Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Password Question

When my children were small, my mother discouraged me from over-correcting their behavior, explaining: “the world will knock them down soon enough.” She encouraged me to be the one who picked them up. She was right.

Two of my children, schooled and equipped, are ready to be who they are. One is a musician and the other is a journalist. Both are passionate about what they do. Both have started to put themselves out there, meeting the world at its front door. As my mother promised, each has been knocked to the mat more than once. Because I understand what they're after, and what they're in for, I cheer them.  Rejection is passion’s bully, and artists – the most sensitive among us, who love nothing more than art-ing –experience rejection so personally, it often drives our passion underground.

I can talk about this.

Whether it’s me submitting a novel, or a twenty-something in an audition or interview, it’s tough to discover that passion alone won’t open doors because on the other side, stands rejection with its cynical smirk and world-weary gaze, its chewed up cigar and too-small baseball cap, asking a “secret” password question that must be answered correctly before it will step aside. It is a question others will be happy to answer for you, especially those who love-you-and-just-want-you-to-be-happy but only you know:

"Can you?"

And then, rejection, hands on hips, foot tapping, waits for the answer, which is hopefully not “I think so,” but:

“I have to.”

And rejection says, “Alright, close enough,” hands you a starter kit of fortitude, confidence and perseverance and then takes its big and foul self off to bother someone else which is likely me because rejection has its own parking space at my house.

It’s not for babies.

But, as my children can attest, the thing about passion is that there is no choice but to pursue it. Passion doesn’t die like good ideas do. You can’t dial it down, it’s not like changing majors, and it can’t be brought back to the store and exchanged for something more comfortable, like a hobby. Even if it doesn’t blow up into a career, passion must be honored. If it is not honored, it will turn into the voice of a nasally, whiney child and go to live in your head where it will pick fights with your good intentions and push all your hopes off their little chairs. 

So, before this becomes the re-blog of You Already Said That, I’ll end with this: Inside everyone, is a story. Inside everyone, is music. It is expected that we’ll be nice to animals, respect the elderly, smile at children, be productive at work, watch our weight, and use less make-up as we age. But it is a gift to the world we live in to share what the heart and mind have partnered to create. If you're an artist, even if you've closed more than a few wounds yourself, don’t keep it to yourself. Bang on the door. Eventually, rejection will be annoyed enough to open it and here's what will happen:

It really, really will.
It has to.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Apologies 101

This morning, I realized with a tiny stomach ache that December, the month I heart-venti,  is already half-over.  I don’t just heart December because it means holidays, and having children home, and eating crumb cake for no reason.  I like that December is a blank-inside card;  a month of being selfless and charitable, of “opening our shut up hearts to our fellow man.” It’s the time to say and do the things we would have over the past eleven months if we’d made the time or seized the moment. Relationship tune-up month, December is. 

So, while I turn on the lights and hang up my Serious coat here in the long-neglected blog of “Really? I knew that too but didn’t either!” I’ll share something relationship-y which I recently brought back to my own attention. 

Every so often, while my children were growing up we’d have a quiet stretch – in heavy traffic, walking through a mall, waiting for the appetizer – when they’d ask me my opinion.  When this happens in conversation with an older teenager, we parents-of-older-teenagers know there is a tiny window of opportunity to hold the floor before something more interesting happens. 

Once, after we discussed what color boots she should buy, my daughter asked what I thought it was that made relationships work. 

This one was easy.

Respect, affection and tenderness for starters, I told her.

“Okay, and…” said her face. 

“And, always, always be ready to say two things,” I said.

“I love you?”

“No. I’m sorry.”

“And, I love you?”
“No. And, I forgive you.”

The super glue of relationships, these two little words.  Yet for all the power they  wield, even reasonable people, even people who know they’re in the wrong, even people who say “love you” at the end of every phonecall with a child or spouse, even people who need more than anything to be forgiven, choke on:

“I’m sorry, please forgive me.” 

People know when they’re wrong.  People regret things all the time that they will try to reconcile or make right or hope will be forgotten in time rather than apologize. I wonder, what it is we think we’re keeping by withholding an apology that is more important than the relationship we could be saving?  Why is it such an expensive thing to say: 

“I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

Or, the close second which is trickier because after we say it, we must shut up and listen: “Tell me how I hurt you.”

A genuine “I’m sorry,” should not be confused with the faux-apology:  “I’m sorry if I upset you,” which is only another way of saying, “I’m sorry you’re too much of a jerk to reason with.” Or the even less expensive, “I’m sorry if you’re upset,” which is just a waste of time. 

I have encountered two situations this month that involved the “I’m Sorry” aversion.  In one, I was the sorry party.  In the other, I wasn’t.   But with a seriously ill parent in my December life right now, I’ve become too aware of the opportunities in every day relationships to choose pride over love, and righteousness over intimacy.  My experience has shown me that the things we give up with an apology only shrink as we tighten our grip on them.  In the case where I was wrong, it took days, but I said so.  In the days since, I’ve gained something I still can’t find the word for but it’s making me sleep better and enjoy crumb cake more.

