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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

Perseverance

"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.

Writersmarket.com is new and improved
Writersmarket.com 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 sommers@interactcleveland.org.


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: mediabistro.com’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)

AND

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.