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Friday, February 29, 2008

Foreign correspondence, Medve-whatever, female blogger contest and more

In college, my plans were to become a foreign correspondent. And then I met my husband and, well, my perspective changed a bit. But I still fantasize about living abroad and writing for publications. So I was saddened, though hardly shocked, to read this piece about the declining future for foreign correspondents by a Dutch journalist.
Today's Dutch foreign correspondents report enjoying their work -- although they have to work harder and provide material for a multitude of media. Also, since most of them are freelancers, heavy competition for exposure in the major media has undermined their negotiating position.
He writes about how low wages, competition and the need to produce multimedia has impacted the profession. I don't think producing multimedia is bad, but the low wages are clearly a problem.

How to survive? I decided to quit the foreign correspondent business and have started a speakers' bureau. In financial terms, that's a bit of a different league. Today, many foreign correspondents survive because their partner has a decent job.

I'm not sure that is a sustainable strategy for quality foreign coverage.

Hardly indeed.

How will history view Vladimir Putin?
Victor Erofeyev believes history will look kindly on Putin In his New York Times column, he wrote that in addition to throwing out proponents of democracy in Russia, Putin also did away with the oligarchs, which the Russians really hated. He is credited with bringing about more prosperity and more peace to Chechnya. Where he failed, according to Russian author Erofeyev, was in his "longing to make Russia the successor to the Soviet Union."
This gave rise to the imperial discourse that so frightened neighboring countries, his defense of the Soviet Union’s aggressive foreign policy and the damage to Russia’s image in the world. What’s worse is that our next president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, whom President Putin chose as his heir as if he were a czar, will have to deal with the Russian weaknesses that were hidden from the population under propaganda slogans. The failure to modernize industry or agriculture, the growing corruption in government, the ubiquitous drunkenness, the record numbers of murders and suicides, the terrible state of Russian health care and the problems that come with a shrinking population will fall on Mr. Medvedev’s young shoulders.
We'll be watching Medve-whatever to see what he does.

Favorite female blogger?
I'm not schlepping for votes, but I think this is a worthwhile venture from the folks at Women's Voices Women Vote in honor of Women's History Month, which is March. You can vote for your favorite female blogger here .

H/T to Jill for sending this along.

Tip of the iceberg
As any good writer knows, much of what gets researched and reported doesn't get included in the final draft. That is by design and a hallmark of good writing. To wit:
"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water." — Ernest Hemingway
Word of the day
resonance: a quality of richness or variety d: a quality of evoking response

Why I'm supporting Obama

For several weeks now, I've been compiling a list of reasons why I believe Sen. Barack Obama should win the Democratic nomination for president. Normally, I don't weigh in so publicly on these matters, but I believe transparency is important. There isn't a thinking person in this country who doesn't have strong feelings about who would best lead this country. I'm just adding mine to the chorus. I don't cover politics in my daily work, I'm not working on any campaign and I'm still debating whether or not to allow a campaign sign in my front yard.

But the stakes are too high, the need for change to strong to remain silent. So with Ohio's primary coming up on Tuesday, I thought now was the time to speak up. Not for a second do I believe anything I say will sway anyone. That's not my intention here. My only purpose is to compile what I look for in a presidential candidate and what I see in my choice. You'll notice I don't talk particulars about issues. I agree with Obama's ideas for the most part. But what I'm more interested in as a voter and a citizen is how a leader thinks. So here's what I observe.

1) Obama talks about the politics of "we" versus "I."

2) He speaks beautifully, authentically and intelligently. At the very least, a president should be able to move citizens with his (or her) words.

3) He writes beautifully, authentically and intelligently. I've not yet read "The Audacity of Hope," but his memoir "Dreams From My Father" is poetic. Writer Alice Walker talks about his abilities are a thinker and writer.

4) He is of MY generation, sharing the experiences of MY generation. When he talked about having monthly student load debt higher than his mortgage, I can relate. Even my husband, who comes from a long line of Republicans, is enthusiastically supporting Obama.

5) Anyone who has read his book understands that he has come to be the confident, poised person he projects by having endured a poignant, painful and prolonged journey to find himself and his purpose in this life, to forge a relationship with God, to reconcile his identity and to make peace with a father who wasn't there.

6) He has energized young people by raising the level of discourse and by asking them to get involved. In other words, he believes in young people and in their contributions to this nation. He cares about what THEY care about and that makes him an authentic voice for America's future.