Life is short.  If you’re wrong, apologize. And if you’re on the other end of an apology, forgive.

But you already knew that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shoes and Roses

Dear readers who recently sent me flattering emails after reading this blog because you’re too shy to comment:  I do not heart you-grande, which I discovered at Starbucks only means medium, I heart you-venti, which is large.

Thank you for asking, but I can’t write another God post until God shows up in my workplace or car and it will only be because I’ve done something (or not done something) to warrant the visit which is not usually a happy thing.

And, I’ll be inspired to write another Barbie post soon, but recall, as a Barbie, I did very little other than fluff and spray my hair, spend too much money on mascara, wear a lot of cashmere, and find stockings that matched my outfit (yes, I owned burgundy stockings) because that’s what Barbies do until they have babies, hang up their plastic heels, and denounce all things shallow.

However, in the days since I last posted I had what my father (Mr. Adage) would call a “no shoes” experience i.e. “I cried because I had no shoes and then I saw a man with no feet.” My father does not heart crybabies.

As I noted in an earlier post, our organization (not my organization as I mistakenly referred to it - it was not me who went to work one day in the forties wearing a fedora and wing tips and plugged in the phone) coordinates, sponsors, hosts, publicizes, and everything-elses professional development events for school administrators, leaders and educators of all types.

We’re always busy during conference season, but this has been the month of The Big One, the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference (not the "CMTC conference" as I mistakenly referred to it twice this week), which draws well over a thousand educator-everybodies from all over the region. CMTC is more than a big event. It is a mammoth, gigantic, Godzilla of an event that makes each day leading up to it feel like a walk through a wind tunnel. Daily registrations, phonecalls, and inquiries grow exponentially, regular responsibilities get half-attention, tempers shrink, apologies get mumbled, sighs get heaved. Thoughts of short lives and un-smelled roses come and go as the parking lot empties, and it usually takes the sight of home to restore the balance.

It was raining and dark when I left the parking lot the other night and as I approached a stop sign on a corner I saw a woman standing there alone and in tears. She looked left, then right, then left again as though she were considering the street traffic before crossing but no one approached from either direction. Two cars in front of me slowed, then passed her by. When I lowered the window, I realized it was the office cleaner from our building.

I motioned her over and asked what was wrong. She’d loaned her brother her car to apply for a job she said, and he’d forgotten to come back for her. She had a baby in day care who was waiting to be picked up. She’d been warned not to be late again. She feared she’d lose her childcare now, and wouldn’t be able to work. She feared she’d lose her income. She feared maybe even losing her child – she knew others who couldn’t take care of their babies… She had to cash her check before she could pick up the baby. She couldn’t reach her brother because she had no phone.

I told her to get in, handed her my cell phone and she called her brother. I brought her to the credit union where she would cash her check and meet up with the brother. As she was getting out of the car, she turned and said, “I like your building. When I clean there, I think about what people do. God bless you. Thank you.”

On the way home I thought about the people who drove past that woman. I thought about the context of a struggle, and the kind of muscle we develop to deal with life, and what a capable person loses every time they’re forgotten. I thought about that office and what I do there, about the problems I’m lucky to have, and if I can even remember a time when I have been forgotten.

I needed a rose. I got one.

See you next time.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cruise Control

This week, Sam will go for his license. He’ll get it. I’ve spent hours in the car with him and he is one of the best drivers I know. No thanks to me, because I am the worst driver I know. I am not a “clear and present danger,” to quote an attorney friend of mine, and I no longer read novels in traffic jams, but I’ve made no secret of my shortcomings. “Don’t be like me,” I’ve said to my children who, as drivers, can all take me with one hand off the wheel. “Don’t worry,” they respond.

Is there anything worse than people who admit a fault, especially one that bothers other people, and then do nothing about it because “that’s just the way they are?” Yes, there is. It is worse to get stopped for speeding by an officer who is young enough to be your son while your actual son, a week away from completing Driver’s Ed, is in the car with you. I’ll share.

I was driving an empty, main road with Sam. I was telling a funny story and we were laughing and I wasn’t paying attention to my speed which was climbing one mph at a time over the limit until I was limit + ten. A cruiser passed, I glanced in the rear view mirror, and saw it u-turn. “Please don’t be after me,” I said, which of course it was.

“Pull over and don’t argue with him,” said my son, as though I might suddenly become:

Hotheaded and righteous.

