Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Yet Another Nudge From The Universe – And This One Has A Name ...

A month ago yesterday, I wrote this post, "Another Nudge From The Universe."

That nudge was the discovery of Dani Shapiro's Still Writing and a particular passage that "brought forth a stunned-silence, tears-streaming revelation," to quote my own post, which feels rather obnoxious. I plead journalism. Accuracy above all else.

I follow Dani on Twitter now, so perhaps that's how I decided to read Devotion. I was aware of it but hadn't yet read it. But then I did.

And yesterday, wouldn't you know it? Another passage knocked me out.

I tweeted:

And that passage is this (click to enlarge):


I read that and surprised myself when I whispered, "I don't want that to be me."

I've been uttering things involuntarily of late. It's as though my thoughts want me to be sure to take notice.

And I do.

Oh, how I relate to Dani's mother. My office isn't "a museum of unrealized ambition" (a damn fine bit of writing, that) in the literal sense – I don't have the stash of artifacts Dani packed to give away – but when it comes to notions and plans, I am a hoarder metaphorically.

I have some starts of things. I once printed out the pages of my "screenplay," such as it was, not so much a script as a collection of anecdotes that I might want to use someday, and punched the holes and fastened the pages together – top and bottom holes only – and held it my hands.

But it was merely a prop, not an accomplishment. Maybe someday, right? Maybe someday. All those scribblings on pieces of scrap paper that I've collected, moments when I've scrawled down a bit of dialogue that popped into my head, might hold together as a story or be germs of ideas.

I once tried my hand at fiction in an intentional way. As I've mentioned before, I do not have the fiction knack.

But I have been writing more this year than in years past. I am fortunate to have some very good nudgers, Dani now among them, unbeknownst to her.

Though I am grateful for the conduit that is Twitter, grateful that I can tag her and she sees my appreciation:

The notion that I might write something someday that will help someone in turn is what propels me, a moment of connection or recognition, the relief in knowing that someone else has felt the same way. I keep that in mind as I write. I don't write toward that end. I do my best not to contrive. But those moments do arrive. And for now, the someone I end up helping is me.



Saturday, June 18, 2016

Love Is Love, Indeed ...

I came of age in the '80s. It was a different time. Fashion trended toward neon. Bracelets were rubber, well before Livestrong. I alone was responsible for the depletion of a good portion of the ozone layer. Aqua-Net was my dear, dear friend. Sorry about that.

Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." was every bit the phenomenon people remember it to be today but The Cure was also huge. And Duran Duran. And the B-52s. And New Order. And Big Audio Dynamite, though BAD was born out of an earlier era in music that was even better. And Alphaville. And Ultravox. And so many more.

I found my niche in the speech and theater department, though on the edge of that niche. Really, I've never thrown myself headfirst into any social realm. I prefer to be alone or in conversations one on one. I've never been one to mingle.

I was drafted onto the speech team out of need. The star radio speaker would be graduating in a year – or was it two? – and she had no acolyte until Mr. Benjamin tapped me to try. I learned the ropes. I did OK. Performance anxiety and all that. Even alone behind a mic. But I appreciated Mr. Benjamin's encouragement. Years later, I would briefly pursue voiceovers as a vocation. I can't imagine I would have done that if it hadn't been for Mr. B.

I took a Theater Arts class because it seemed like a good way to spend a part of my senior year and Mr. Sweeney was my homeroom teacher for part of my high-school stint, so I took it. And I let myself be convinced that I should do a couple of interpretations in competitions. Interpretations. As in interpreting scenes. As in acting. With partners. In front of people. Me, the girl who prefers to be alone. We did not place well. Apologies to my acting partners.

But Mr. Sweeney was an early encourager of my writing, one of the first to help me to see that there was some talent there. Indirectly, I am not a doctor because of him. As a pre-med major, it had been my intention to find the cure for cancer – make no small plans, eh? – but instead, you're reading this post.

I was happiest in the auditorium. I have always loved the view from a stage. Performing appeals to me and terrifies me in almost equal measures. Terror has the edge. I was on stage for one high-school play. I had very few lines. And I couldn't commit even those to memory. Which, of course, hampered the performances of those on the stage with me. Acting is like tennis: you have to lob the ball over the net in order for your partner to return it. I lobbed balls smack into the net too many times. Once again, I plead performance anxiety. Once again, I apologize.

And so, it made sense for me to work on crews, to putter on the stage and in the wings and in the workshops but to leave the acting to those who could act. And so I did. And I am glad. Because my mom would drop me off early on Saturday mornings – crew days – and Mr. Nerius would show up with a cup of coffee and we'd sit on the edge of the stage or at the table on the stage if a table was part of the set. And we'd talk. I like one-on-one conversations, as I've mentioned, and I've always gotten along better with folks who are older than me. So chatting with Ner, as we called him, was one of the best parts of my high-school experience.

Today, I call him Rob, as we're both grown-ups. He most assuredly, me ostensibly, though somehow I'm the only one with grey hair.

Which brings me to the reason I sat down to write: being a part of the theater realm, however peripherally, was being a part of a microcosm of the world. As James Corden said in his introduction for the Tonys, the theater has always been a place where everyone's accepted. And so it was that I got to know, in some small measure, the first of my classmates I learned to be gay. But we already had theater in common, the intersection of our Venn diagram. And so "gay" was just a trait of each of those people, not the people themselves.

I went on to college and my experiences expanded. And friendships formed, many that endure to this day, some friends who were gay as gay could be – assuredly gay – and others who either weren't yet entirely sure or who weren't yet ready to make it known.

In this week post-Orlando, as I've seen too many allusions to hatred – secondhand glimpses in my Twitter feed mostly – I've been wondering yet again about why some people fear "otherness" so profoundly. Why all the vitriol? Do they simply not know anyone who's gay? But how can that be? Doesn't everyone know someone who's gay? But perhaps not. Perhaps I've once again fallen into the thinking that everyone's experience mirrors mine, even though I know that that can't be true.

But then I think about today's generation of younger people – because I am old enough to use a phrase like "today's generation of younger people" – and it appears that, incrementally, we're moving toward a human experience that's much more loving and appreciative of our differences rather than judgmental and divisive. There is still judgment and division, to be sure. But I have friends on Facebook who share stories about their kids' good hearts and I see the shift, post by post. And then I multiply that in my mind by all the posts that I don't see, by all the people whom I don't know. And it's there.

I don't mean to exclude anyone. I don't know any trans folks, for instance – at least, I don't know if I do – but Jenny Boylan, if you happen to see this, if you're ever in Chicago, I'd be delighted to buy you a drink.

I love that marriage for all is the law of the land. I love that I'm seeing discussions about the meaning of gender and that "binary" in some contexts is becoming a four-letter word. We are who we are. Difference is just difference just as red is not the same as blue. Whether I want someone in my sphere comes down to a simple yes or no: are they a good person? It's the guiding principle by which I live my life. I try to be a good person. Some days are better than others. But the overall trend is to the good.

I know that great challenges persist. I know that many resist in their hearts and minds.

But change lies in another simple query: What would love do? It applies universally, to every choice. In the end, everything is either love or fear. May we all do our best to choose love.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

What I Wish Republicans Would Say ...

I suppose I will be baffled until the evening of November 8.

How anyone, let alone Republicans in elected office, can willingly cast a vote for Donald Trump is beyond my comprehension.

And I can comprehend a lot.