7) I know he's not a native of Chicago, but he embodies Midwestern values and a Midwestern sensibility.

8) He has struggled with faith and written about it beautifully. To me, that says he's a thinking—and feeling—person willing to work through struggles to find the good in this life.

9) I check his Web site daily.

10) I've come as close as I've ever come in my lifetime to clicking the "volunteer" button.

11) The poetry and treatise on democracy he has inspired among newspaper editorial boards, cultural leaders, political leaders and even the chattering classes is uplifting. Here are some examples that I find particularly stirring:

The Arizona Republic:
His oratory soars. While talk alone isn't enough, it has been a very long time since Americans had a leader who appealed to their better nature.
Los Angeles Times:
An Obama presidency would present, as a distinctly American face, a man of African descent, born in the nation's youngest state, with a childhood spent partly in Asia, among Muslims. No public relations campaign could do more than Obama's mere presence in the White House to defuse anti-American passion around the world, nor could any political experience surpass Obama's life story in preparing a president to understand the American character. His candidacy offers Democrats the best hope of leading America into the future, and gives Californians the opportunity to cast their most exciting and consequential ballot in a generation.

In the language of metaphor, Clinton is an essay, solid and reasoned; Obama is a poem, lyric and filled with possibility. Clinton would be a valuable and competent executive, but Obama matches her in substance and adds something that the nation has been missing far too long -- a sense of aspiration.
San Francisco Chronicle

In a Jan. 17 meeting with our editorial board, Obama demonstrated an impressive command of a wide variety of issues. He listened intently to the questions. He responded with substance. He did not control a format without a stopwatch on answers or constraints on follow-up questions, yet he flourished in it.

He radiated the sense of possibility that has attracted the votes of independents and tapped into the idealism of young people during this campaign. He exuded the aura of a 46-year-old leader who could once again persuade the best and the brightest to forestall or pause their grand professional goals to serve in his administration.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

The Obama campaign has been derisively and incorrectly described as more rock tour than political campaign and his supporters as more starry-eyed groupies than thoughtful voters.

If detractors in either party want to continue characterizing the Obama campaign this way, they will have seriously underestimated both the electorate's hunger for meaningful change in how the nation is governed and the candidate himself.

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board on Wednesday, the first-term senator proved himself adept at detail and vision. They are not mutually exclusive.

Chicago Tribune
By one measure, this endorsement is a paradox. We're urging votes for a candidate whose political views we often disagree with. But this is a more complicated contest, and a more complex candidate, than the norm. This nation's next president inherits a war -- against terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere -- that has found many ways to divide Americans. Capitol Hill is gridlocked and uncivil. Our discourse is hostage to blame.

Obama can help this nation move forward. A Tribune profile last May labeled his eight years in Springfield as "a study in complexity, caution and calculation. In the minority party for all but his final two years in the Statehouse, he tempered a progressive agenda with a cold dash of realism, often forging consensus with conservative Republicans when other liberals wanted to crusade."
Boston Globe

Obama's memoir, "Dreams From My Father," is divided into three main sections. The first is a reflection on his youthful search for identity. The second recounts his days in Chicago, which include the first stirrings of a religious life. The third is a roots pilgrimage to Kenya, to better understand his often absent father. It is hard to read this book without longing for a president with this level of introspection, honesty, and maturity - and Obama published it when he was only 33.

"I genuinely believe that our security and prosperity are going to depend on how we manage our continued integration into the rest of the world," he says. Obama's story is the American story, a deeply affecting tale of possibility. People who vote for him vote their hopes. Even after seven desolating years, this country has not forgotten how to hope.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Comets don't come around that often. In January of 1961, Ann Dunham Obama was six weeks pregnant with Barack Obama Sr.'s child when President Kennedy said at his inauguration that "the torch has been passed to a new generation." It's that time again.
New York Observer

Democracy is the greatest strength of this still-young nation. Its living enactment is our gift to the world. It is the product of our best instincts and most powerful ideals. But it has been polluted, sullied and compromised by an obstructive administration that seems to have to have no particular regard for its attributes.

It is difficult to remember the last national candidate who has charged and jazzed the democratic system as Mr. Obama has. Partly as a result of his candidacy, college campuses have remembered why they are proud of the United States, kids are going door to door, runners are handing out leaflets on weekends, racial lines have been culturally melted and the electoral approach to presidential campaigning has been reborn.

And, as more than one commentator has said, America is being reintroduced to the world.