Far from it, I thought. Here was an opportunity to overwrite my bad example with a good one and so I said, “I’m in the wrong here.” I looked for my registration, adding, “I deserve a ticket and I’m going to apologize.”
I lowered the window.
“Good evening, ma’am,” said the officer who looked only a couple of years older than my passenger.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
"You know why I stopped you, then?” he asked, sympathetically. He looked past me at my son and said, “Hey. What’s up?”
“I’m pretty sure I was speeding,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
He nodded pleasantly, “Okay, cool. You got a license and registration there?”
I handed it over and he said, “Awesome.” Then he scanned. “So you’re still at this address? On Crowell Road?”
My son stared ahead and shook his head.
“No,” I said, “We’ve moved. Actually. Somewhere else. I’m sorry.”
He looked interested. “Really? Near here?"
“Just over there,” I said, pointing.
“Sweet. You happen to know when?”
“Just recently.”
“So, what, a couple of weeks ago maybe?”
“In May.”
“So, like, five months ago,” he said, squinting while he calculated.
“I’ve been meaning to change the address. I’m sorry.”
“Okay, cool,” he said. “Any special destination for you folks tonight?”
“Just home. I’m sorry.”
He raised my license, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

My son turned to me. “You never changed the address?”
“I thought I had six months.”
“You get ten days. We just covered that in class.”

Moments later, the officer was back. “Okay, ma’am, just keep an eye on your speed, and have a good night.”
“I will. Thank you. I’m sorry.”
“Make sure you get that address taken care of.”
"I will. Thank you. I’m sorry.”
He u-turned toward town, and I resumed my funny story.

Is there anything worse than people who promise to do something and then don’t? Yes, it is worse to get stopped by the same officer twice inside of a week in a conspicuous part of town while everyone you’ve known for thirteen years drives by and waves. I’ll share, again.

Five days later, late and hustling out the door, we headed for the high school. Before long, Sam was telling a funny story and I was laughing and as he finished saying, “Watch your speed, it’s thirty in here,” we passed the half-concealed cruiser on the right.
“Oh no,” I said.
“Busted,” said Sam.
The cruiser left its spot and was trailing me seconds later.
"Please don’t be the same guy,” I said to the mirror.
“Tell me you changed the address,” said Sam.
I looked at him.
“You know what?” Sam said, “Just let me drive from now on.”

The same officer appeared at the window. I wanted to hand him my keys.“Hey! How are you?” he asked, cheerfully.
“I’m sorry,” I said, handing him my documents before he asked for them.
Looking past me at my son, he said, “Hey there, again! Where are you two headed today?”
“School,” said Sam.
“Cool,” said the officer, “I’ll be right back.” He turned and headed back to the cruiser.
“I will be disappointed in our police force if he doesn’t ticket you this time,” said Sam, as his calculus teacher passed us.

Which was worse than being busted.

It’s good to know you have shortcomings and accept them. But as I sat there waiting for my example-ticket, it occurred to me that refusing to change your flaws isn’t the same as accepting them.

And so over the river and through the woods at well under the speed limit we will go to the DMV where Sam will become a real driver, and I will have my license updated. And then, I’ll show it to Sam, and promise to be a better driver and he will probably say something like, “I’m the best driver you know. Be like me.”

And I will do that, because that’s just the way I am. And then, in honor of the occasion, I’ll hand him the keys and ask him to drive.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Here is class.
Here is determination.
Here is confidence in the making.

A few months ago, Jacqueline quietly signed up to run in the Cape Cod Marathon and without fanfare, went about the business of “training.” Periodically, there were updates about her running schedule (twenty miles before dinner two weeks ago), diet regimens and other things she was doing to meet her goal. Most of it she kept to herself, as though the sudden need to bow out might present itself and would be easier to handle without having raised anyone’s hopes, including her own.

On Saturday, en route to our hotel in Falmouth she said, “I don’t want to say ‘after the marathon,’ anymore. I shouldn’t say that as if I already did it.”

Sunday morning, at 6:15, she checked in and received her bib. At 8:31, a cannon sounded and she was off, her black and orange hair ribbons visible for only seconds before she was engulfed in a crowd of 1100 runners that rolled from the start line like a wave.  Her onlygoal she said at the beginning was to finish, to reach the end of the 26 mile route. She could have focused on the higher goal of placing, but she opted to bring it down a peg, zeroed in, and went for it.

I was at the finish line a good hour and a half before she appeared. Many runners sprinted to the finish, others limped purposefully across, some collapsed. One had to be carried. At around five hours and twenty minutes, Jacqueline rounded the corner several blocks away. Her pace was steady. She passed me, looked at me with a huge smile of “I did it,” then crossed the line, arms raised. She was wrapped in a blanket and awarded a medallion. I was too awed to cry. At first. 

This is the Jacqueline Bonifant route to confidence: Consider what you can probably do with very hard work. Then shut up and do more. Be constantly surprised by your own strength. Be motivated for the next challenge that comes along. Repeat above steps.

Sometimes, in spite of all our good thoughts, high hopes, solemn prayers, heartfelt beliefs and lofty expectations, our children don’t accomplish what we think/hope/pray/believe/expect they will, but more.

Jacqueline on Sunday, one month and four days after her twenty-first birthday, was Jacqueline squared.

