Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Move To The Music ...

For those of you who don't already know, I do not like to clean.

Which isn't to say that my house is a sty. My house always looks pretty well put together, but when it comes to weekly dusting and vacuuming and such? Meh. I live alone. Who really cares? I don't. And I'm the only one here.

Every so often, I get on cleaning jags. I find them very distressing and I am grateful when they abate.

But for all those other moments when I need a little nudge, or, let's be honest, a very large shove toward getting going, music always helps.

And so my iTunes contains several "Housecleaning" playlists, though I suppose I could combine them all into one. But 20 songs or so time out to about as long as I will realistically be cleaning anything, so I've kept them discreet.

The other day, I fired up my latest list and thought, "Wow, this is a good compilation!" And so, in the spirit of motivation, I'm sharing it with you. Whether you need to clean the house or sort through files or whatever chores you find laborious, may these artists help the time move more swiftly. (Note: I recommend listening to them in order, both for flow from one song to the next, as well as for variations in tempo.)

1. Say Hey (I Love You) [feat. Cherine Anderson] – Michael Franti & Spearhead

2. Why I Am – Dave Matthews Band

3. Day Tripper – The Beatles

4. I Found You – Brian Ray

5. Dying Day – Brandi Carlile

6. Trying To Pull Myself Away – Glen Hansard

7. Who Loves You – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

8. Running On Empty – Jackson Browne

9. Shake It Up – The Cars

10. Funnyman – KT Tunstall

11. Lost! – Coldplay

12. Sing The Changes – The Fireman

13. Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand

14. Let's Groove – Earth Wind & Fire

15. Energy Spent – Liam Finn

16. Fallen – Vib Gyor

17. Fireflies – Owl City

18. Love Me Like You – The Magic Numbers

19. Santo Domingo – Rodrigo y Gabriela

Monday, June 28, 2010

Journalism: The Homogenization And Dumbing Down Of America ...

I'm sorry, what year is this?

Isn't it feeling an awful lot like "1984"?

I debated whether to write a post about Dave Weigel and his very bad day at the Washington Post. I tweeted about it, at length, because I had far too much to say than would fit in 140 characters.

And then, this morning, I read this post, which says a lot of what I want to say, so I thought I might just let Scott speak for me.

But that's the problem, isn't it?

Too many people have disengaged from discourse. Too many people are too weary or lazy or intimidated or scared to speak for themselves.

And look where it's getting us.

Saturday, my friend Marce stopped by. We met, many, many years ago, at the Chicago Tribune. And we hadn't seen each other in several years. But back in January, I was thinning my book collection and offered the orphans to good homes, and Marce was interested in several, so on Saturday, at long last, he swung by to pick them up.

The conversation never lagged. We talked for seven hours but we probably could have logged seven more.

And not everything we talked about had to do with the news business, but a lot of it did.

I used to refer to the Tribune as "the Hotel California of journalism."

I did manage to leave, but I never really checked out of the news business. No one does. Once it's in your blood, it stays. You continue to care. You stay on top of goings-on. You never cancel your subscription to Romenesko.

Given that I continue to look at the world at least partially through a journalistic lens, I don't have a sense of how big the Dave Weigel story was outside of my sphere. A large portion of my Twitter feed comprises journalists and commentators and news feeds. (When we lost our World Cup match on Saturday, I found out about it on Twitter. I gave up checking Yahoo! News to see how long it would take for anyone there to post a banner.)

But I read the ombudsman's column in the Post and I scoffed. And then, as I mentioned, I tweeted. This is what I wrote:

RT @markos Dear Washington Post, Progressives are also done with your paper. http://is.gd/d49DK <- The linked piece contains one of ...

... the most stupid notions ever. Quoting Raju Narisetti, “But we’re living in an era when maybe we need to add a level” of inquiry ...

... he said. “It may be in our interests to ask potential reporters: 'In private... have you expressed any opinions that would make ...

... it difficult for you to do your job.' ” Um, that would bring the potential pool of candidates down to exactly ZERO.

Yes, journalists need to be objective in the reporting of news. But journalists are citizens first, journalists second. They have opinions.

Later, I tweeted this:

This made me both sigh for the sentiment and laugh for the presentation. / RT @cdashiell Katharine Graham, she dead. (Thanks, @pattidigh.)>

I love the succinctness. Katharine Graham, she dead indeed.

