Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Tale Of Two Coffee Goos ...

I am the Peter Pan of coffee drinkers. I cannot drink coffee black. I can drink espresso – hyper-uber coffee! – with nothing in it but I can't drink coffee black. Go figure.

And so, for many years, I have been a regular purchaser and consumer of flavored coffee creamer a k a coffee goo. "Cream" is a bit generous, really.

But I know it's not the best thing for me to consume. I drink a full bottle of water every morning – filtered water, BPA-free bottle, set on my bedside table the night before – then I chase it with a travel mugful of coffee lightened with hazelnut goo.

At the store the other day, I stood before the case of goo and assessed my options. Fall and winter specialty flavors are already stocked, by the way. I've cut grains out of my diets but I'm still very much a fan of dairy and sugar. Still, I've noticed goo made with almond milk and considered making a change. And hey, there's a hazelnut option! Sold!

I brought my new goo home and vowed to use up my current goo and then make the switch.

This morning, with not enough current goo left for my mug's complement of coffee, I reached for the almond goo.

I shook it.

Huh. It's more difficult to shake. Thicker. Maybe it settles, like paint?

I unscrewed the cap and pulled off the seal. I licked the bit that remained.

Huh. It doesn't taste like hazelnut, really, and yet it doesn't taste like almond either.

I peered into the container.

Huh. It's an interesting color, kind of earthy, kind of ... chalky.

I poured it into my mug, to the point to which I always pour goo.

Huh. It looks like self-leveling cement.

At that point, I was having my doubts.

But the coffee finished brewing and I poured it into my mug and ... the color changed from very, very dark brown – as is true of black coffee – to ... very dark brown.

That seemed like a sign of nothing good. With my usual goo, the color changes to a lovely caramel hue.

I took a sip of this new concoction.

It tasted like ... coffee. With some unidentifiable flavor making a pathetic attempt to be noticed.

Well, shit.

I grabbed what was left of my usual goo and dumped it into the mug and gave the whole mess a stir.

It's drinkable now.

And later, I shall go to the store and procure more of my usual goo.

And this not-inexpensive almond-milk goo?

Maybe I can pour it into a bowl and set it on the counter and let the moisture evaporate and try using it as spackle.

I wonder if anyone is a repeat consumer of this almond-milk goo. I suspect not. I suspect everyone is like me, intrigued enough by the possibility to try it and then scarred enough to never buy it again. Eeesh.

Dear Usual Goo,

I'm sorry to have strayed. I know better now.

Love,

Beth

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Adaptation: Brownie Edition ...


Last July, I finally got around to posting the recipe I use for brownies. Angelo refers to them as "crazy drug brownies" and they are indeed rather addictive, in a "I can just have one more little one" kind of way ... and then you realized that you've whittled down the contents of the pan to next to nothing and it dawns on you that, singlehandedly, you've consumed more than a stick of butter and enough sugar to make you yearn for compression stockings.

As it happened, last July was also when I finally cut grains out of my diet. And brownies, being made with flour, became a casualty.

Until yesterday.

I'd been meaning to pick up an alternative flour and try a test batch. And lo, yesterday I was tooling down the baking aisle on my way to the dairy case when my brain stepped up and said, "Look at flours!" I backtracked a few steps and glanced back and forth: almond flour or coconut flour? Coconut flour is more like flour. Almond flour might have better flavor. But almond flour might have too much moisture. But the brownies are super moist anyway.

In the end, it came down to price. I was more inclined to risk $5.49 than $9.89. Coconut flour it was. Into my cart it went. Shopping continued.

Last night, done with work, I ventured into the kitchen to bake. I figured I'd just swap in an equal amount of coconut flour for the usual all-purpose flour. Everything else about the recipe remained the same, ingredients-wise.

The batter was thicker than the original recipe yields.

I smooshed it into the greased pan and figured the heat of the oven would level things out.

Nope. So, lesson learned: next time, smooth the batter.

Given that it was such a stiff batter, I thought the baking time could probably be knocked down a bit. So I stuck the pan in the oven for 20 minutes.

Yup, that was enough.

I frosted them when they were partially cool, as I do with "normal" brownies." I could have frosted them a bit sooner. My frosting didn't end up with its usual sheen.

And while I planned to let them cool fully overnight and then try one this morning, impatience got the better of me and I tried one while the pan was still warm.

Tasty, for sure. But the texture was difficult to gauge.

So I had another one this morning.