Because of who he is and what he stands for, a former constitutional law teacher with few ties to the Washington establishment yet a sophisticated respect for it, Mr. Obama stands the best chance of restoring the essential relationship between power and the American people. He is not flanked and blocked by an existing, entrenched power structure; his words are not muddied by layers of handlers; he still says what he means.

13) He has the love, support and strength of his incredibly smart wife, Michelle, without the familial drama that accompanies the Clintons.

14) And finally, if you believe in emotional intelligence and the power of Primal Leadership, he is the choice to lead.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A smile on my face

A recent phenomenon has occurred that puts a smile on my face in the middle of the day. My 15-year-old son, who seems to be spending a lot of time in the LIC (formerly known as the library) this semester has taken to e-mailing me in the middle of the day. Just a quick little howdy and occasionally a bit of news, such as the 97/100 he got on the narrative essay he wrote about his broken collarbone for English. I should post it here because it was outstanding. He really got into the narrative style.

The e-mails started last week when he buzzed me to ask if I could bring up some money so he could buy his ticket to the winter dance. Since it's the Sadie Hawkins dance, he didn't need the money after all. But here are some pics from the evening, first with his good buddy Jake (aka Big Man), sporting their matching metallic ties, and his lovely date, Marissa. Most of the freshmen girls and and boys basketball teams went together as a big group. I've only ever seen the girls in basketball uniforms or sweats. They looked beautiful. But I'm so glad I don't have to deal with all the girl stuff. I'd be horrible at that.

Art imitating life, Pew study and 'stunning ignorance'

Was West Wing a precursor to 2008 presidential race?
Hadn't thought about The West Wing show in a while, but Slate V has an interesting look at the inspiration for the dark horse candidacy of Congressman Matthew Santos (played by Jimmy Smits). "I do want to win. You know? But I can't do it by being just another cardboard cut out even if it is smart tactics," Santos tells Josh Lyman, who is trying to convince him to run.

Political consultant at the time, David Axelrod, who is running Obama's presidential campaign had lengthy conversations with the show's writers. He was running Obama's U.S. Senate campaign at the time of the show.

If you recall, the fictional contest between Santos and a sitting vice president leads to a brokered Democratic convention. I knew I liked those writers at The West Wing. They were so smart. Although Aaron Sorkin remains the greatest of them all.

Santos ended winning the presidency against a formidable and even appealing Republican candidate in Arnold Vinick (played by Alan Alda). And then he did something really different— he asked Vinick to serve in his administration.

Strap on your seatbelts because I'm all over the place today. This is a good sign for me—my brain is super-charged and that's just the place where this creative individual needs to operate.

Pew on religion in American life
I've been reading a lot about the Pew study on religion and public life. I can't say that I'm at all surprised by the results. As readers here know, I've had my own struggles with the Catholic church and I'm not exactly an active participant right now. But I like to think that my writing about people of faith is in some small way helping me to live out my faith.

I've been wondering if Catholicism will necessarily evolve—like Judaism has done over time—into different sects (conservative, reform, orthodox, etc.). Is this the type of evolution necessary for the church to survive? I'm not saying I know the answer, only that it's something about which I've been thinking.

Christopher Dickey writes today in WAPO's On Faith section that America is a society of choice. We were founded by choice and our focus is never on our history, but on our future. While we "have" or possess things (spouse, children, job, home), most of the rest of the world "belongs"—to families, place, history, culture and faith.
"You might not pray, you might not even believe, but who you feel you are is profoundly shaped by the sense of the past from which you came, and to which you belong. That may be a source of strength or frustration. It may be many things. But it is not a matter of choice."
Dickey, who is the Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek, goes on to write that the real clash of civilizations is between our notion of having and the rest of the world's sense of belonging.
"When Americans find their way into the middle of sectarian conflicts, like Lebanon's in the 1980s or Iraq's today, they often feel lost. We are about 'freedom.' They are about 'fundamentalism.' We're thinking about where we're going, they're obsessed with where they came from. (In the United States 'history' is actually an epithet, as in, 'You're history.')"
Which all leads me finally to this study reported in today's New York Times:

'Stunning ignorance'
In our push to teach to the reading and math portions of standardized tests, it seems that we are leaving a generation of 17-year-olds ignorant of history and literature.