On Friday, the Washington Post became much less of a force of journalism, and now stands, in my opinion, as the latest example of the decline of the news business in America.

I don't receive a print edition of any newspaper anymore. Of the local offerings, I find nothing worth reading, including the Tribune, and while I still love the experience of reading a newspaper, I can't justify the cost, both economically and environmentally, of home delivery of the New York Times. I read it online. However, when the day comes that it starts charging for access – as all newspapers should do and should have been doing all along – I will pony up that fee.

This post could easily evolve into a screed about Fox News, but anyone who reads this blog knows by now how I feel about it. So I'll reiterate this one point alone: Fox News is not a news organization; it is a propaganda machine with no regard for the truth and devoid of ethics.

Fox News, therefore, is not a player in the news space, because it does not broadcast news. It broadcasts lies and distortions. It pains me that it has a right to do so, but such is the greatness of our country.

What pains me even more, though, is that there are so many people, legions of people, who heed the word of Fox, chapter and verse. They do not look to other news sources. Apparently, they do not want to know facts. They only want to see their views reflected back to them, day after day.

To paraphrase Alice, in Wonderland: Fringier and fringier.

I am heartened by the fact that Sarah Palin has so few Twitter followers relative to so many others. I just checked her Twitter page. She has 180,080 followers.

Britney Spears has, as of this moment, 5,233,256.

You see my point.

As much as I do not want Sarah to enjoy any sort of audience for her idiocy (even my Republican friends allow that the woman is dangerously stupid), I also find it fascinating and grim that so few people follow her and yet more than five million hang on Britney Spears' every character.

Titles like Time and Newsweek struggle to stay afloat while gossip rags go gangbusters.

Christ, even John McCain (or one of John McCain's people) posted a tweet recently to Snooki and invoked The Situation.

Really? My respect for McCain has dwindled over the years, but even so, a mashup of a United States Senator and the cast of "Jersey Shore" is one I do not want to see.

It really shouldn't be too much to expect that citizens of this country bother to know what is going on in the world. Those who think that the media is solely liberal now are mistaken. And there is still good journalism being done. The McChrystal/Rolling Stone spectacle last week proves that. Though, that story is much less about McChrystal's snark and much more about the hopeless situation in Afghanistan. But the snark was sexier.

The other night, as Marcel and I chatted about the news, I mentioned that I grew up watching Bill and Walter on Channel 2. If you're around my age or older and hail from this part of the world, you know exactly who I mean, no last names necessary. (For the rest of you: Kurtis and Jacobson, respectively.)

I grew up watching the news. I grew up reading the paper. I remember The Daily Calumet in the house, but I remember the Chicago Sun-Times more.

I remember reading Royko. I often didn't understand his columns. But I read them. Because everyone read Royko. Period.

Today, perhaps I'm a consumer of news because it was my livelihood for a number of years. But I like to think that even if it wasn't, I'd still want to know. I'd still have a curiosity about the world that didn't begin with Britney and end with Brangelina.

Times are changing at a whiplash-inducing pace. Fifteen years ago, while at the Tribune, I interviewed Bill Kurtis for a story and I remember us talking about the buzz that newspapers had become dinosaurs and would soon go away.

Bill didn't agree with that prophecy. "Why not?", I asked.

"Because you can't take your laptop on the El," he said.

This past December, I was in his office and I mentioned that conversation. And right on cue, he pulled his iPhone out of his pocket.

And scrolled through some of his apps, including the one from the AP.

On a device much smaller than a laptop.

Once a newsman, always a newsman.

But this country needs everyone to care, just like it needs everyone to vote. Society relies on engagement.

We don't have to agree, but we do have to give a damn.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Liberal, Bleeding-Heart, Tree-Hugging, 'Kumbaya'-Singing, Green Tea-Drinking, Socialist, Communist, Marxist, Fascist, Progressive Democrat ...

I'm sure I missed a few there. No doubt someone will set me straight in the comments.

But this morning, I read a story about the "as-is" $75 million mansion in Orlando, and I just gotta say, "Really?"

The lede grafs:

"Listed as a 'monument to unparalleled success,' the largest home for sale in the United States comes with plenty of space but no carpet, tiles or interior walls. It's up to the future buyer to finish it.