There's just a hint of graininess to them but the flavor is practically identical. They're not coconutty, as I thought they might be, as coconut flour really smells like coconut. Go figure.

I'll try a batch with almond flour someday, too. But in the meantime, I'm back in brownie business!

Coconut-Flour Brownies

1 stick butter (I use salted)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
3/4 cup coconut flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Walnuts (I toast mine first in a 350° oven for 13–15 minutes then let them cool)

Melt the butter, stir in sugar and cocoa. Add coconut flour. Mix. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix. Stir in walnuts. (I dump some into a Ziplock bag and press on them to break them up a bit first.) Spread the mixture into greased 8x8 pan (I spray it with PAM) and level it with the back of a rubber scraper. Unlike a traditional brownie batter, this one won't level itself in the oven.

Bake at 350° until done, about 20 minutes. (Start checking a little before then, as ovens vary. You may need to go a smidgen longer. It all depends.)

Cool on a rack until warm but not hot (10 minutes, maybe), then frost with:

Equal parts of butter and cocoa (For an 8x8 pan, you might use 3 tablespoons of each, maybe 4 tablespoons; depends on how much frosting you like)
Powdered sugar
Milk

It's hard to give people the recipe for the frosting, as it's just a taste thing. Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa until the mixture's smooth. Dump in some powdered sugar and a little milk and stir. Keep tweaking until you get desired sweetness and spreadability. Add the milk in smaller increments than seems reasonable. You can always add more. If you add too much, pour out a bit into the sink. If you thin the frosting too much by mistake, you'll have to add more powdered sugar to recover the consistency and you may end up with frosting that's too sweet for your tastes. So add milk in small amounts.

Double the brownie-proper recipe for a 9x13 pan. Frosting-wise, though, don't double the frosting. For a 9x13 pan, use 5 tablespoons to 6 tablespoons each of butter and cocoa and add powdered sugar and milk accordingly.



Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Birthday Sablés! ...


I have been baking sablés for a long time, more than five years, turns out. My first foray into these wondrous French butter cookies was for Angelo, as a nod to The Gnome.

I have made many variations since: dark chocolate, espresso, cheese. Oh, yes, cheese. As cookie doughs go, it's an excellent base for all sorts of additions. Toasted coconut would rock!

But I digress. My point is that it took me more than five years to think to add sprinkles into the dough to give 'em a bit of festiveness.

And so, I finally did.

I would prefer if the sugar would not melt, please, if the colors would not bleed. Alas, the rules of the natural world apply. Moisture + food coloring = a less-than-perfect confetti effect.

But the idea was there, suitable for sharing. (If these had turned out more garish, I would have whipped up a plain batch instead. If I'm going to share something with someone, I must meet my own standards first.)

To up the festive factor, I pulled a collection of bright colors from the drawer that holds my spools of curling-ribbon compulsion and I made up wee bundles of cookies and beribboned those suckers until the cookies were barely visible.

And then I boxed them up and sent them on their way.

I shall bake these again. They make a fun little birthday gift but I can also use them for favors the next time party favors are called for, as I may have outgrown all the tchotchke plastic trinkets from the party store.

Or maybe I'll just send folks home with both. Who doesn't need a plastic camel pen topper, too?



Sunday, July 31, 2016

'Brain On Fire': An Appreciation, Not A Review ...

The phone rang, a month or so ago, at an hour when most people don't call, and a number appeared that I didn't recognize.

I let it go to voicemail.

It was my friend Kris in California. He started his message saying that it had been a long time since we'd talked. Indeed. It had been so long, I didn't recognize his number. Or maybe it had changed.

But we had been trading comments on Facebook, so he thought he'd pick up the phone, because he wanted to tell me about a book he'd read that I had to read: Brain on Fire.

He talked long enough that my voicemail cut him off – Kris, if you read this, know that I'm chuckling about your loquaciousness – and a few days later, I heard my mail arrive with a louder-than-usual thud.

The book had arrived. I opened the manila envelope, read his sticky note, and added it to my "someday" pile. I had a book languishing from the library that I wanted to finish first.

Yesterday afternoon, though, in the mood to read, I grabbed three contenders from the pile and plopped myself on one of Angelo's chairs in the dining room, and opened Susannah Cahalan's book, flipped past the lengthy table of contents, and began with the Author's Note.

I finished it a little while ago, here on Sunday night, having slept 10 hours last night – uncharacteristically – and having devoted a good portion of today to not reading, which is to say, this book is riveting. And you should read it.