"The survey results, released on Tuesday, demonstrate that a significant proportion of teenagers live in 'stunning ignorance' of history and literature, said the group that commissioned it, Common Core," reports the Times

From the report, available here as PDF.
"The problems that the above results pose for civic discourse are neither murky nor obscure. One need not search far to find attacks on anti-terrorism measures that draw upon imagery from 1984 or that use the term 'Orwellian.' Pundits, novelists, and journalists routinely wield references to Job or Oedipus in making points about the trials of a public figure or the complexities of familial relationships. High school graduates unacquainted with these terms are handicapped when it comes to engaging in public debates, perhaps recognizing the terms and phrases but lacking comprehension of the assumptions and associations that lend them meaning. Magazine and newspaper articles are not infrequently strewn with allusions to a fallen figure being branded with a 'scarlet letter' or to it being 'the best of times and the worst of times'—rhetorical nods that presume familiarity and help readers navigate the narrative. Those unfamiliar with terms and references that authors and editors presume to be common knowledge may find themselves struggling to make sense of seemingly prosaic accounts. What's worse is that these students lack the knowledge and wisdom that historical information provides and that artistic works contain.
This report contains yet more evidence that education reform, if it is to be truly successful, must be systemic and simultaneous.

Word of the day
picayune: something trivial

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Wednesday wanderings

The debate
I watched the debate last night with my hubby and intermittently all three of my boys. (The Cavs were playing and, well, they're boys with limited attention spans for wonkish arguments.) Here are my observations:

1) Brown is a good color on Hillary even if it's not a patriotic look. But there were times when she sounded like a shrieking wife and I cringed, on behalf of women everywhere, for her inability to tone it down and sound like the highly intelligent being she is. I don't think that does much to help her with voters.

2) Barack looks tired. Although his debate performances have much less fire and energy than his speeches and campaign appearances, I felt as if his demeanor—one of being unflappable—is characteristic of his presidential qualities. Basically, I like.

3) Both candidates bombed on the question about Putin's successor. I don't think that's any indication of their lack of foreign policy experience, but rather a byproduct of prolonged residence in the campaign bubble, allowing for little time to keep up with the latest global developments. I just read about Medvedev yesterday.

4) Tim Russert made a noble attempt to ask hard questions, but his insistence on definitive answers to hypotheticals made him look ridiculous. I'd rather have a president that considers the facts and surrounds him or herself with intelligent people than one who makes a promise in a campaign debate that neither the facts in the case nor the reality on the ground can support. Sheesh! Haven't we had enough of that with George W.?

5) I'd like to see both candidates talk about working together on universal health care. No matter who wins the nomination (and, hopefully, the general election), I would hope that the winner would bring in the other to consult on this very difficult issue.

6) Hillary spouts off places she's been as if that's evidence enough of foreign policy experience. Now I know she's done a lot more than just play tourist on taxpayer's dime. I wanted to hear more specifics. Conversely, I know that Obama is criticized for his lack of foreign policy experience, but I really like that he thinks completely differently. No less than that is required after years of failed policies. Does anyone remember the summer of 2001? There was an incredible culture of meanness—we were pulling out of every global treaty and going it alone, insulting governments far and wide. Suicide bombings in Israel and Gaza were a daily occurrence. And even in Ireland, a young school girl was harassed. We have to approach foreign policy in a completely different way in order to rebuild what has been destroyed.

7) On foreign policy and national security, I think Obama came off very strong and presidential.

8) On a 60 Minutes interview, Obama talked about how he is pretty even at all times and that helps to keep him sane on the campaign trail. "I don't get too high or too low." Sounds like a good quality in a leader to me.

9) Hillary has a great smile. Barack has a luminous smile. The guy lights up a room with that smile. John McCain, on the other hand, has that annoying tendency of laughing or smiling at inappropriate times and appearing altogether fake. After W, I just can't take any more of that ridiculous toothless smile and shrugging laugh.

10) No one believes for a second that Hillary and Barack are pals right now. But I think the graciousness that both exhibited at the end of the debate toward the other sets a tone for how reasonable adversaries can get along.