The mansion started by timeshare tycoon David Siegel boasts plenty of big numbers: 90,000 square feet. Twenty-three bathrooms. Thirteen bedrooms. Ten kitchens. A 20-car garage, with additional space for two limos. Three pools. A bowling alley. Indoor roller rink. Two-story movie theater. Video arcade. Fitness center. Baseball field and two tennis courts."

Ten kitchens? Really? Ten kitchens?

Twenty-three bathrooms? Really? Twenty-three bathrooms?

This isn't about everyone having exactly as much as everyone else. But really? Someone can justify building a home that contains 23 bathrooms? That doesn't strike them as maybe just a smidgen excessive?

Or a master suite that covers as much square footage as most homes?

I don't even know how big my bedroom is, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's 11' x 12'. You know what I do in there? I sleep. In my bed. Which doesn't take up a whole lot of space to begin with. Why would I need the entire footprint of my house to be my bedroom?

I'm a giver by nature. I get that from my mother. I like giving to people. It makes me happy. I like that something as simple as a loaf of bread or a plateful of cookies can transform someone's day. I like offering to help, because often, people are reluctant to ask. And when they do ask, I do my best to find the time. (That's not an issue these days. Time, I have.)

And I do it with no expectations. It's not tit for tat. Though in the spirit of "You get what you give," those who give of themselves usually receive even more in return. I'm not keeping score, but I'm confident that if I ever need to put out a call for help, those I've helped would be there to help me.

I'm not saying that people who live in homes with 23 bathrooms aren't kind people. I hope they are. But such excess strikes me as emblematic of a devolution of humanity.

The man building this home said that he figured his family would never have to leave, because they'd have everything they'd want and need.

Isn't that sad?

What about community? What about interacting with other people? What about being a citizen of, if not the world, the city or town in which you live?

We're already divided politically to a point that scares the hell out of me. The next step is to build self-contained worlds?

And yes, there's an element of philanthropy to all of this, too. There's the question of how much any one person (or family) needs.

The price tag to buy the finished version of the Orlando mansion? $100 million.

Oprah's Mendocino mansion cost only $50 million. She seems pretty happy when she's there. Apparently, $50 million can buy a lot of comfort.

Think of what good could come of $50 million if the Orlando folks could find a way to be satisfied with a $50 million home instead of a $100 million home.

Of course, people are entitled to spend the money they earn, but how much is enough? Is there ever enough? We can't spend our way to fulfillment. Happiness isn't found behind the wheel of a $500,000 car.

Orson Welles knew all this in 1941. All the wealth in the world didn't do much for Charles Foster Kane.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The 3-Day: Funding A Cure ...

Funding a cure is the means to finding a cure.

The Chicago 2010 Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure is a mere six weeks away. Hard to believe it's almost here. When I sign up every January, August seems so far away, yet it always arrives so quickly.

This year's event will be my 7th. And I need your help to raise the money it takes to participate.

To those who have already contributed so generously, my thanks.

To those who have been meaning to contribute, now would be a great time to cross that item off your to-do list!

To those who didn't even know that the 3-Day is part of my life, now that you do, I hope that you'll contribute what you can to this extraordinarily worthwhile cause.

Here's the link to contribute online or to print out a mail-in form.

My love and thanks, as ever.

Think cool thoughts for me!

Fear Of Change ...

This makes me laugh.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fear Of Tolerance, Tolerance Of Fear ...

I wrote this in April, back in the midst of the flurry of headlines about Constance and her prom. I didn't post it then. It didn't feel "finished." But I held onto it as a draft.

I just read a piece about the GOP in Texas and its 2010 party platform which is, as it pertains to gay rights, despicable. And so now seemed like the right time to publish this post. On this topic, I suppose I'll never be finished writing anyway. Though would that there were no need.

I don't like the word "tolerance."

"Tolerance" is a begrudging acceptance, a "we don't really like it, but we'll put up with it" mentality.

But at the moment, even though I'd prefer "acceptance," I'd take "tolerance."

Only at the moment, "tolerance" isn't available for the taking.

You should be familiar with the name Constance McMillen. She's the gay teen in Mississippi, who wanted only to be granted permission to go to prom with her girlfriend.

The high school she attends, in all its blatant bigotry, has a rule on the books that only opposite-sex couples can attend prom.