Senator Rubio is the latest in a string of politicians who have denounced Trump in no uncertain terms only to pivot 180 degrees and work to elect him.

As President Obama would say: Really?

During the New Hampshire primary, Governor Christie said that Trump was unfit to be president of the United States.

In embarrassingly short order, Christie became a shill. Anything for a sliver of limelight, eh, governor? Even if the price you pay is all of what remained of your credibility?

I admire Senator Sasse for refusing to fall in line behind a man who's been called a "con man" and a "fraud" and a "liar." And a litany of other terms. I'm sure you've seen them everywhere. If not, check out my Twitter feed.

Sasse is a Republican and an evangelical Christian. We don't have a lot in common. But we share a belief that Trump should never be the leader of the free world.

I admire Governor Romney – now; I didn't admire him when he accepted Trump's endorsement in 2012 – for likewise refusing to get on board. He helped create this mess but at least he's refusing to participate in its spread.

I (tentatively) admire Speaker Ryan for not immediately flocking to Trump's back side. (See: Christie.) I don't suppose he can withhold his support forever but that would be nice to see.

This is what I wish Republicans would say:

We apologize. We've ruined the party. We never took the long view. For decades, we've been opportunists. And we've lied. We've driven people apart instead of bringing them together. We've promised you changes we knew we couldn't deliver. We've created policy we knew would favor the few. We've stayed silent when we should have spoken out. But now that we're here, at this place in American history, we have to say 'No more.' We have to put country over party. No, we do not like Hillary Clinton but we cannot allow Donald Trump to become the leader of the free world. To do so would be reckless, the height of irresponsibility. We know better. We all know better. Vote for Gary Johnson if you're so inclined. Yes, he will split the Republican vote and we will lose the election but we have to concede this loss. And yes, if Hillary wins, she will likely win a second term. But we have done grave damage to our party and even eight years might not be enough time to right all of our wrongs. Our total obstruction of President Obama was wrong. We inflicted great harm on our country. We must vacate our opposition and begin to work with Democrats again. And we know that that will anger you further. And you have no reason to trust us but you'll see: compromise will lead to solutions that will benefit us all.



Friday, May 20, 2016

Another Nudge From The Universe ...

There was a time – a period that lasted for many years – when I was able to convince myself, again and again, that buying anything related to fitness counted as a commitment to wellness.

Books. (Nothing says "fitness" like sitting on one's ass, reading.) VHS tapes. (Tae Bo. As if.) DVDs. (Honestly, I do not have a suitable room in my home for all that reaching and jumping and kicking. Who does? Don't other people own furniture? Do they not have standard-height ceilings?) Equipment. (A Health Rider is fun ... for exactly seven seconds.)

I finally owned up to my folly. I finally stopped spending the cash. I did, at one point, join an honest-to-God gym and work with a trainer. I didn't like it but I showed up. And wouldn't you know it? Results followed.

Then all hell broke loose in the fall of 2008 and my trainer was the first expense I cut.

My point is, I got to a point where I believed that doing the work is the only thing that counts as doing the work.

And for the most part, that's true.

Which is why I own a rather extensive collection of books about writing – some purchased, some received as gifts – but I haven't read most of them. Reading about writing is like reading about fitness, right? The results come from the work.

True. But that doesn't mean I'll never have to shop for athletic shoes again. The ones I have are dead, dead, dead. I need to buy the shoes that will support me as I get back into the habit of walking some distance every day.

Likewise, the universe has perked up with my recent commitment to writing. It's been dozing in the corner, waiting. And waiting. And "For the love of God, would you please figure it out already?" waiting.

And I've finally come around. And it's perked up and offered helpful gifts. Nudges. At what have turned out to be rather regular intervals.

You need a writing partner! Here, reconnect with a long-lost colleague! Yes, you didn't know each other that well then, but you're perfect for each other! Really!

You need inspiration! Here, step into the orbits of writers you otherwise wouldn't have met! Look at what they've accomplished! You can do this too!

You need reassurance! Here, listen to these podcasts, even though you've never been inclined to listening to podcasts before! Here's one from a writer who's new to you! She knows things you need to know! Find that book they're mentioning! Neither of your libraries house it in their collections, but there exists in the world a marvel called inter-library loan! Request it! Read it!

And so I have. It is due back today. I've just finished it. Dani Shapiro's Still Writing.

I was charmed when I retrieved it from the library. It's wee. And that felt right. As if there shouldn't be that much to say about a writing life. The writing speaks for itself, right?

But oh, the power of this little tome.

It brought forth a stunned-silence, tears-streaming revelation. Which would be enough. But it's also provided many other moments of connection.

This morning, sitting on my love seat, I read a sentence and laughed out loud. "Uh oh!" And then added, "This book is a diagnosis."

And it is. For me. And a prescription. And a support group.

After many years of buying books and then never reading them, I made myself stop. I made myself check out books from the library and read them and then decide if they deserved a place on my shelves.

I look forward to owning Still Writing. And I look forward to suggesting it to folks who ask me what books I recommend about writing. Stephen King's On Writing is one. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is another.

And now Dani's.

And perhaps I'll dip into the other writing books I own. Perhaps there is more to be gleaned. Well, of course there is.

The difference is that these days, I'm writing, too. Reading such books isn't a substitute for writing. It's an enhancement.

It makes me slightly woozy, entering this realm with intention. I've been writing since I was 3. But I've only recently owned it as my work.

It's nice to be able to steady myself so I can keep walking. It's good to have mentors and guides.



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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Novel-Induced Awe ...

Last year, upon finishing Liz Gilbert's Big Magic, I wrote an appreciation, not a review.

I have no business writing reviews. Who does, really? What speaks to me won't necessarily speak to you, and while many of us might be able to agree on what constitutes "bad," who's to say that others might not deem something "good"?

And so, once again, this is an appreciation, not a review.

But this time, I have two books to note.

I read Jennifer Niven's All The Bright Places almost exactly a year ago, April 14, 2015.

I finished Kerry Kletter's The First Time She Drowned moments ago.

I was awed by them both.
And I wish the characters could have met each other. I am sure all of their lives would have been better for it.

But they exist in separate stories, conjured by the magic that is the writing of fiction, a feat which I cannot fathom anyone doing as it seems wholly impossible to me but I am so, so glad that others have the gift.

I spend much of my days consuming news – you can take the girl out of the newsroom but you can't take the newsroom out of the girl – and when I do crack a book, it's usually non-fiction.

I don't read a lot of fiction because the editor in me almost never stops editing. It borders on involuntarily.

But every so often, I read a book that draws me in so immediately that my editor self cedes the moment to the reader and lets her revel in the story and the words, though the writer in me pauses every so often to admire a phrase.

To have read two such books, similar and yet very different, has been a delight.

Does J.K. Rowling deserve the credit for ensuring that so many adults appreciate young-adult fiction? John Green does, too.

And now we can add Jennifer and Kerry to the list.

I thank them for their generosity and talent. And I thank Angelo for introducing me to them both.

Read. Revel. Keep tissues nearby.



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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Yet More Thoughts, Connected ...

It's raining again, which on the one hand makes me grouse because for the love of God, how much moisture can there be in the atmosphere and why can't it spend more time over California to help remediate the drought so I can finally buy almonds at a sane price again? And which, on the other hand, pleases me, because hey, this is one more day when I cannot possibly cut the grass. At this rate, I may not end up cutting the grass for the first time this year until May, though my lawn may look like a Lhasa Apso when I do.