William F. Buckley dies at 82
The Times obit has some wonderful gems including this one:
"In 1985, David Remnick, writing in The Washington Post, said, 'He has the eyes of a child who has just displayed a horrid use for the microwave oven and the family cat.'"
Chester Finn on education reform
Education Week has an interesting piece from Chester Finn today. He's the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, in Washington, he has written his 15th book, Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform Since Sputnik, which will be published next month by Princeton University Press. He writes about the difficult of education reform because of its need to be systemic.
"Political compromises also lead elected officials to enact Potemkin reforms—that’s as true of standards-based as choice-style reforms—that amount to surface changes unaccompanied by the more wrenching shifts that are needed for those reforms to succeed."
Word of the day is cherish
"cherish: to hold dear : to entertain or harbor in the mind deeply and resolutely"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Spotlight shines on Cleveland tonight

I'm gearing up for tonight's Democratic Presidential Debate live from Cleveland. I'll be checking in with Jill, also known as JMZ, Jill Zeemon (if you're Tony Harris from CNN) or, as George has taken to calling her, Jay-Z. She's got a credential to cover and I'm sure will provide her usual outstanding behind-the-scenes riffs.

My mind is made up, but I'm interested to see what both candidates have to say tonight.

Monday, February 25, 2008

UB story: Filmmaker puts the power of faith in service of the poor

Putting the power of faith in service of the poor

By Wendy A. Hoke

Photo by George Shuba

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS—It’s not easy to watch the films of Gerry Straub. They make the viewer uncomfortable. The stark images compel almost compel one to look away.

But the point of his films, made under the auspices of The San Damiano Foundation, is that humanity cannot look away from pain and suffering all around.

His work today is a far cry from his work as producer of the daytime soap, “General Hospital” and the 14 years he spent at CBS-TV. It’s been a spiritual journey, one that brought him to Cleveland this week to share with high school students.

“I considered myself an atheist and had been searching for God for years,” Straub said during dinner here. “I found myself in a rundown church in Rome, praying the Liturgy of Hours and it just hit me. The core of all faiths is mercy and compassion. But people who say they believe don’t always take that seriously so it wasn’t real to me.

“I spent years in network television where you do anything for a rating point. I really wanted to write seriously and try to understand what happened to that young boy who went into the seminary,” he said.

At the urging of a Jesuit, he turned his pen to writing about St. Francis of Assisi. He questioned his credibility in writing such a work. But after nine months of following in the footsteps of St. Francis in Italy and recording his own journey in diaries, Straub published, “The Sun and Moon Over Assisi,” which won a first place in the Catholic Press Association Book Award for spirituality.

Now a Secular Franciscan, Straub says Francis has been his spiritual guide.

“Francis became fully dependent on God and had a real love of poverty,” he explained. “Everything that came to him had to be a gift from God. I can understand that on a theological level, but practically I couldn’t.”

Straub’s spiritual quest led him to live at a Franciscan soup kitchen, an experience that turned his thoughts on poverty upside-down. “When we blame the poor or the homeless for their condition and label them, it becomes their fault and not our responsibility,” he said.

He called upon some friends in network television to help make a film about the soup kitchen. “When Did I See You Hungry?” was narrated by actor Martin Sheen and ran on PBS for 10 years.

Like Francis, Straub prays that God and others will provide the means to make his films. Through 13 films and three books, he has so far been blessed, though it has been hard at times.

There is no call to action in his films, he asks only that people pray for those suffering in the world. “I don’t tell anyone what to do. Everyone can do something. Christ is not asking for your spare change; he’s asking for your life.”

During his visit to Beaumont School Tuesday, Straub engaged 150 student members of Catholic Students for Peace and Justice. He was hoping the films lead to a transformation of the heart.

His mission, it seems, has been accomplished.

“Mr. Straub’s presentation forced me to face a reality that is completely different from the reality I live everyday,” said Beth Melena of Beaumont School for Girls. “It is easy to forget that people live without the basic necessities of life, but Mr.Straub’s films and presentation have left an impression on me that will last a long time.”

“It was very powerful and moving and made me want to get involved,” said Halle Ross of Villa Angela St. Joseph High School.

“My initial reaction was definitely shock. I mean, I'm aware of the issues involving poverty, but seeing the images never cease to rip your heart out in their agony,” said Elizabeth Hauserman of VASJ.

But she and others including Emily Infeld and Laura Welgs, both of Beaumont, also saw that through Straub’s visit, even small contributions mean the world to those who suffer.

“I ignore every rule of filmmaking,” said Straub. “These films are my prayers.”

For more information about The San Damiano Foundation, visit here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Alonetime is fuel for life"

"We live in a society that worships independence yet deeply fears alienation: our era is sped-up and overconnected. The earth's population has doubled since the 1950s, and in cities across the world, urban crowding and the new global economy have revolutionized social relationships. Cellular phones now extend the domain of the workplace into every part of our lives; religion no longer provides a place for quiet retreat but instead offers "megachurches" of social and secular amusement; and climbers on the top of Mt. McKinley whip out hand-held radios to call home. We are heading toward a time when, according to the New York Times, "portable phones, pagers, and data transmission devices of every sort will keep us terminally in touch." Yet in another, more profound way, we are terminally out of touch. The need for genuine and constructive aloneness has gotten utterly lost, and, in the process, so have we."
— Ester Buchholz writing in Psychology Today. The article was originally published 10 years ago, but was reviewed for the February issue.

