like a good pantsuit. But I do need something beyond jeans, cropped pants and shorts. I nearly gagged when I read a report earlier this week claiming that Katie Couric will need to spend about $30,000 on a new professional wardrobe for her CBS Evening News gig.

Anyway, what I really need is for someone to outfit me. My closet contains uninspired selections in black, white, khaki, denim and the ocassional splash of hot pink or aqua blue. I'm not necessarily trendy, but I don't want to look frumpy either. Classic, I'm more classic in style (minus the pearls).

Work lately requires me to travel and dress in business casual (emphasis on business), and I've found myself in a quandary. Where can I find pants that aren't cropped, shoes that aren't flimsy sandals and skirts that don't look as if a seventh-grade home ec student pieced together some rags? I've found no-iron shirts at Eddie Bauer that travel well, but they do tend to be cut kind of boxy, which tends to make me look more buxom (not a desirable thing in my case). I like my fitted Ann Taylor blouses, but they wrinkle easily and I deplane looking as if I just crawled out of bed.

I confess that I'm not good at shopping department stores. Their size and inventory overwhelm me and I'm never sure where to go. The only store I'm good at navigating is Target, and that's just not the place for a work wardrobe.

So in my futile search I head to Crocker Park (somewhere other than Trader Joe's and Dicks) in hopes of finding something inspiring there. Alas, I found only dress pants for a woman with no shape and a 40-inch inseam. Why are women's dress pants so long these days? When I complained I had a sales clerk suggest I buy petite. I'm 5-foot-6-inches and have never been petite.

Then there's the waistline issue. I am a woman with curves. I have a narrow waist and bigger hips. I'm a runner and my thighs are thick and muscular and hate to be contained in some of the teeny, tiny cuts found today. That means when I try on a pair of pants, they hug my rear and thighs and gap six inches in my waist. Christ, I'm almost 40. I don't have the waifish body of a teenager.

And the God are there some ugly shoes today. Barely there straps, enormous soles and chunky heels. My feet ache just looking at the selection. And bags...what's with all the bangles and buckles and rhinestones and labels? Even Coach bags look gauche these days.

My God, I do sound drippy. Really I just want to snap my fingers and have a couple pair of good, slim elegant leather shoes (black, of course, and brown) with the comfort of my sneakers, a couple of nice dress pants that don't have waists to my breasts or an extra foot in length and a great leather bag to contain essentials, plus reading material and notebook for traveling appear in my closet.

Wonder if Katie's personal shopper accepts pro bono cases...