The rain, though, leaves me feeling justified to spend too much time on the computer today, which means that I read this 2010 essay from Nora Ephron which led me to two thoughts:

1. That was a very enjoyable read.

and

2. And you could not have read it, Beth, if she hadn't written it.

Yes, Beth, writing does not just appear in the world as if by magic.

I know that. And yet, for as much as I have written in my life – including the post you are reading now – I often don't stop to think about the source of it, about the writer sitting in front of a computer, butt in chair (a phrase used often by the lovely Anne Lamott), hands on keyboard, combining letters into words and words into sentences, some more enjoyable than others.

But these days, as I'm writing in a more concerted way on a project that I've been futzing with passively for far too long, I'm more mindful of the act of writing, more appreciative of those who have written things that I have enjoyed as I read them. Because each such experience reminds me that writing for profit – if not always fun – is not purely a privilege of others. I am a part of the club.

Some weeks back, I wrote, in this post:

Granted, not everyone can write well. But commodifying something most everyone does is a notion that has had my brain spinning for a long, long time. ... And then my brain says, "Really? I can do this? I can just sit here, clicking and clacking on my keyboard, and put something out into the world and people might buy it?"

I know it makes me seem dim, but truly, that blows my mind.


It still does. But each day, the degree to which my mind is blow lessens just the tiniest bit.

Inversely, I had a realization a couple of weeks ago, on the heels of several events in quick succession, all involving authors, and that realization was this:

"I belong in this world."

A former Tribune pal and I are working on our respective projects together, keeping each other on task, and I wrote to her about my epiphany and then I wrote the following to another friend:

I was telling her about my realization yesterday that I belong in this world and as I was relaying the story, I was realizing that the moment was very muted. For someone whose entire life to date has been defined in large part by indecision about her place and role, one would think a realization of that magnitude would have come with some fanfare. But then again, no. It's rather perfect that it just kinda floated by, because it's always been nearby.

I've long thought of myself as a writer.

I've never thought of myself as an author.


So thanks, Nora Ephron, for writing that essay. (And thanks for writing "When Harry Met Sally...," too.)

And thanks, rainy day, for sapping me of the inclination to do anything other than sit here and read (and write, eventually).

And thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to print my name when I was 3 and for modeling for me that reading was something to be relished and for being more than happy to buy books for me.

And thanks, writing friends, for your nudging and cheering.

And thanks, other friends, for doing the same.



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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Eve ...

I don't celebrate Easter religiously but as with every holiday, I have fond memories of when I was a kid and the anticipation that holidays brought and the cute tasks in which I participated: baking cookies, dyeing eggs.

And so yesterday, Easter Eve, upon seeing images in my Facebook feeds of egg-dyeing events about to take place, I was feeling a little nostalgic.

There was a time when I loved cellophane Easter grass, but only the green. Yellow and pink offended me. I was a very literal child.

Thinking back, the thing I loved most about cellophane grass was that, invariably, some jelly beans sank through it to the bottom of my Easter baskets, so even when it looked like all the treats were gone, I usually found a few stray beans after the fact.

Now, though, I see cellophane Easter grass and lament the extra burden to landfills. I am such a killjoy grownup.

Also, I've never been a huge fan of bright colors. I'm more about muted shades. So it didn't take a lot of thought to decide that this year's Easter grass would be played by the part of kraft paper put through my shredder.

For color, wine seemed the most likely choice. I looked up how to use wine to dye eggs. One site provided a recipe of water and vinegar and wine – OK, makes sense – then instructed that the egg cooking happen in a non-metal pot.

Um, what?

Non-metal pot?

So I should use what? A cardboard pot? A hologram pot?

I presume the author's point was that glass or ceramic was in order, but I don't own a glass or ceramic pot.

So I found another recipe, which amounted to: boil the eggs in wine.

Done.

I checked the color every so often then turned off the heat and let them cool in the wine a bit and then I used two spoons to lift them out of the liquid, let it drain a bit, then transfer them to a wire rack set over some paper towels.

When they were dry, I set them in my kraft-paper-filled silver dish, more nest than basket.

And I shan't eat them, of course, but I will crack one open at some point to see what happened inside.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

In Search Of Authors In Search Of A Book Coach And/Or Editor ...

I really enjoy working with clients who are working on books, at every stage.

I really enjoy helping people talk through their projects, and I really enjoy helping them work through the nuts and bolts of editing and proofreading and formatting. I've helped clients self-publish directly to Amazon and I've helped clients who were working with self-publishing companies in addition to editing manuscripts that were published traditionally.

My work with Dr. Starla Fitch began with a referral. Starla was in need of someone who could format her manuscript to her self-publisher's very exacting standards. And I was happy to tackle that for her. But along the way, I spied instances in which I saw opportunities to make improvements, which I suggested. Starla was a dream client and very receptive, and so we ended up working together until Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine arrived in the world.

As the publication date drew near and our work was wrapping up, Starla wrote this to our mutual friend:

Just wanted to let you know that when Beth read over the interior layout proof of my book, I decided she could also be a pathologist or a diagnostic radiologist or a forensic investigator. She can see things that the average person cannot. And, it is going to make my book a better read for my clients, which is awesome. Thanks again for the referral.

Another client, Richard Greene of Clarus Advisors, wrote Building Value: The 5 Keys for Achieving Success.

His recommendation of my work on LinkedIn reads:

"Not only did Beth do an excellent job editing the book, but her ideas to make it better were invaluable.

She beat every deadline and provided encouragement when it was most needed. I do not think I could have made a better decision in hiring a professional editor.

If you need an editor, I highly recommend contacting Beth."


And I was honored to be one of the editors of the New York Times' and international best seller The Last Lecture.

My dear – and dearly missed – friend Jeff Zaslow was kind to include me in the Acknowledgements but what he inscribed in my copy of the book truly touches my heart:

"I am completely grateful to you for the advice, editing, cheerleading, and creative input you gave for this book.

I remember being unsure of where this was going and I appreciated your clear-eyed skill at pointing me the right way. This book is better because of you."


I was very touched to read that that the night he wrote it. It didn't dawn on me until years later that his inscription is the book-coaching recommendation to end all book-coaching recommendations.

I've edited titles of fiction, business, and wellness, too.

Do you have a book project that's ready for its close-up? Or do you know someone who does?

Please do leave a comment or contact me through my web site or share this post on Twitter and Facebook.

If you need someone to help you get your book project moving in earnest, I'm here. Let’s talk about what’s holding you back. Let’s talk through the areas that you feel aren’t working. Let’s work on an outline and a writing schedule so you can put into the world the things you most want to convey. Or, let's talk about your challenges with the nuts and bolts of writing. Or your need for editing. Or formatting. Or proofreading. Or self-publishing.



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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Sound Of Recognition ...

When I was young, my folks went on business trips and my mom's mom babysat. I remember her liking to watch "60 Minutes" and I also remember thinking "60 Minutes" seemed like the most boring show in the world.

And then I grew up. And I watched "60 Minutes" for a good long time, until the Lara Logan mess about Benghazi, and then I stopped.

But I had also started watching "CBS Sunday Morning" and my love of that remains.

So a few weeks ago, I was plopped on my couch, remote in hand, and I arrived at a segment about songwriter Diane Warren (you can watch it here). About three minutes into the segment, this appeared on screen:

And I felt it in my chest, the sense of "that's where I belong."