Congratulations, my girl. I am beyond proud of you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Not on the List

My name is Susan and I am a recovering snob. I’ll share.

My organization hosts, coordinates, promotes, sponsors and facilitates professional development events and meetings for educators. Because we’re a small, no-frills, not-for-profit outfit, this requires me to get off my high horse and be event-Cinderella – serve a few lunches, and do a few dishes from time to time. I don’t mind this role because I’m so grateful to have found this workplace, it feels good to feel sorry for myself now and then.

It’s easy to carry out this task effortlessly because our little office pantry is always stocked with boxes-grande of everything I need to get the job done. These boxes-grande come from Sam’s Club – the jumbo warehouse store that sells everything in quantities of five thousand and looks on the inside like they never quite finished the building. A Sam’s Club membership is required to shop there, and only two of our staff have one. For several months, this has allowed me to offer to go “if only I could.”

I don’t like most stores to begin with but I really don’t like warehouse stores that feel like airport hangars, have bad lighting and are high and wide enough to have indoor birds. If I have to be in a store, I want it to look nice, smell nice, sound nice, and preferably sell shoes somewhere on the floor.

I’d rather go to Saks than Macy’s
I’d rather go to Macy's than JC Penny
I’d rather go to JC Penny than WalMart
I’d rather go to Walmart than Toys R Us
I’d rather go to Toys R Us than the dentist
That's not true. I’d rather go to the dentist.
I'd rather go to Toys R Us than to the emergency room with a head wound
But I’d almost rather go to the emergency room with a head wound than Sam’s Club.

I never wanted a Sam’s Club membership or one of those Sam’s Club IDs that make everyone look like they’ve been apprehended for a serious crime. It was my plan to continue leaving for the rest room when the subject of “getting Susan a Sam’s Club membership” was raised by staff/members.

A few weeks ago, my co-worker Bernice (who understands me almost like my mother does and likes me anyway) handed me a form and said something like, “You’ve been offering to go to Sam’s, so I got you a form for membership.” She sipped her coffee and said, “You should probably make a list.” Then she turned around and laughed up her sleeve.

My first shop was yesterday and my first stop was at the membership desk where my photo was taken while I was looking at someone walking by. Then, I went looking for paper plates and found the ones I needed in a sealed crate several hundred feet above my head. I moved on to bottled water and encountered the same situation. I couldn’t find the Granola bars at all, and the freezer bags came in crates of six units each. When I looked for someone in a smock who might help, I found nobody.

I went back to membership services and leaned on the counter. A worker came over and looked at me without saying anything.
“I need some help,” I explained, “I need dinner size plates that are too high for me to reach.”
“What kind of plates are they?” asked the worker.
“Dinner size, 10-and-something inches,” I said.
“But what make?”
“I don’t know, they’re blue around the edges.”
“You’re calling them dinner plates? Where did you find dinner plates?”
“No, dinner plate size,” I said. I motioned toward the left half of the store, “Over in that section.”
“What aisle?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know the type of plate or the aisle they’re in?” He spoke into his collar microphone, “John, got a woman who needs dinner plates and she doesn’t know what kind.” To me he said, “Glass or ceramic?”
“You shoulda said paper. See, that's the difference. Paper plates, John,” he said to his collar. To me he said, “He’s on his way, let’s meet him halfway.”
We walked, and I asked the worker where the water and granola bars were. The worker said to me, “Not sure, but wait until you meet John. John knows everything about this store. Been here forever. Like the whole time the store’s been open. No question you ask he can’t answer. You’ll see. You want to know where something is? He’ll tell you. Like the granola bars. Just ask him.”
“Maybe he can just stay with me while I shop,” I said.
John met us halfway and the worker said, “Here’s the woman.”
John and I said hello.
“And she wants you to stay with her while she shops.”
John looked at me and quickly, I told him I was kidding. He led me to my plates, pointed out the other things, and I was on my way.

At the granola bars, I turned around and the other worker was standing there cradling two cases of water. He laid them in my cart. “So what else do you need?”
“Oh, you don’t have to do anything else,” I told him.
“But I thought you needed someone to stay with you,” he said.

Back in my car, I paused for a moment. I looked at the bumper sticker on a pick-up truck up in back of me which said “Pro-life Dad” and I watched a teenager enter the store, wheeling a huge cart. I saw two men talking who looked like they might be neighbors, and a scary looking guy with a zillion tattoos and an indoor pallor walk past them. I sat there for a while.

You can’t be a writer without getting in the business of life. You can’t be a writer and only venture into the kind of places that turn the price tags from view. You can’t be a writer and not look for the chance to be Everywhere.

Real life isn’t for snobs. But real life is for writers.

I forgot the Diet Coke. I’ll have to go back. But I know who to look for.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Long Term Love

A while back, when my friend Jordan, twenty-five today, was in the throes of a torturous relationship, we discussed the subject of love. What it was, what it wasn’t, what it looked like, what it didn’t.