Where is certainty found?

"I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections, and the truth of imagination." — John Keats

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More on Jennings

Here's the official press release on the Peter Jennings Fellowship from the National Constitution Center and the list of fellows. We've got some "homework" to do in advance of the weekend. Kinda reminds me of my constitutional law class in college. Somewhere in one of the many boxes marked, "Wendy's stuff" in the basement is my old constitutional law book. It was one of my favorite classes and for a time I actually contemplated law school. (Student loan debt made me rethink that idea.) My professor's favorite word was repugnant and he used to practically spit on us when he said the word, "repugnant," as if he were pushing it out from his gut.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Latest marketing efforts

Perhaps you noticed I've added a button on my Web log that will link you directly to my LinkedIn page. I've been gently nudged by several valued colleagues both locally and nationally to take advantage of this networking site and so I've finally taken the time to complete my profile and reach out to my contacts.

I'm interested in growing my network so feel free to buzz me if you want to get connected.

Since Creative Ink serves as a my professional Web site, I'm always adding new links to the work areas to the right. Hope you get the chance to browse some of my work highlighted there. The latest addition is the February/March 2008 issue of Catalyst-Ohio magazine, which I edited.

After a year, I've finally ordered my new business cards. If you have an old business card of mine, feel free to chuck it and next time I see you I'll give you a new one. The only thing that hasn't changed on my old card is my name and address. Phone and e-mail are different and I've added Creative Ink to the new card.

Finally, I want to thank Steve FitzGerald, president of the Cleveland Chapter of SPJ, for mentioning my fellowship in his president's letter in last Friday's Writer's Week newsletter. Thanks, Steve!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

WSC Champs—again!

The Bay High freshmen boys' basketball team captured the West Shore Conference championship in an overtime, defensive brawl against Rocky River. This is the second consecutive year our boys have won the WSC, only this year they did it without four key freshmen who play JV. A great victory!

What do you remember?

"Every man's memory is his private literature." — Aldous Huxley

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

When your mood reflects the weather

How many cloudy days can we endure without having the color seep into our psyche? I don't know how the rest of you feel, but I've struggled mentally of late with the grayness of the days.

Sunday was one of those really, really bad days. "Want to go to 10:30 Mass?" my husband asked. "Nah, I'm not feeling it today," was my response. "Want some eggs and toast for breakfast?" he asked. "Nah, I'm not feeling it today."

I wasn't feeling much of anything except, as my mother would say, "Blah." I stayed in my PJs, slippers and glasses all day. I tried to read the latest New Yorker and Atlantic mags, but I couldn't focus on the lengthy stories. My brain seemed to jump from topic to topic and felt restless and jumpy. Yet my body felt strangely lethargic.

The selection of movies On Demand did nothing for me. The idea of a walk or any kind of exercise did nothing for me. Didn't feel like talking or listening to anyone. Around 2 I decided to go back to bed to take a nap. Usually, if I do nap, it's a quick 20- or 30-minute job on the sofa. But I turned on my heating pad and nestled under the down comforter for a two-hour nap. My sleep was fitful, full of bizarre dreams that caused me to wake with a start only to sink back into my pillow and into slumber.

I opened one eye to look at my clock, which read 4:09 (which really meant it was 3:59, I set my clocks 10 minutes fast to trick myself into believing I'm not late). My body felt like lead, but slowly I dragged myself out of bed to try to reengage with life.

It's been a long six weeks of 2008. Delayed payment for several projects invoiced in early December have wreaked havoc on my personal finances. I'm playing catch-up and watching every penny, playing financial triage with the bevy of bills due at the first of the year. I planned poorly over the holidays and should have been better about ensuring a steadier flow of income.

It's highly demoralizing to work and work and then have to work so hard to get paid. Changes in the way I work are in order this year, some of which have already been made. No more Ms. Nice Writer. I'm demanding to be paid.

I need a haircut and color, new shoes, new contact lenses and some new clothes. I need to pay several memberships and subscriptions that I couldn't renew before the end of 2007. The taxes need to be prepared for the accountant and we'll hope we don't get another fright this year.