I love being in a studio. I love being behind a mic. Singing will probably always scare the bejeezus out of me, at least a little, but that fear falls away after a take or two when I'm behind a mic. Mind you,
I am far from a great singer but as Angelo once wrote to me, about a different endeavor: "Just do it because it's fun."

Indeed.

To date, I've just been playing around with existing tracks, which are fun yet limiting. I have to sing in the same key at the same tempo and hit notes in exactly the same way. Finding suitable songs is a challenge.

What I would really love to do is work with a musician or a band or an arranger and work up songs that suit my voice, my range, my ideal keys.

I've found a studio. I popped by a few weeks back to check it out.

I haven't yet found extra cash to pay for studio time.

But if thoughts become things, well, then, Universe, I'm thinking. I'm writing. Work your logistical magic, please. I'm not about to quit my day job, but I'll be happy to get back into a studio at night.



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Thursday, March 03, 2016

I, Pundit ...

I am a politics junkie.

I have zero intention of every running for office but almost everyone I follow on Twitter is a reporter or news source. So all day, every day, I click on stories and read and repost.

By the time my beloved Rachel Maddow appears on my tee-vee machine, I'm up to speed on most of the day's headlines. When she teases a segment, odds are good that I know what's coming up next.

This presidential-election cycle is, as my friend Angelo would say, banana-crazy-pants, and so, if it's possible, I'm consuming even more political stories than ever before.

And I'll admit that I wavered for a while between Hillary and Bernie. I could see merits of both campaigns. But then Hillary enlisted Chelsea to stump for her and, well, that didn't go well. The scale tipped for Bernie.

But the other day I realized that it's not a scale. It's a seesaw.

And Trump – well, Drumpf, really – is firmly planted on one side at this point. And Hillary, for all of her accomplishments, is too centrist, in my view, too Obama-like in her policies. And while I think President Obama has done a remarkable job as president, especially given that the Republican response to every. single. thing. he's tried to do has been "No.", well, if we elect someone Obama-esque for the next go-’round, we're going to get more of the same.

Meanwhile, Senator Sanders is far to the left. Too far, some would say. Au contraire! He's as far to the left as Drumpf is to the right.

And on a seesaw, that means balance. Secretary Clinton is too near the fulcrum.

Yesterday, my brain felt the need to illustrate this. Because I like making silly images on my computer.

Mind you, I will gladly vote for Hillary if she's the Democratic nominee. It's beyond time for a woman in the Oval Office. But for now, my money's on Bernie.

Monday, February 29, 2016

More Thoughts, Connected ...

I was raised to follow the rules.

I never cut a class in high school. By the time I arrived in my senior year, I no longer knew the name of my dean. New administrators were assigned to the alpha slices from time to time and I never bothered to keep up.

I did exactly zero underage drinking – beer disgusts me – and while I have earned a few speeding tickets in my lifetime, that's the extent of my moving violations.

I went to college because attendance was expected.

The only time I've set foot inside a police station was to pick up a copy of a report after a minor incident outside my home that I wanted on the record, just in case.

On the rare occasions when I find myself on an airplane, I watch the flight attendant perform the pre-flight safety demonstration, though, in that case, my attention isn't based in expectation but rather feeling bad that he or she is standing up there and almost no one bothers to look up. The infrequent performer in me cringes at the thought of standing up in front of a group of people who couldn't be bothered to look at me. I'm sure flight attendants are accustomed to the snub, but still, I watch.

Which isn't to say I haven't done some spur-of-the-moment or downright ballsy things in my life. I've trekked to New York City for less than 24 hours to see a friend's play. I've headed to London for a few days when I found an airfare that was too low to pass by. I've traveled to Long Island to interview Kurt Vonnegut for a paper I was writing in college.

But I realized the other day that a lot of my life has been about permission and playing by the book. Specifically where writing is involved.

I've written for most of my life for myself. For free. When I was a kid, I'd write and illustrate little books. This blog is almost 11 years old. I have composition books and binders of loose-leaf pages filled with thoughts that range from musings to inane recountings.

I've written for a good part of my life for others. For money. Once upon a time, a check arrived in my mailbox from Chicago magazine. I was an intern. It never occurred to me that any money would be forthcoming. But there it was: a check for $100. I still have the photocopy of it, the first money I ever earned for anything having to do with words.

When I worked at the Chicago Tribune, I wrote from time to time. My paychecks did not reflect that extra effort – almost everything in my Tribune experience was branded as "opportunity" (that's Tribspeak for "uncompensated") – but the bylines were nice to see.

Post-Trib, I've written for other clients. For money.

The place at which my mind still stalls is at the intersection of writing for myself for money. But which I mean writing a book or a movie or a play and selling it. As a commodity.

I barely dabbled with the idea when I published
my cookie e-book – my wee-book, as I refer to it, as it's rather short – but that effort was really about starting a project and finishing it, as I tend to get interested in something and then not follow through.

But the idea of writing something of length and maybe even of note and receiving, in return, compensation that would support me to some degree?

That notion has long been blocked by the voice that asks, "Who am I?"

As in "Who am I to think that someone would want to read what I'd have to write?"

The only person to grant the permission to write something salable is myself.

That was a big – if seemingly obvious – realization.

Granted, someone else will need to be a part of the "support me" equation. Someone will have to buy what I am selling.

But the idea of writing something first and selling it later, even if that "something" is a pitch or proposal, not a finished product, is the antithesis of everything I've ever done where writing and money are concerned. I've received assignments – permission, if you will – and then written. Some projects were pitches, come to think of it, but most were of the "Hey, we need a piece on X. Can you take that on?" variety.

Being a writer isn't like being an accountant or a psychologist or a doctor. While there are degree programs in writing, most writers learn writing by writing. Because most of us were taught to write at some point. It's a skill set most people possess.

Granted, not everyone can write well. But commodifying something most everyone does is a notion that has had my brain spinning for a long, long time.

Perhaps process is part of the problem. I don't think in terms of writing proposals or treatments and selling ideas before writing. I think of writing and then selling. And then my brain says, "Really? I can do this? I can just sit here, clicking and clacking on my keyboard, and put something out into the world and people might buy it?"

I know it makes me seem dim, but truly, that blows my mind.

If I were creating paintings and selling them, that wouldn't surprise me. That people want me to bake for them doesn't surprise me. That editors call up from time to time and ask me to write a feature for them doesn't surprise me.

But the notion of clacking out all the stuff in my head onto a page and selling it? Whoa. Even though my cookie e-book has demonstrated that to me, albeit on a very, very, very, very, very small scale.

Remember bookstores? (I'm glad they're making a bit of a comeback, by the way.) I used to walk through Borders and look at all those books and marvel that that many people had accomplished such a feat.

There's truly no reason why I shouldn't be one of them. I'd do well to get out of my own way.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Really, Jayson? Really? Closeout Edition ...

I never knew, until today, that Jayson offers closeout items. Fascinating. Could it be that the Jayson poobahs may have started to get a glimmer of the beginnings of an inkling that their wares are insanely overpriced?

So I clicked. And I scrolled. And wouldn't you know it, I saw some merch that I've included in past Really, Jayson? Really? posts.

Poor merch, stranded on the online equivalent of The Island of Misfit Toys. Will Santa arrive in time to save it all? Or will someone with an American Express Black card decide the deals are too good to pass up?