“What do you think long-term love really means?” asked Jordan in one of those conversations.

For me, it was like wading into the middle of an ocean and remembering how to dog-paddle to offer perspective on this; you know that love is something you do and may do well, but can’t say why. You don’t remember learning how to love, and you can’t tell someone else how to do it. Trying to describe love is like telling someone over the phone how to walk.  He asked me to write about it Someday.

Well, my friend. It’s still only a dog-paddle, but here goes:

Love – real love – can’t be anything but long term in my humble opinion, because unlike lust, which is a function of attraction, love is a function of time – it can’t happen without it. Love isn’t born. It steeps. It becomes. The way we transition into who we are, so does love transition away from what it was in its younger period – lust, dependence, need, possessiveness, validation, passion – into what can be likened to a relationship with life itself.

Yes, even I had to read that again but it makes sense. Love is not a way of being with someone. Love is a way of enriching your own life, by enriching someone else’s. Love is wanting to know what makes someone who they are, finding out, and then believing in it with all your heart, because your own heart is who pointed them out to begin with. People find each other, fall in pre-love and make plans for you-know-what, while their hearts circle each other and say “not so fast.”

First, as I’ve already pointed out, before it is love it is the conditional, highly circumstantial, frequently confused, but never interchangeable experience of attraction when you are drawn – sometimes so powerfully and irresistibly that your respiratory system has to bang on the ceiling with a broom handle– to the outer Everythingness of someone; the look of them, or the way they walk into a room or make eye contact with others, or act around the elderly, or whatever. It is an experience you can see, smell, hear, touch, feel, and respond to for so long, you feel betrayed when it turns to you, thanks you for the party, and disappears, leaving only a void. If it’s love that keeps you enjoined, it’s barely noticeable when age and time change something about who you care for, much less is it a dealbreaker. Love doesn’t go off in a huff. Love turns a page of the newpaper and says, “I could really go for Lobster Thermidor tonight, doesn’t that sound good?”

Love isn’t conditional and it takes a long time for that to be true of even the deepest unions. It doesn’t vanish when looks fade, or when scales climb, or when jobs get lost because love is about your heightened respect for another person’s individuality without being forced to give up your own. Life can be crappy, can seem hopeless and endless and disappointing for one of you and sometimes the other must leave to remain whole . A good, strong pre-love may sigh and be willing to wait it out. But love helps you find your raincoat so you can walk into the storm at the side of your "other." You know you might both get wet, but you also know you'll dry out in time. Love does not create voids, love fills them.

Love doesn’t happen overnight, it doesn’t happen temporarily, and it doesn’t happen because we ask it to. But there are signs you’re dealing with someone whose heart talks the language of your own; someone who views life as you do, who understands who they are and doesn’t need you to complete them, who treats others with the respect, kindness and gentleness that you do. Cultivating love, celebrating it with such a person are both a matter of choice. But love is as determined as it is deliberate. If you try to make it leave, it says “You and what army?”

But the most wonderful thing about love, and because it’s your birthday Jordan, I’ll call it long-term love, is that as it transitions from the could-go-either-way period, to the place in your heart where it puts its bags down, it fills you not with worry, or fear, but with trust. For a little while, you may be aware that you’ve begun this slow, occasionally mystifying, sometimes painful, often joyful trip into your own heart. But then, with some surprise you’ll realize you’re far from where you started. You will look around, you will not see how you got there, you will not see the way back. But you’ll realize that only from there can you have the best view of someone else's heart.  Dear Jordan, when that happens, you will never want to leave.

With wishes for your happiest of birthdays, and with long term love,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oh the Dreams We Dream

My sister’s recent post about dreams made me remember something from my big-hair, pencil-skirt days of olde. I love remembering anything from those days, even if I love these days more. It’s like hearing good things about your best friend from high school, even if you don’t want to run into her at the grocery store.

Back when I was Barbie-on-the-job, I worked with a woman who, unlike the rest of us twenty-something girls-about-town, was solemn and quiet and industrious and frankly, a little unnerving. She had very dark hair, an angular too-white face, and huge, dark eyes that always looked too hard at everyone. While my Barbie co-workers and I wore sweaters with belts around the middle, Frye boots and long straight skirts that we hoped made us look like Pam Dawber from Mork and Mindy, the gloomy one wore frumpy jumpers and turtlenecks and clogs and looked like Wednesday Adams. She was pleasant enough and we never talked about her in her absence but you also didn’t want to make eye contact or have a lengthy conversation with her, because she gave you that therapist stare while you spoke and then nodded when she should have been responding. She was more than unnerving. She was spooky. Her name was Merle.

One day I was holding court, talking about a dream I had which featured me and a runaway elevator. While everyone was saying things like, “Oh, I have that dream all the time, and the one about yelling but nothing comes out, and the other one about running away but not moving,” Merle stood off to the side making copies, nodding her spooky nod. When we all went back to work, she came over to my desk and stood there noiselessly until I sensed a “presence” and turned around.