It's a fascinating memoir of her medical journey – "blood brain barrier, sure," I said, wondering if Dr. Keith Black would end up on her team. Nope, he doesn't, but I knew of his work because I wrote a short feature about him for the Tribune 20 years ago. Susannah's a journalist, so that aspect of her work felt relatable, too, though my newspaper days are well behind me. But it also broaches the subject of medical care in this country, of how many patients go un- or misdiagnosed either out of ignorance or expediency on the part of physicians – they need to see so many patients, many can't devote the time necessary to individual cases nor stay abreast of every new development – or simply from a lack of resources. We're making strides in insuring more people here but universal health care should be the goal. (That's my opinion, not hers, at least, not overtly stated, but I wouldn't be surprised if she agrees.)

It will set you to wondering if some people in your life have been misdiagnosed. Folks diagnosed with a host of conditions – from autism to schizophrenia – may in fact be going through what she endured.

It's a serious book and it contains a fair amount of science, yet it reads quickly because it's so well written. I had heard about it before but for whatever reason, it didn't register as something I should read at the time. So thank you, Kris, for sharing it with me. Your reason for sending it was spot on, but it was so much more important beyond that.

As the title of this post proclaims, this is an appreciation, not a review. I've stopped reviewing everything, intentionally, anyway. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone nor do I want to dissuade. What I love may not be what you love and vice versa. But when I read something I love, the least I can do it add my voice to the zeitgeist so, perhaps, others will read it and love it, too.

And speaking of love, I read the acknowledgements, as I do. It feels like the right thing to do, to acknowledge – albeit it in a different way – the people who help an author with a book's journey. Occasionally, I see a name I know and that's nice. So I read Susannah's, though none of the names connected.

Until I arrived at the penultimate line: "And thank you to Preston Browning, who offered me a place to write at his charming Wellspring House, which has become my second home."

I burst into tears, because I am an enormous sap.

And because Preston was one of my favorite professors in college. I love that Susannah has the privilege of knowing him, too. He's extraordinary.

(I had to Google him. An article about him ran at the end of June. The man hasn't changed in his activism and ideology, and I swear to God, he looks younger than when he taught me more than two decades ago.)

But I digress, though anyone who knows Preston understands. The man is digression-worthy to the Nth degree.

Find Susannah's book. Devour it. Or savor it. But do read it. It, too, is extraordinary.



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Makes Beth Happy, July 23 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Grand!
It's become my go-to adjective. For a while, I was prone to using "lovely." Then "delightful." These days, "grand."

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day are:

Blackberry Cheesecake Galette
Blackberry. Cheesecake. Galette. Three of my favorite words, together!

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Tufted Bench in Velvet Aubergine
I don't need a large, gorgeous tufted bench. But I love this large, gorgeous tufted bench. And really, I'm more drawn to the green (although the pewter is also very pretty) but given that my home contains so much brown and green (and grey), I figure I should opt for another color every now and then.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Roundabout Reminder From The Universe ...

I love Twitter.

Some folks profess to not understand it but Twitter is the most amazing conduit ever conceived. In what other way do any of us have real-time access to such a vast array of people? None. Twitter is it.

Now, granted, tweeting at someone doesn't guarantee that they'll see your tweet. And you are far more likely than not to never hear from the tweetee.

But you never know, do you? About seven years ago, I tweeted at Angelo after seeing the best reveal in the history of reveals and today, he's a dear friend. (Hi, dear friend! Octopus!)

Occasionally, I have a fleeting interaction with someone interesting – Mia Farrow and Lizz Winstead spring to mind – and sometimes, I try to be helpful. As was the case on Friday.

Dan Pallotta, for whom I have great respect, tweeted a link to a shortened version of his first TED talk, which you should really watch in its entirety. Surely you can spare 19 minutes.

Alas, when I clicked, I landed on a page that informed me "The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you're not in."

So I tweeted at him, so he could check to make sure the video had been made public. We had a brief exchange. "re-posted. videos and facebook and me not a good combo," he shared. Later, I saw that he had posted the YouTube link. I clicked. "This video is private." I mentioned that to him, too.

But in the meantime, now that Pallotta was on my mind, I thought back to my first 3-Day, which was a Pallotta TeamWorks event. Dan created the AIDS Ride and the 3-Day, and it truly took me just a few minutes of experiencing the world he created to decide that I wanted to work for him.