So, then, a collection of past favorites and new possibilities. Oh, Jayson, never change.

Vintage Metal Atom Model

Vintage Metal Atom Model – Was $4,795, Now $1,999

What I wrote then:

It is, of course, from France. As most Jayson Flea items are, but "Huh," I thought. "That seems like quite a lot of money – even by Jayson standards – for a model of an atom."

And then I checked the dimensions.

Would you like to know the dimensions?

63"W x 55"D x 42.25"H

That's right, this model atom is more than five feet wide.

And it's not necessarily that old. It's listed as "20th century."

Do people in France have very poor vision?

Or did someone make a model of an atom that would be to scale if it were viewed from space?

I greatly appreciate the very precise height dimension of 42.25 inches. Because how upsetting would it be to get your giant atom home only to discover the perfect display space is a quarter inch too short?

I would like the meet the person who buys this big-ass atom. If that's you, please do drop me a line.


Well, no wonder I never heard from the person who bought the big-ass atom. The big-ass atom is still for sale. And drastically reduced. Do you think it's occurred to someone that it would have been better to leave the big-ass atom in France?

Vintage Yellow Dining Chair

Vintage Yellow Dining Chair – Were $995 (each), Now $399 (each)

Then:

Behold the Vintage Yellow Dining Chair. It's 20th Century. It's American. It's priced individually but there are four to be had, if you're in the mood to drop more than $4,000 (tax, don'tcha know?) on someone's crime against chairkind. Remember Trading Spaces? One of the designers was a woman named Hildi. She created a dining room in black, white, canary, and chrome. The homeowners were horrified. I have a sneaking suspicion that these chairs are from that room. I hope the homeowners have long since gotten over their shock. And painted. Or moved.

That's right, kids! Now you can have the set of four for not much more than you would have paid for one! But you're going to need an extra long table so you can put all four chairs along one side, so you don't have to look at them while you eat. Drape any mirrors that might reflect them. Or wear blindfolds while you dine.

Antique Faux Bois Table and Chairs

Antique Faux Bois Table – Was $3,495, Now $999

Antique Faux Bois Chairs – Were $1,895 (each), Now $899 (each)

If the canary nightmares aren't your taste but you've always dreamed of living life like a Keebler elf, Jayson's got you covered! The table is 31"W x 30"D x 20.5"H. I thought perhaps the height dimension might be a typo, but then I remembered that elves are small. No need for a human-height dining table. Of course, if you're human, you'll want to be the type who likes to relax while hunched over, and really, who doesn't? Haven't we all reclined long enough?

The matching chairs – there's a set of six available, and yes, they do total $5,394! – are 27.75"W x 23.75"D x 29.75"H with a seat height of 16.5" and a seat depth of 17.5", so it's a good thing the table isn't a normal height or else you'd need thighs no bigger than the thickness of notebook paper to scooch yourself underneath.

The table is early 20th Century and hails from England. The chairs are early 20th Century and were discovered in France.

Oh, and did I mention they're all made of cement? How delightful!

And lastly ...

Lane Square Ottoman

Lane Square Ottoman – Was $2,395, Now $799

Another stealerino! According to Jayson: "Our Lane Square Ottoman exudes refinement." It's 45"W x 45"D x 16.5"H and upholstered in graphite percale. (I'm pretty sure "percale" in this case is a fancy way of getting someone to pay too much for "cotton.") Except, of course, that no one's bought Lane yet. Which is odd, because all Jayson shoppers exude refinement. Except me. The last time I was there, I was embarrassed to be the only one not sporting a top hat and monocle. I'm surprised they even let me in. It must have been Pity Day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Donna Day 2016 ...

Have you met Donna?

This image of her sits on my desk. It melts my heart. The words "Choose hope" appear below her.

And that – as with everything I write about Donna – is what this post is about.

Donna died on October 19, 2009. She was four.

She may no longer be present but she is still very much with us.

Today marks the fifth Donna Day. Today, on blogs and on Facebook and on Twitter — #donnaday — and across the Internet, we are sharing Donna's story and Donna's sweet, sweet face and doing our small parts to help Donna's Good Things raise money for St. Baldrick's.

Each year, many teams contribute to the Donna's Good Things St. Baldrick's event.

To date, the total stands at $373,472.

With the addition of this year's goal, that total will sail past $400,000. But with the generosity of folks like you, really, the sky's the limit.

Kids with cancer need us. Here's a statistic that should shock you:

"Only 4% of U.S. federal funding is dedicated to childhood cancer research."

Four percent.

FOUR.

Donna was four when she died.

But in those four years, even though she lived with cancer for more than half of her life, "Donna danced on the stage of the Auditorium Theater, consumed a mountain of macaroni and cheese, worried the winter trees were lonely and cold without their leaves and finally enjoyed the big girl swing all by herself. Donna was singular."

Donna was singular indeed.

But she was not alone.

"Worldwide, a child is diagnosed every 3 minutes."

By the time you finish reading this post, another child will have been diagnosed. And the lives of everyone who loves that child, in that instant, will have changed, inexorably and forever.

Each year, I am profoundly honored to be a part of Donna Day. And you can be a part of Donna Day, too. Share this post, share the St. Baldrick's link, learn more about childhood cancer, use #donnaday, and pledge to do more.

I encourage you to read Donna's Cancer Story. Meet Donna. Marvel at her intelligence and humor and truly indomitable spirit. She will inspire you as she's inspired so many of us.

Read about childhood cancer and the important work St. Baldrick's performs.

And then, please, contribute to this extraordinary cause.

And choose hope. Every day.



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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Sometimes A Girl Just Needs A Cookie ...


For as much as I like to bake, I haven't been quick to attempt many grain-free recipes. Which is for the best, really. Because when I do bake something, those somethings don't last.

To wit, my latest favorite flourless cookie.

I found a recipe a while back for flourless peanut butter cookies. With dark chocolate. And I made them fairly often.

But I'm mostly off of peanuts in addition to being off of grains (save for the occasional out-and-about, ready-to-gnaw-off-my-arm emergency Snickers bar), so I've become a devotee of almond butter.

And the other day, having made a Costco run, I had a bag of dried tart cherries in the house. Which I'd been eating out of hand but which, in a flash of inspiration, became the latest inclusion in the almond butter cookies. Which I'd been making with dark chocolate. And chopped toasted almonds, too.

Folks have asked me for the recipe and I've shared the link for the flourless peanut butter numbers and then explained all my tweaks. It'll be easier to share this link. And so, I give you ...

Flourless Almond Butter Cookies with Dark Chocolate, Toasted Almonds, and Dried Cherries

1 cup creamy almond butter*
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dark chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips)
Toasted almonds, chopped**
Dried tart cherries

Dump the first five ingredients in a bowl and mix until incorporated. Mix in the chocolate, almonds, and cherries. Portion in two-tablespoonful mounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets. (I use the large OXO cookie scoop.) Bake one tray at a time at 350°F for 13-15 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: About 24 cookies

* You could use crunchy if you like, and perhaps skip the chopped toasted almonds. Or supplement the chopped toasted almonds, better yet.

** I toast mine from the freezer for about 15 minutes at 350°F. Regardless of their starting state, just toast 'til they're fragrant, then let 'em cool.



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Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Power Of A Simple Thought, Conveyed ...

Once upon a time, I bought a card. Just because. To send to someone someday.