“I interpret dreams,” she said.

“Okay?” I said, hoping the phone would ring.

“I know what your elevator dream means.”

“Oh,that,” I Barbie-said. “ I always wake up, it’s no problem.”

“You have it often then?”

“Only when I sleep on my back. Really, it’s fine.”

She left and went back to her dimly lit fortune-tellery office which I had been avoiding like eye contact.

But my curiosity took over. About an hour later, armed with a document which doubled for an excuse to visit, I went in and said awkward-cheerfully, “So! How long have you been interpreting dreams?” She got right to the point. “People make the mistake of thinking literally about their dreams,” she said. “Dreams aren’t television shows. They are symbolic. You were not in the elevator. You were the elevator. How long have you been feeling like someone cut your cables?”

“Oh,” I said, “No, it wasn’t like that. That was definitely me in the elevator. I was wearing my beige corduroy skirt with the flaps over the pockets, and these boots. It was definitely me.” She nodded and I nodded and then I praised her “gift” and went to find Hansel on the path.

But it stayed with me that day, and later into the week, and then beyond. Whether it was insight, or an uncanny “read,” it was accurate. In life, I was in exactly the position she described, trying to be all things, for all people, all the time. Afraid that the smallest of wrong moves would send me in all directions. Frayed cables. It worked at my outlook like a splinter under the skin until I made Serious changes in my perspective. I calmed my life and I didn’t have the elevator dream again.

If you are lucky enough to dream, pay attention. You might be the traffic jam, or the lightening in the sky, or the crowd that wanders the street. But there are answers in there and we’re never too old to need answers about Everything. We’re old when we run out of questions.

Now go and check your own cables. Make sure they’re good and tight and if not, get them serviced.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yes, you

If we’re lucky, very lucky, lucky-grande, there comes a time when our inner lives quiet enough for a talent, or skill, or interest to rise above the din and capture our imagination. It can be cooking or dancing or painting, but when this happens, we must fall in love – unconditionally – because like love does, expressions of ourselves come to life in the soul and ask for nothing but to be heard. If we don’t respect them, or at least try and understand them, they wither. If we make the sad mistake of believing a passion is valid only as long as it can be marketed, it will go back to its place in the soul and it will die there.

Writing was something I enjoyed more than I wanted to sell. Then it became something I wanted to sell more than I enjoyed. When the first two books failed, I considered giving it up. And then, I realized writing wasn’t a product to develop, or a way to make money. Writing was a way to feel my own life. Do I want to sell my writing? Absolutely. Is it hard work and disappointing and maddening and thrilling? Absolutely ++. But only one is a function of the other.

For those who need the advice ( yes, you) look at it like this:

If you had a beautiful child, who sang like a bell, who was praised by everyone you knew, whose future was brilliant…a child in whom you saw yourself and for whom you’d do anything, and finally, in caring for whom you felt a little more alive each day, would it all go away when that child came to you to explain that it was only for you that she wanted to sing at all?

Never stop hearing the voice of your own soul.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Last Driver

With every “first” in a child’s career as an independent person-in-training comes a “last” for a parent; the first time a child takes his or her own shower without needing help with the water temp, the first time a child gets him or herself up in the morning, does his or her own laundry, prepares h/h own meal…etc. I know this can make us sad in those “where did the time go” moods, but when that happens, we need to think of the gains: child feels independent, parent gets to leave fewer tasks unfinished to tend to another one. It also helps to think of what is harder time-passing-wise, like accidentally wearing your readers into the bathroom when you’re not looking your best, face-wise.

When I was a tightly scheduled parent with to-do lists that had to be stapled together, who didn’t serve a meal during baseball/basketball/soccer season before 7:45 p.m., and who didn’t attempt to socialize before the weekend, I was not only unsentimental about anything I could off-load as the children grew up, I looked forward to it.

Until age-wise, they were ready to drive.

It’s like looking at a pre-verbal child and trying to imagine them speaking a whole sentence to visualize a fourteen or fifteen-year-old sitting earnestly behind the wheel with their ten-and-two hands. It’s astonishing. It’s not astonishing when you’re staring at the headlights of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler saying, “hug the right, HUG THE RIGHT!!” It’s astonishing later when you’re thanking God for making other drivers stay home so that when your child veered left explaining (incorrectly) “I have the right of way here,” you were not both in the paper the next day under a bad headline.

Forget rules of the road and passenger seat coaching. We are how we drive. If we’re careful, considerate people, we’re right-laners. If we overbook, and need more hours in the day, we speed. If we write fiction, we daydream and wonder how we got there as we shut off the engine. Sam is adorable and funny and smart and makes my day better just by getting up in the morning. He’s also a person who doesn’t pick up his room, leaves his dishes in the sink, takes care of too many last minute tasks in the morning and keeps his clothes on the floor next to an empty hamper. I imagined he’d be a careless, fast driver, too hurried to tend to the details.