Alas, Pallotta TeamWorks was not very long for this world. Which is very unfortunate, because the world was a better place with Pallotta TeamWorks in it.

Happily, Dan is still very much about making a difference.

On that first 3-Day, though, I reconnected with my friend Adam. He and I had met in college but had lost touch. I knew that he was working for Pallotta, though, and I hoped to see him. But with thousands of people, how likely was it that I was going to be in the same place at the same time as my friend?

Very.

And, as is often the case, it happened when I least expected it.

I was done with my Day 0 duties – once upon a time, kids, the Internet was not as robust as it is today, and some things could not be accomplished online; I know! It's difficult to fathom, isn't it? But we had to do some things in person – and was walking back toward the coaches that would shuttle us to our hotels for the night. I was walking down a road in the park where we'd kick off the next morning, walking with some new friends I'd made, and he was just ... there. Off to the side. He saw me. I saw him. We screamed and hugged. Kismet.

The crews on 3-Days work their butts off and so I didn't see him a lot during the event but on the second night, he found my tent and climbed inside. It was chilly that night, unseasonably chilly for Atlanta, but the tents are not big. He wasn't going to be there long, though, and Pat, my walking partner and tentmate, didn't seem to mind the extra coziness for a few minutes.

Adam presented me with a little care package of Pallotta swag (I don't spell it "schwag." "Schwag" looks schweird.) including a waistpack, which I would use on every 3-Day thereafter, but also a note, written on the back of a Pallotta TeamWorks flyer.

On Friday, I remembered that note. I remembered that I would take it out of my waistpack before the start of every 3-Day and read it. It was an invocation of sorts, and Adam's kind words would carry me into another event, another trek, another 60 miles.

The waistpack is still in the same place though I haven't walked in years. But on Friday, I pulled it out of the drawer and retrieved Adam's note and unfolded it gingerly. (It's a little worse for the wear after so many years of folding and unfolding and getting wet more than once.)

I've been struggling with some things lately. But on Friday, I was reminded, as my friend Nona would say, that I can do hard things. I have done hard things. "Hard" is relative, of course, and I may well face even harder things in the future. But Adam's note reminded me that hard things are rarely accomplished alone. If we are fortunate – and most of us are – we have lovely people around us, believing in us, supporting us, cheering us on. Or lending a hand or a shoulder when we need to steady ourselves or lean.

My friend Gemma's sister Devereaux once said, "I want to live in the 3-Day universe."

Indeed. It is a place of extraordinary kindness. Dan created that universe. On Friday, he reminded me of it. And reminded me of Adam. And reminded me that I can do hard things.

Here's to the next of life's treks.

Thanks, Twitter. Thanks, Dan.



Sunday, July 03, 2016

Mysterious Behavior ...

I don't know what comes over me on days like today.

It seemed normal enough, upon waking. A reasonable hour. A reasonable amount of rest.

I made coffee. I made my bed. I poured juice.

I made my usual rounds on the Internet. I was pleased to see that someone had read my wee-book.

Then a voice told me to read it again and I spied a sentence missing a word.

How had that happened? I had proofread the file several times back in the day and I had a friend proofread it, too.

I decided to upload a corrected file but first, it made sense to read the whole thing.

So I did. And I spied an extra word. And several stick apostrophes. I made the corrections and uploaded the file.

I hit the button on the garage-door opener before heading outside to retrieve lawn chairs for tomorrow. But my mom stopped by then, so I paused for a spell, but then, while we continued to talk, I did up the few morning dishes and scoured both basins of the kitchen sink.

When she left, I followed her outside and retrieved chairs and put them in place.

I headed across the street to chat with a neighbor I mostly talk to during winter, when we take a break from shoveling.

I returned and chatted briefly with my next-door neighbor – the one with the immaculate gardens – about the 4th of July.

"I think I'll pull some weeds for the occasion," I said.

And then I did.

Huh.

There was a time when I was limber. There was a time when I could sit on the floor with my legs stretched straight out in front of me, together, and touch my forehead to my knees.

That was a long time ago, not long after man discovered fire.

Yet I was bending over and pulling weeds and then – and this is the more miraculous part – standing upright without grunting like a pro on the court at Wimbledon returning a volley.

And so it went: bending, pulling, standing, tossing, over and over until the front beds looked slightly more presentable.

And then I grabbed the smaller of my two rakes and raked up a bit of detritus in the beds. And raked out the grass I'd dumped last year, to help it decompose a little more quickly now.