On the front: "I thought of you today ..."

and inside: "... and wanted you to know."

I mailed that card a week or so ago. To a friend who's gone through a lot in recent years. A just-because card for her to find amid her junk mail and bills.

A few days ago, I turned on my phone as I do in the mornings and an email appeared in my inbox, from another friend.

It was short, just 20 words, five of which were these:


You were on my mind.

What a lovely sentence. What a lovely sentiment.

And so, so appreciated.

He knows I've been dealing with a lot, especially in recent months.

The thing is, so has he. Been dealing. With a lot.

Most folks are, really, on any given day.

But that simple gesture meant the world to me.

And this morning, I thought about the card I sent and the email I received. I hadn't considered them together until that moment, but what we put out into the world really does return.

And the impact of a simple gesture may be immeasurably profound.

If you're thinking about someone, let them know.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Generosity and Gratitude ...

"Generosity is way of being in the world — a way that says, 'I have more than I need, and I will take the overflow of myself and share it with others.'"
— Elizabeth Gilbert,
on Facebook,
about two hours ago



Yes, exactly. That. That right there about generosity being more than one needs and sharing the overflow with others.

That is the essence of why I am writing this post, and I didn't know about that quote until moments ago when I popped over to Liz's Facebook page to grab the link to something she wrote a few days ago that I really, really, really needed to read.

(Speaking of links, I am resisting the urge to pepper this post with links to demonstrate the awesomeness with which events have unfolded in recent days. But the very least I can do is make it easy for folks to find the things I mention, so I'll include links at the end of this post.)

This story begins, really, 10 years ago. That's when Liz published Eat, Pray, Love. And while it surely does not seem like 10 years ago, I remember reading her book and loving her book and appreciating that her writing style seemed very similar to mine, which gave me a nice bit of hope that I, too, could actually publish a book someday.

Unwitting generous act, number one. Thanks, Liz.

Over the years, there have been many other unwitting generous acts, so enumerating them feels daunting. Suffice it to say that there have been a lot.

And that brings me to the new year.

Mike Dooley, he of The Daily Tut, which I have been receiving in my email for many years, is offering a 30-day Infinite Possibilities Project to kick off 2016.

I love Mike. I bought his "Playing The Matrix" course last year and have watched some of it but then put that viewing on hold because the person with whom I'm watching had to tend to other things in life, so I'm waiting until we can resume.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post about this being my year of being scared, of this being my year behind a microphone. And one of the behind-the-mic ideas I put forth is the creation of a podcast.

On Day 6 of Mike's project, he suggested jotting down some steps that would move each of us in the direction of our dreams for the year. On my list, I wrote:

"3. Check out podcasts on iTunes, subscribe to a few, and listen! (I think shorter is better.)"

On Day 11, he suggested that we avail ourselves of resources. And the very first resource he linked to was Liz Gilbert's podcast "Magic Lessons."

Which rang a bell because sometime last year I submitted a topic to Liz and her producers. Obviously, I was not chosen to be one of her guests but I had forgotten that the podcast was forthcoming.

It's not forthcoming any longer. It's done. (And each episode is rather brief, which is nice, since I was thinking that shorter is better.) That it's done is a lovely thing, because, should I want to, I could binge-listen to the whole series. But I'm not. I'm listening to two at a time, given that the structure is "Liz talks to a 'normal' person about a creative challenge" and then "Liz talks to a friend and fellow 'known' person about the creative challenge presented in the previous episode."

Today, I listened to Liz chat with fellow "known" person John Hodgman, who many folks know as PC from the fab Mac commercials a few years back, or from "The Daily Show" or from many other roles and projects as John has done a lot.

Which is important, for the purposes of this post and my life.

He and Liz chatted about getting bored with creative pursuits once we master them and how many of us pursue many ventures in our lifetimes, that we master one thing and then move onto the next thing.

And finally, finally, finally, two little parts of my brain met each other at long, long last and formed a very important thought:

I've done stuff.

Which doesn't seem like a revelation on its own but I have spent literally most of my life trying to figure out what I am meant to do.

And in the meantime, I have been doing stuff.

I moved into my first apartment when I was 24. So for nearly half my life, I have been living on my own and supporting myself. For the most part.

Which means that my "quest," as it were, isn't about figuring out what I am meant to do.

It's about figuring out what I am meant to do next.

And that, my friends, is a game-changer.

That relieves the pressure.

Because while I've long suspected that I was never meant to do one thing and while I really dug the idea of slash careers – doing this and that – that felt a bit disjointed to me, as though I wouldn't really be giving my all to any one thing.

But the idea of doing things sequentially? Well, that's my whole life. I do a thing, I get bored with it – sometimes because I don't like it but often because I master it – and I move onto the next thing, out of curiosity. Which is Liz's prescription for all of us, to follow our curiosity, not our passion. Because for a lot of us, our passion isn't clear. And the pursuit of identifying it can be really, really, really frustrating, if not maddening.

Which brings me to another moment of gratitude for Liz: she wrote a post a few days about about what we're meant to do with our lives in which she explained the differences between hobby, job, career, and vocation.

Whoa. Yes. Where the hell was that post when I was, oh, 18?

Many, many years ago, a friend suggested that a job can just be a job, a means to an end that enables us to pursue other things we love in our free time.

I rejected that idea flatly. I had bought into the idea that we should earn livings doing what we truly loved.

Well, that's nice work if you can get it. And many do.

But for some, a job is just a job.

And that, I'm finally learning, is just fine.

I offer a range of word-related services. What I do five days a week is not a career. Nor do I want it to be.

I am not climbing a ladder to the top. I will not be ousting a CEO.

But I relish the luxury of working from home. I enjoy meeting truly interesting people and helping them accomplish things they do not feel they can accomplish on their own.

And I value, greatly, the freedom that this life provides: the freedom to spend time with people I care about, the freedom to spend time listening to podcasts and writing blog posts and putting together pieces that I've not been able to fit together before, the freedom to pursue the next creative thing.

And maybe the day will arrive when I will indeed wake up and realize that I am earning a living doing what I truly love, whatever that thing is at the time.

But in the meantime, I am more aware than ever that I lead a truly interesting life.

And I am deeply grateful for the messages that have arrived in recent weeks and the connections that have formed.

"Magic Lessons" was s podcast conceived to explore questions and conundrums about creativity in advance of the publication of Liz's book Big Magic, which I checked out of the library last year. And then I quickly realized that it was a book I would want to own, so I bought a copy.

And then, for Christmas, I bought four more, and gave them to my nephew, my other nephew, his girlfriend, and my niece.

They're all pursuing careers in creative fields. May Liz's wisdom and generosity arrive in their lives at times when it can do them a great amount of good, perhaps save them some confusion and/or angst.


Links to stuff I reference above:

Magic Lessons: Liz Gilbert's podcast

Liz Gilbert's Facebook post on Generosity

Liz Gilbert's Facebook post on Hobby, Job, Career, and Vocation

Mike Dooley's Infinite Possibilities Project

Mike Dooley's Playing The Matrix Online Course

The Year Of Being Scared

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Year Of Being Scared ...

I don't like scary movies. I fail to grasp what's pleasurable about paying money to sit in the dark and wait for something scary to appear on screen. I don't buy the "but it's not real so it's safe!" rationale.

I also don't like haunted houses. I once had a friend scare the living crap out of me in my basement. That was enough for a lifetime. Granted, in that case, I didn't know what was coming, and in going to a haunted house, I'd be paying for folks to scare me, but still.