It’s good to be wrong sometimes. Halfway through our second trip with Sam at the wheel, I realized we were talking like we do when I myself am at the wheel only with fewer near-catastrophes. He maneuvered past cyclists, he did not clip the side view mirror of a car parked three feet from the curb on a narrow road, he came to a complete stop to look in all directions when there was nobody in sight, he slowed past walkers. In the tight spots, he hummed to himself while he navigated his way through, a coping skill he developed long ago, at around the same time he wanted me to stop solving all his problems.

We are how we drive. So apparently, while I was picking up Sam’s room and loading the dishwasher and complaining about how I used to run a business before I became a maid that nobody appreciates, he was honing other skills – balance, pace, observation, perspective, control – all the Everything we need to stay alive on the road – and off.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mommy at large

I went mommy-ing over the weekend, and it paid off. I’ll share.

Very soon, after I make my detective expert’s edits and read my book again and have a long talk with it on the porch about its journey and how to behave when I’m not there, I will be sending the first five pages to agents far and wide. God willing, several will put down their coffee and contact me immediately to request additional material. And with this possibility looming, what is the one thing I have run out of? Yes, paper. So I went to Staples, a place I heart as much as I heart Ann Taylor and possibly more, because things at Staples don’t go out of style or have to be tried on.

Under the influence of my high hopes I bought not a ream or two, but a box-grande of laser paper with six reams inside. With a decent amount of muscle, I carried it to the front, where, three days before every school in the land was to open, only two registers were open.

The line at Staples before school starts looks like this:

Behind each register stood a cashier with a name tag that said, “In Training.” My cashier in-training was Caitlin. When I took my place in line she had one customer in progress who was either a teacher or the mother of eight judging from the size of her order. Next, and in front of me, stood another woman buying toner cartridges. Periodically, Caitlin glanced over at the very long line that was forming with that unmistakable shell-shocked look of seasonal help – wide, unblinking eyes, hands hovering over the items stacked in front of her like she was putting out little fires. With each item she scanned and bagged, she reassured herself , “Okay, that’s all set,” before reaching for another. It took forever and I could no longer feel my arms.

But here is where I did not get frustrated. Here is where I thought about each of my daughters applying for their first jobs and about a mother like myself, who probably watched Caitlin hang up the phone after being hired, and said, like I would have, “Congratulations! They’ll love you!” At that point, Caitlin was not thinking about the hell that waited on this kind of a day. The hell that waited was the woman in front of me.

I watched as she grew agitated, the loud sighing, the watch-checking, and the shifting from one foot to the other while she muttered under her breath, “Unfreakingbelievable.” Then she turned to me: “Can’t believe this,” she said.

After another five or six minutes, Caitlin came to the end of the order and loudly enough for everyone to hear, the woman in front of me said, “Jesus, finally.” Caitlin asked her customer if she had a Rewards card to which the customer offered the dreaded response, “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t. Can I get one?” And Caitlin, looking like she’d now cry, scanned the floor for anyone wearing a red Staples tunic who might bail her out, but saw no one. “Sure, you can,” she soldiered on, pulling a binder from a shelf behind her.

The woman in front of me came undone. “What? WHAT? You’re going to do that NOW? With this FREAKING line? Are you KIDDING ME?”

While Caitlin kept her attention on the customer, the woman dropped her items on the floor in front of her and crossed her arms. “I can’t believe you’re doing this now,” she said three or four more times. She turned to me again.
“Can you believe this? Can you believe she’s doing this now?”
“It’s part of her job,” I said. “Give her a break. She’s new, she’s in training. Didn’t you read her tag?”
The woman stared at me so I asked, “What, you’ve never been new in a job? You think this is easy for her?”
“I should have gone to another line,” the woman said.
“You’re absolutely right,” I said, “Why don’t you just do that now?”
She gathered her things, swore a couple of times and stomped off.

I moved up and put my paper on the counter. “This will be a piece of cake,” I said to Caitlin, “And no, I don’t want a Rewards card.” With a smile of relief-grande Caitlin said, “Thank you.” But I was mommy-ing so I said, “You know, this is not easy what you’re doing, you’re very brave.” And she got a little teary then and said, “thank you for saying that.” I added, “And I think you’re doing a great job.” She smiled again and said thank you again and God said, “Okay, enough,” and so I signed my receipt and left.

Everyone needs a little mommy-ing now and then, and I’m just the mommy to do it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Game called

My submission date of 9/1 has been rained out.

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my manuscript to my detective expert, or, as I have been referring to him half-Seriously for some time, my detective. I asked him to check the police-y stuff, thanked him for his help, and I think I added a :)  too, because after all the praise I’d had from my circle of close friends and family, I was feeling secure-grande about this “work,” patting it on its cover before work, smiling at it on my way by, telling it I was proud of it, and so on.
“Feel free to make suggestions,” I invited my detective expert to do in my breezy cover letter.
A couple of days went by. Nothing.