It sounds ridiculous to let money (or the lack of it, even temporarily) get me down, but it does and it has. Maybe I'll feel better in a few more weeks when the checks start to arrive. Maybe the mailman will bring me a surprise today.

In the meantime, I know what needs to be done—I need to motivate myself to exercise daily instead of three times a week. I need to drink more water and get more sleep.

And I need to see the sun.

Monday, February 11, 2008

UB story: "Living Stations" takes the stage during Lent

“Living Stations” takes the stage during Lent

By Wendy A. Hoke

The sanctuary of St. Jude Church in Elyria is quiet on this cold January night, but it’s about to rock as 17 high school seniors rehearse, “The Living Stations of the Cross.”

“Jesus on three. One, two, three, Jesus!” they shout and it’s places for everyone.

“What was it like?” begins narrator, Breanna Wisnor. “What were they thinking? They were just like us—ordinary people living ordinary lives. Join us now as we walk with those who walked with Christ.”

Two by two, students process up the center aisle as a quartet of student musicians perform. The mood is solemn, reverent, but never staid. This is not a quiet performance.

Dressed in black, with the exception of Dylan Alcorn who is dressed in white as Jesus, the students hold a freeze frame while the narrator recites the stations. Then one of the characters leaves the frame and shares a monologue with the congregation.

“Don’t look at me,” says Angelo Cataldo as Pontius Pilate. “I didn’t bring him here.”

“I don’t want to watch this, can’t bear to watch it. Why?” shouts Mike Pienoski as Peter.

For the 11th year, St. Jude’s Elyria Teens for Christ perform at their own parish and at others around the diocese, this moving, contemporary approach to the Stations of the Cross.

Directed by Dean Robinson, youth minister at St. Jude, the performance follows the script written by Father Patrick O’Connor, who was associate pastor when the performance first began.

Joining in this effort are students from Elyria Catholic High School, Elyria High School, St. Ignatius High School, Amherst Steele High School and Lorain Early College. The students share a close bond that was forged when most attended St. Jude grade school together. And they share a script with powerful, modern language that relates to their world and to others who watch their performance.

“The script is what makes it click,” says Robinson. “It’s very dynamic and powerful and the audience is hearing what the characters of the time may have been thinking.”

Robinson says the other important piece is how the cast is selected. There’s a necessary level of trust to be formed between them, given the emotional and spiritual nature of the performance.

Jaynie Taylor is a senior at Elyria Catholic and she’s playing the second woman, a role she’s had for three years now. “It’s the first time I’ve been able to do something interactive with my faith. It’s a great way to demonstrate my faith, especially when we perform at my school,” she says.

Piensoki is a senior at St. Ignatius. He says he enjoys acting, but because of his other school activities, never had the chance. He was Simon last year and chose Peter for this year’s performance. “Simon was more annoyed, but Peter is sad because he’s seeing his best friend die and he played a part. The most challenging part is capturing that emotion,” he says.

Megan Anderson, who plays Mary, and Courtney Lutke, who plays Veronica, agree that the challenge is in the emotion. “Mary is watching her son die and she’s angry at him for choosing this path, but she’s also sad and proud. She portrays every emotion,” says Anderson.

“To see the feedback we get,” says violinist Mari Foisy, “some people are in tears. A little girl last year asked for everyone’s autograph. It’s amazing. Plus we are really having fun together.”

Robinson stops them occasionally during their rehearsal for a few pointed directions here and there, but mostly he enjoys helping them to bring out their faith. By 10 p.m. the rehearsal is over.

“I think we’re good. Jesus loves you, now get out,” he jokes.

Hoke is a freelance writer.

Performances of “The Living Stations of the Cross”
Feb. 22, St. Joseph Church in Amherst
Feb. 24, Queen of Peace in Grafton
Feb. 29 call (440) 366-5711 for location
March 29 call (440) 366-5711 for location
March 7, St. Mary Church in Elyria
March 9, St. Clarence Church in North Olmsted
March 14, Holy Family in Stow
March 16, St. Jude Church in Elyria / Palm Sunday

All performances begin at 7 p.m. and are open to the public.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Make your writing sing

"If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write because our culture has no use for it." — Anaïs Nin

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Obama on the questions that shape our lives

As Super Tuesday voting nears a close, I leave you today with one more passage from Barack Obama's book, "Dreams From My Father." It's in the epilogue and, I think, encapsulates his faith in others.
"The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.