I also don't like roller coasters. I don't mind the speed and the drops but I hate, hate, hate the initial climb. That feeling of leaning backward and the possibility of falling is more than my brain will tolerate. Being stopped at a light on an incline in a car in San Francisco is enough for me.

I like safety. I like the known. I suppose that makes me boring to some degree, perhaps to a great degree, but I've never much seen the charm in risk.

I have no desire to jump out of an airplane. Dropping me in the middle of the wilderness and leaving me to find my way out? No thanks. I'll be happy to handle a snake if you like but anything with more than four legs needs to stay the hell away from me unless I have my Dyson nearby.

But as my lovely friend Nona Jordan reminds me, we can do hard things. That lesson landed in my life at just the right time last year.

And the last couple years have been exercises is better grasping the value of my work.

A few years ago, a job situation I was sure would happen did not pan out, and it was a blow at the time. Angelo, who is very wise in many ways, wrote to me that night:

"You have too much talent to have another job where you're plugging away. You've done that. A lot. It's time to scare yourself. Big scare. There will always be chocolate to make things better when you feel like it's too scary and it will feel like that sometimes."

"It's time to scare yourself. Big scare."

Indeed.

Since then, I have had some scares, though not of my own making, which make them very different kinds of scares indeed.

But as this new year arrived, I mused about what I want 2016 to be, and I thought, "What if this year was all about being behind a microphone?"

I love to sing. Singing in front of an audience scares the bejeezus out of me but I've done it. Recording is much safer but my engineer friend isn't available for sessions anymore. I've found a studio that might suit my needs. And even singing in front of a new engineer makes me a little squirmy so that feels like a reasonable place to start here in the new year.

I once tried my hand at voiceovers and discovered that I am quite possibly the world's worst auditioner. Speaking is much less scary than singing but it's a performance just the same and my perfectionism is a bitch. Thanks to technology, though, auditions often happen at home now, which makes the prospect much more appealing.

I have been pondering a podcast for some time. Not from a "This is my ticket to fame and fortune!" perspective but from a "That might be interesting to try and it would cost me about, oh, nothing" notion.

I like speaking in front of groups when I know what the hell I'm talking about. I gave an impromptu presentation at a conference years ago that went so well that I was asked to prepare a presentation the next year. When I did the 3-Day events, I was happy to speak to groups of first-time walkers in advance of the events to answer questions and assuage fears and offer encouragement. The idea of being a paid speaker appeals to me, though I suppose I should have some expertise to offer for which folks would pay.

So, in that vein but in a different way, I think it would be a hoot to try stand-up comedy. I had folks laughing when I gave the impromptu presentation. Later that day, when I appeared in a video montage of the weekend's events, the room erupted in applause. I turned beet red – Unexpected attention! Eep! – but I appreciated their appreciation. So I think it would be fun to prepare five minutes of material and get up in front of a crowd with low expectations. I mentioned this idea to a friend recently and she said, "Really?" The idea of being on stage is not her cup of tea. I adore the view from a stage. I just need to get more comfortable with the performing part.

Perhaps I'll try them all. Perhaps I'll settle on one. Maybe one will scare me sufficiently that I'll feel I've fulfilled my terror quota for the year.

But, as Angelo mentioned, there will always be chocolate to make me feel better.

I should probably buy some stock in Ghirardelli.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Wee Blog Post About All The 'Merry Christmas' Kerfuffle ...


May I point out that Christmas is a day? December 25th is Christmas. Why all the consternation that folks don't say "Merry Christmas" for weeks leading up to December 25th?

We don't wish people "Happy New Year" during the six weeks leading up to January 1st.

We don't wish people "Happy Valentine's Day" during the six weeks leading up to February 14th.

We don't wish people "Happy Easter" during the six weeks leading up to ... whatever day Easter falls on that year.

We don't wish people "Happy 4th of July" during the six weeks leading up to July 4th.

We don't ... well, you get my point.

Christmas is a day. Yes, stores start decorating for in July now, but it's still a single day. That's it's been commercialized grossly doesn't change that fact.

And yes, there is a wintertime holiday season, during which other holidays occur, which is why some folks, some years ago, started saying "Season's greetings" and "Happy holidays."

It's inclusive. Inclusion is nice.

If you're a Christian and you'd like to say "Merry Christmas" for weeks on end, feel free. But if someone says something else, it's not meant as an offense. Really.

Well, some people might meant it as an offense. Some people are jerks.

But most of us don't mean it as an offense, OK?

OK.



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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Seriously, This Is The Most Beautiful Cover Letter Ever ...


I'm not in the market for a "real" job these days, though who knows when something fantastic may appear on my radar. But it occurred to me yesterday that it would be fun to write a cover letter in Trumpese. Trumpspeak, if you will. I posted my idea on Facebook, which prompted a fellow wordsmith friend to reply, "DO IT!" "I might write it as a blog post, if nothing else," I replied. So here I am. And hey, if a fantastic job opportunity comes along, I'll be ready to apply.

December 17, 2015

To Whom My Concern:

This very excellent letter is in response to your job posting for an editor. Nobody edits as well as me. Seriously. My editing is so beautiful. Also, I have the best command of the English language in history. See where I wrote "Nobody edits as well ..."? Most people would have written "Nobody edits as good ..." because they're losers and dummies. Why would you ever consider hiring them? I'm the best. Everybody says so. Especially my mother. My mother is the best mother of all time. Seriously. Mother Teresa was a hack compared to my mother. That lady always wore the same outfit. You know why? Because she lacked style, that's why. I have great style. But I digress. "Digress." See? That's a smart word to convey "I got off the subject," though, really, no thought of mine is ever off the subject because everything I think is important. That's why you're still reading this. Because you know I know more than you. You're lucky I'm still writing this. Someday, you'll be able to sell this letter for a lot of money. Seriously, so much money.

So you should hire me because I'm great. And I know a lot. My I.Q. is really, really high. My intelligence is so great, it really can't be measured. Those I.Q. tests, they're for losers. Except for the ones I've taken that have revealed my huge intelligence. Those tests were beautiful.

Of course, when you hire me, you should start cleaning out your office immediately. Seriously. I learn everything very fast. I will learn everything about your loser business in a day. And then I'll take over. And then I'll sell the company and make a huge profit. That's what I do. My huge intelligence compels me to make so much money.

Really, you should just sign your company over to me now. That way, your employees won't see you move out of your office when I take over. You see, I am a very, very compassionate person. I knew the guy who invented compassion but he was a loser, so I deported him. I knew I could make compassion huge. So huge. And gold. Gold is the best color. Silver would be gold if it could be, but it's too low energy. Silver will never be gold.

But loser people need metal, too. See? Huge compassion. I can't believe how nice I am. I probably shouldn't be so nice. You don't deserve it.

You know what? I don't want to be an editor at your loser company. But you can still have this letter and sell it for a lot of money. If I were you, though, I'd frame it and hang it up in your loser office. People will be very, very impressed that I took the time to write this letter to you.

I'm also shipping 1,000 framed head shots for you to hang up in your loser office so everyone will know you know me. The gold frames are the best and very, very classy. Of course, I expect you to pay the enclosed invoice immediately.

You're welcome,

Beth Kujawski



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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

All I Want For Christmas, 2015 Edition ...