And then my brain was telling my body that it was time to stop.

So I put the bag of weeds by the garage and removed my gloves, but then thought that I should sweep the front walk and the front stoop and a few cobwebs I'd spied near the front door.

And so I did.

Seriously, my brain said, go inside.

And so I did.

I don't remember now what made me go for the vacuum but I found myself headed back out to the garage to grab an attachment from the vacuum I keep out there for cleaning my car. And then I was inside again. In my bedroom. Kneeling on the floor. Vacuuming underneath my bed.

I stopped to empty the canister on the vacuum.

And then I began again. To reach better, I laid down on the floor. On my stomach. Yet I was using my arms. It was almost like ... exercise.

Finished, I stood up – again, no grunting – and proceeded to vacuum everything I could think of to vacuum with the wand and attachments – apparently, it had been quite some time since I'd thought to vacuum the vents near the ceilings in the bedrooms – and then I tackled the floors.

I paused now and again, to answer a text, to retweet some tweets, but I kept looking for things to do.

Having tackled the weeds in front, I decided to start on the weeds in back.

And so I did.

I remembered the wind chimes in the garage that I haven't hung up for several summers, so I retrieved those and hung those up. And I proceeded to pull some impressive piles of weeds.

I heard the phone ring. Mom had said she'd share dinner with me tonight, so I finished my most immediate weeding and headed inside to check messages. Yep, she had called. My keys were in my car from the morning, when I pulled it out of the garage to retrieve chairs, so I shut the front door to head to Mom's.

Wallet. My wallet was still inside. On the other side of my now-locked front door. So I grabbed the keys from my car, returned to the house, let myself in, grabbed my wallet, locked the door, and got on my way.

Home, I ate – everything; thanks, Mom – and watched the second half of "Close Up with the Hollywood Reporter." (It's good. If you don't watch it, check it out some Sunday.)

And then I tried to get off the couch.

Ha!, my muscles said. Did you really think you were going to be mobile all day and we wouldn't protest?

There seemed to be nothing to do at that point except ... go outside and pull more weeds?

The hell?

So I did. A lot of weeds. Tall weeds. For quite a while. I have a big yard.

I could have kept going but the bag for yard waste was full. And it seemed like a good time to stop. So I put everything away, including my car.

And I came inside and washed my hands and filled a large plastic tumbler with ice and poured a glass of lemonade and plopped down on the love seat and here I am, a bit bemused.

I planned on getting the chairs out today. That was as far as I'd thought.

I hope tomorrow's more boring.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Eating More Vegetables! ...

My mom jokes that she's part rabbit. Indeed, growing up, the sandwiches she'd make for us were ridiculous towers of lettuce, leaf after leaf of iceberg folded to fit within the confines of the bread, but never a toothpick to hold everything together, so, often, the compacted lettuce would expand and the top slice of bread would fall over onto the plate.

Mom makes the best sandwiches. Of anyone. Ever. But I've been off of bread – and grains in general – for about a year now. But my lettuce addiction has never waned. I make ridiculously large salads for myself. But lettuce is mostly water. There's very little there there. And I love cramming forkfuls of food into my maw. It's a good thing I didn't grow up in a time or class that called for dainty dining. Dainty dining. Pffft.

Pasta, of course, is excellent for maw-cramming. But Pasta = Grain.

Enter spaghetti squash.

I've eaten it in the past. It's fine. Whatever. I've never been a huge squash fan. Zucchini is good, though I preferred it baked into a quick bread. Yellow summer squash is oddly nondescript. Acorn, butternut, and the like were never part of my diet growing up. But spaghetti squash is novel, at least.

Mom shares my appreciation for spaghetti squash, so I shared this post with her. And Mom, because she is awesome, made it this week and shared.

We agreed from the get-go that it needed more bacon. Because everything needs more bacon.

And she included an extra hunk of goat cheese when she shared it because she thought I might like more goat cheese. Because everything needs more goat cheese.

I had some Parmesan in the fridge, already grated, so I added a healthy flurry of that to the dish. Because everything needs more Parmesan.

I can report that it's very tasty. It works very well for maw-cramming.

And best of all, it's vegetables! Look, there's spinach in it, too! Granted, it's vegetables with bacon and two kinds of cheese, but it's vegetables!

Mom and I decided that some mushrooms would be a fine addition. I'd brown them in a bit of butter first, then add them. And some toasted pine nuts might be nice.

And some extra spinach would be good, too, to make me feel more virtuous.



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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