We hold these truths to be self-evident. In those words, I hear the spirit of Douglass and Delany, as well as Jefferson and Lincoln; the struggles of Martin and Malcolm and unheralded marchers to bring these words to life. I hear the voices of Japanese families interned behind barbed wire; young Russian Jews cutting patterns in Lower East Side sweatshops; dust-bowl farmers loading up their trucks with the remains of shattered lives. I hear the voices of people in Altgeld Gardens, and the voices of those who stand outside this country's borders, the weary, hungry bands crossing the Rio Grande. I hear all of these voices clamoring for recognition, all of them asking the very same questions that have come to shape my life, the same questions that I sometimes, late at night, find myself asking the Old Man. What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom? How far do our obligations reach? How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love? The answers I find in law books don't always satisfy me—for every Brown v. Board of Education I find a score of cases where conscience is sacrificed to expedience or greed. And yet, in the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately, prevail."

Two new projects

Yesterday's mail delivered two new projects for me that I've attempted to scan in here. Apologies for the crappy scans. One is "Above and Beyond: How Cleveland Made the 2007 NCAA Women's Final Four Rock!" published by the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. I edited this project, which was designed by Brian Willse at Boondock Walker with photos by Rob Wetzler. The wrap-up book complements one Brian and I did on the 2004 International Children's Games. It's a visual look (with limited copy) at not only the Final Four games, but also the events and programming that surrounded the games. Here is the sports commission's David Gilbert on the games:

"We had a vision and desire to utilize the NCAA Women's Final Four as a catalyst for community engagement and a platform to highlight and forward issues important to women and girls. While the games were the centerpiece of the event, the ancillary programming brought the community into the event."

The second is a piece I originally posted here that was used in the premier issue of MUSE, the new quarterly publication of The Lit, formerly Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland. This publication replaces Ohio Writer and features literature and visual art, including a stunning cover image by local artist, Douglas Max Utter. The Lit is currently in the throes of a transformation, so if you haven't had the chance to check it out, I encourage you to do so. The move downtown to the Artcraft building, the re-branding and the overhaul of classes and offerings looks promising. Cleveland needs to capitalize on its vibrant literary and visual arts community, so I'm proud to support this new effort.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Freedom to hope is a revolutionary act

Barack Obama's candidacy is bringing out some of the most beautiful treatises on democracy that I have ever read. The latest by author Michael Chabon and is in today's Washington Post. He acknowledges, and I have heard the same from many people, the fear that holds people back when they talk about an Obama presidency. I think his point about us fearing disappointment and broken hearts is especially poignant, whether or not we've been able to articulate it to this point.

"Fear and those who fatten on it spread vile lies about Obama's religion, his past drug use, his views on Israel and the Jews. Fear makes us see the world purely in terms of enemies and perils, and leads us to seek out the promise of leadership, however spurious it proves to be, among those who speak the language of that doomed and demeaning, that inhuman view of the world.

But the most pitiable fear of all is the fear of disappointment, of having our hearts broken and our hopes dashed by this radiant, humane politician who seems not just with his words but with every step he takes, simply by the fact of his running at all, to promise so much for our country, for our future and for the eventual state of our national soul. I say "pitiable" because this fear of disappointment, which I hear underlying so many of the doubts that people express to me, is ultimately a fear of finding out the truth about ourselves and the extent of the mess that we have gotten ourselves into. If we do fight for Obama, work for him, believe in him, vote for him, and the man goes down to defeat by the big-money machines and the merchants of fear, then what hope will we have left to hold on to?

Thus in the name of preserving hope do we disdain it. That is how a phobocracy maintains its grip on power.

To support Obama, we must permit ourselves to feel hope, to acknowledge the possibility that we can aspire as a nation to be more than merely secure or predominant. We must allow ourselves to believe in Obama, not blindly or unquestioningly as we might believe in some demagogue or figurehead but as we believe in the comfort we take in our families, in the pleasure of good company, in the blessings of peace and liberty, in any thing that requires us to put our trust in the best part of ourselves and others. That kind of belief is a revolutionary act. It holds the power, in time, to overturn and repair all the damage that our fear has driven us to inflict on ourselves and the world.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Poetry is...

"Poetry is … that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that's what the poet does." — Allen Ginsberg

Friday, February 01, 2008

The "mysterious exchange of gifts"

"To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and our solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses—that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things."
— Chilean poet Pablo Neruda