 My detective expert had become involved in something else, I considered. Probably he went out town and left the manuscript on his kitchen counter.

The first email came shortly after that. After a nice beginning, it referred me to a particular chapter and page and said:
“This won’t work.”
Another email followed:
“This isn’t factual.”
And another,
“This wouldn’t happen.”
And finally, a fourth,
“Just my opinion but..”
In one case, he cited not just an error but an error that when fixed, would render the paragraph (which was damn funny when it was wrong) as interesting as a piece of wood. But he was was not only right, he was collaborative, offering a perfect detective-esque fix which was so smooth, it made me friend him on Facebook.

I haven’t heard from him since Thursday which means he either went out of town again, or loves the manuscript but has been too busy to tell me, or hates it and is asking his friends right now how they’d tell me my book sucks.

A couple of nights ago, I dreamed I was reading a review of my book in the Union Leader (it’s a start) and the headline said: “About a book that asks: Are we really alike in the ways that count? I can only reply: Who cares?” I woke up feeling like I’d been dropped from the top of the Serious tree.
I decided I would rewrite the book again. Then I woke up ++ and realized the man in my dream looked a lot like a vice president who hated me when we worked together in 1983. Then I woke up +++ and realized that if I write another book, it should be a first draft, not an eighth.

I remembered that it’s hard to be Serious, apologized to my book for thinking bad thoughts about it, and promised to give it those scenes it needs to be better. Then I realized that in my detective expert I have not a reader but a collaborator who is as Serious as I am. More than reading the manuscript he is examining it. Instead of saying, “Great read!” and blowing it off, he’s taking several hours of his life to help make it better.

I don’t have a critic. I have an ally.

It’s a heady experience to realize how much your family and friends love you, support your work, and will do whatever you ask to help you succeed. But in the end, it’s a lonely job to be Serious. Sooner or later you stop thinking about who will play the main character in the movie, and you go to work, hopefully with the email address of your friends and allies at the ready.

Thank you, Rick. Feel free to make suggestions, and I’m Serious.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Back when I was a Barbie, before I had children and became the anti-Barbie, I sometimes thought about the twenty-somethings I'd have someday and what I would and wouldn’t do, all based of course on what I was doing at the time. That’s what makes Barbies, Barbies - a view of the future that looks suspiciously the present, but after a diet. In the Barbie years, we make many decisions about the future, usually while applying make-up to our own twenty-something faces which we can’t imagine looking like any-something else.

But - and I knew this even when I was buying knee high boots and running out of Adorn hair spray - I would not be a Mom Barbie who wore Daughter Barbie’s clothes, had facelifts, flirted with younger men, used teenage language or did other gross things to win approval that would make her Child Barbies cringe. Because - and I knew this even when I was reading Dear Abby in traffic jams and making my hair wider than my body and affecting Faye Dunaway’s “Network” expression in meetings - Barbie years have a shelf life.

Since I like to stay ahead of the curve I’ve implored my children, friends and hairstylist to help me remain true to that pledge. I’ve stopped my daughters to the point of annoying them to ask about my outfit: “Okay or too young?” My hairstylist always begins our sessions (and they are sessions with the hairstylist, they are not appointments) with the question: “So. What are we doing today?” Once, in response, I suggested that “we” just color my hair gray now and get it over with. In the mirror, behind me, she tilted her head, raised her little hairstylist tools like the magic wands that they are and said, “Um. I’m not liking that idea.”

But shelf life, schmelf life. Barbie years do not have to screech to a halt and morph into Meredith-from-The Office years. No, if done right they can evolve into elegant, earthy, Everything years when the work on the inside is done but for decorative touches, and we can throw ourselves into being as Christine would say, “who we are.” By then, we've put away our plastic heels, we're using less (but expensive) make-up, buying way fewer hair products, wearing the seat belt every single time, and can’t remember the last time we went to McDonald’s (that’s a lie, I went two weeks ago this Friday for a Big Mac because I felt like it). We dress for our lifestyles as much as appearance, we work out because it feels good to be strong, we read novels that stay with us for days, and take ourselves out for lunch because we find our own company agreeable and interesting. We do stuff selectively. See the friends who love us, think about where we haven’t been and go there – even if alone. We love our younger, Barbie-esque friends, but don’t care if they approve of us. We nurture our inner cheerleaders and keep their little flags in good working order so that the words on them, which say “Why not?” and “Life is short,” can be viewed as needed.

I went ziplining with two of my Everything friends last week.

My sons would have considered it mild compared to the roller coasters they’ve been on but for me, as my world goes, if only for a few paralyzing seconds:

it was death-defying. Afterward, my Everything friends and I ate pizza, drank wine and talked about, of course, Everythingness. I believe I loved that as much as I once loved a great black dress and four inch heels.

Barbie years look great. But the Everything years, these are for the Serious.