Running errands the other day, I found myself behind a woman headed to the same store. As she neared the doors, she noticed an older woman on her way out, using a walker. The woman in front of me opened both doors in an effort to be helpful, but, of course, was then standing in the middle of the open doors, blocking the older woman's way. "I've got this one," I said, and we each stood aside and held a door. The older woman, as adorable as you can imagine, looked at me and then my door buddy, a bit surprised, and said, "Thank you! Thank you very much! Happy holidays to you both!" We wished her happy holidays, too, and everyone went about their ways.

And that is all I want for Christmas, please. More of those simple moments of kindness among strangers, taking a few seconds to extend a hand or a smile or a holiday wish.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A Wee Tale About A Wee E-Book ...

I come from a long line of bakers and writers. Not professional bakers nor professional writers but women in my family have a knack for both. And I, thankfully, have been granted both knacks. Which I took for granted for a long time.

I thought about becoming a pastry chef, but a couple of days spent in a professional kitchen cured me of that notion. And I thought about opening a bakery, but I really don't want to have to bake every day.

But I wrote. And I baked. And I shared what I baked. And one day, one of my editors asked me to write a holiday-cookie story. So I did. She dubbed me The Cookie Queen. Which is why my other blog, The Cookie Queen's English, is named as it is. And the reason I created that blog was to chronicle my holiday baking that year. And then I wrote more holiday-cookie stories in successive years. And then I baked for Angelo's blog for three years.

And then, last year, I thought it might be fun to publish a little something related to cookies.

And so I did.

A year ago today, December 9, though Amazon lists the publication date as December 8.

I've joked with folks that my wee e-book – or wee-book, if you will – has earned me tens of dollars. (So much for self-publishing being my path to fame and fortune.)

But this morning, on the anniversary of its publication, I took the time to call up each month's royalty report so I could add up the past year's sales.

The grand total, to date?

$74.41

I love that number. I love it because it is, indeed, tens of dollars.

But I also love it, truly, because it's seventy-four dollars and forty-one cents that I earned from something I wrote and put into the world.

Not a freelance assignment (which pay far better). Not a blog post (which pays nothing at all).

But evidence that I can, indeed, sit at this machine and clack words onto a virtual page and package them in some form and some people – some of whom aren't even related to me or counted among my very dear friends – will happen upon it and plunk down two dollars and ninety-nine cents.

And a month or so later, Amazon will transfer a royalty payment into my checking account.

Very small royalty payments.

But royalty payments nonetheless.

And if I earn small royalties, perhaps one day, I will earn slightly larger royalties. Or even much bigger royalties. Perhaps royalties large enough to pay my bills.

Who knows.

But my weebook has been a trial balloon of sorts, the kiddie pool of publishing, the means by which I have begun to wrap my brain around the idea that thoughts in my head can become words on a page that can become a commodity.

I know that writers have been earning money for a long, long time. This is not a new concept.

But it was new to me. Freelancing is a different animal. Freelancing is still a form of a job.

This is solo. And it's scary. But it's also cool.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

So Long, Shoulds ....

It began with my birthday. That one day of the year, I reasoned, would, at last, be spent doing what I most wanted to do and not be spent doing what I expressly did not want to do.

And so that was the day that I began to shed some of the most engrained "shoulds" that have dictated most of my life.

I have more to release but even in just these two-plus weeks, I feel a difference, a lightness.

"Shoulds" are insanely weighty.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Nudge From The Universe ...

This morning, while putting on coffee, I informed the universe that I would write something today, something intentional. Something of some length. Not just tweets. Not just comments. Something. Perhaps a post.

And once my coffee was done brewing and I had it in hand and settled in on the love seat in my living room where I've taken to clacking again, I made my morning rounds and discovered that today is I Love to Write Day.

Well, love might be overstating it. Most days, anyway. There's a reason Anne Lamott uses the phrase "shitty first drafts." I reckon no writer loves creating shitty first drafts. But they're necessary. Though perhaps they need not be shitty. A framework, though, is the point. We need to start somewhere, we writers. Painters don't paint masterpieces in one pass. They build layers on canvases.

Foundations. We all need 'em. Cars aren't constructed from the front bumpers back. They begin with frames.

And so it is with posts. And books. And poems. And songs. They all start somewhere. From nothing.

Last night, on my way home from the store, I was listening to Beck's "Dreams." It's a catchy tune. And until he wrote it, it didn't exist. And no other song ever written is the same as "Dreams." Even with a finite number of notes with which to compose, songwriters manage to combine them in ways we've never heard before.

Now that's a feat. We writers have far more words to combine than composers have notes. And as I once told a composer I knew, most folks are able to string together a few words to convey a thought but very few people in the world are able to string together notes to convey emotions. That's truly magic from where I stand.

But then, I suppose all creativity is relative. And that which comes more or less "easily" to each of us tends to seem less remarkable than whatever gifts we don't possess.

Last night, I watched "The End of the Tour," a film about David Foster Wallace at the time of the release of Infinite Jest, which I've long meant to read but never have. Perhaps I will someday soon.

The Redbox star rating it received was not kind, though I don't put stock into reviews. And truly, there's likely not a huge, interested audience for a movie about an author agreeing to a days-long interview by a writer from Rolling Stone.

But the writer in me was intrigued. The trailer I saw on another DVD piqued my interest. And I really liked the film.

Many, many, many years ago, when I applied for an internship at Chicago magazine, I imagined that working there was glamorous. I imagined cocktail parties with authors. I imagined that cocktail parties with authors would be glamorous.

I attended no cocktail parties with authors nor was the internship glamorous. It was a job.

A couple years later, I landed a job at the Chicago Tribune. Working until 4 a.m. in a nearly deserted newsroom? Not glamorous.

And yet, among folks I knew outside that world, there was the perception of something special about working in the media.

And I suppose there's some validity to that. Working in the media does provide some folks with access they would otherwise not have, and in that way, the media is a bridge between two worlds.

There are the people who sit in the bleachers at the Oscars, there are the reporters who ask the inane questions on the red carpet, and then there are the stars.

The writing world, though, has no such glamour component.

A billion people do not tune in to watch writers collect Pulitzers or National Book Awards.

Nobody cares what authors are wearing, most of all the authors.

The film about Wallace was a good reminder that any myth that surrounds writers is just that. And we, the readers, create it.

What continues to amaze me about writing, though, as silly as it may seem to anyone who reads this, is that I can sit here, as I am now, and I can clack words onto a screen through my keyboard, as I am now, and I can create and capture anything my mind can conceive, and then, depending on my intent and other considerations, I can sell the end result. For money.

Seriously. It blows my mind.

Also, I recognize that that amazement is ridiculous.

Writers have been doing just that for a very long time.

I have demonstrated this to myself.

I joke with folks that my little cookie e-book has earned me "tens" of dollars. (And that's true. It did not make me my millions, but that was never its intent. The point of the exercise was to simply do it, to have an idea and to see it through. Check!) But the other day, when I checked my bank balance and it was six bucks and change more than I expected it to be, I smiled when I realized that Amazon must have deposited my latest royalty payment.

Royalty payment. I earn royalties.

Very, very small royalties.

But royalties just the same.

In the end, it's a matter of confidence and belief in self-worth. It's a matter of hearing the voice that says, "Why do you think anyone would want to read this?" and pressing on, writing for, well, for the love of writing.

Perhaps the day has come to dust off the screenplay … .