So Constance asked for permission.

She was denied.

The world took notice. The reaction was swift and severe.

So the school canceled the prom.

The ACLU had a problem with that. And a judge ruled the the school had no grounds to deny Constance the opportunity to go to her prom.

But given that the prom had been canceled, a private prom was created so students could enjoy this time-honored rite of passage.

Only, there wasn't just one private prom.

There were two private proms.

Most of the kids went to the "real" private prom.

Constance and her girlfriend and a few other students, some with disabilities, went to the other private prom, what they thought was the real private prom.

Total number of students in attendance, including Constance and her girlfriend? Seven.

Constance, grounded girl that she is, told The Advocate that she was glad that the students with the disabilities were able to enjoy their prom without anyone making fun of them, but that her feelings were hurt that there were two proms and she wasn't invited to the one that was intended for everyone.

Well, everyone but her and her girlfriend and a handful of other students who were shunned.

And so the spotlight shines even more brightly on this school and community and residents who will go to drastic lengths to be very, very cruel.

All of which leaves me asking: Why?

Constance loves a girl.

Why are people so threatened by that? Who made them the arbiters of the way things "should be"? What if Constance was their daughter? Would they want their child to be treated with such cruelty?

I wrote this post about gay marriage nearly five years ago. I'm still waiting for someone to tell me how allowing gay people to get married weakens the institution of marriage.

That's the prevailing – and stupid – argument. It's delightfully vague, don't you agree? It spares opponents from having to say, outright, "We don't like gay people."

But that's the reason.

Which leads me, again, to: Why?

There are two realities in the world: Love and Fear.

Everything that isn't love is fear. Period. It's that simple.

Why choose fear?

Why are so many people so preoccupied with who someone chooses to love?

It doesn't affect them. They might think it affects them, but it doesn't.

So what's the problem?

What's so difficult about accepting people for who they are?

They may not be exactly like you. So what? How does that change your life in any way?

I have many friends who are gay. Not "gay friends." Their being gay does not define them. They are my friends. The fact that they are gay is incidental.

Their lives are not radical. They have jobs. They pay taxes. They get up in the morning and put on coffee and have some breakfast and start their days. Some have children to get off to school.

Some days, they have car trouble. Or they get stuck in traffic.

Some days, they have to deal with a pissy co-worker or an angry client.

Some days, they go out for dinner after work. Some days, they cook at home.

Some days, they go to a movie. Some days, they spend too much time online.

Yes, they're just like their straight counterparts.

Because we're all human.

Why is it so difficult for some people to treat others that way?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ooh, You Know What'd Be Good? ...

Don't you hate it when you're hungry and you have no idea what you'd like?

That happens to me. A lot.

Which is weird. Because I really like food. You'd think it wouldn't be so hard for me to muster up an idea or 20, but some days, when mealtime rolls around, I got bupkus.

But then, out of the blue, I'll think to myself, "Ooh, you know what'd be good?"

And in this era of sharing even the most banal thoughts, I've been posting those revelations on Twitter and Facebook.

A few friends, bless their hearts, have let me know how much they like my "Ooh, you know what'd be good?" posts, so yesterday I thought, "I should start a blog."

So I did. You can find it here.

So far, my Facebook and Twitter entries have been very brief, like, "Ooh? You know what'd be good? Sangria."

But on the "Ooh!" blog, I'll expand each entry to include a recipe for whatever it is I'm craving.

Assuming a recipe applies.

The other night, I wanted ice-cold red grapefruit.

You can figure out how to prepare that one on your own.

Friday, June 18, 2010

In Vino Veritas, The Verse ...

Marcia started it, posting a wine haiku.

Which prompted me to uncork a bottle of cabernet, decidedly not a wine of summer, but the thought of the taste that appealed to me.

I poured a glass, slipped Miles Davis into the changer, and tried my hand at five / seven / five.

A few:

Swirling 'round the glass
Glinting ruby redness calls
Beckoning my lips

Forlorn saxophone
Brushes laze across worn skins
'Blue In Green' and red

To us, this moment
Slender stem, whisper-thin rim
One fine sustained note

Intense, the taste of
Ancient vines and memories
The last glass we shared

Deeply, I inhale
The earthy aroma of
Wine and sun-warmed skin

How it weakens me
Your touch, feather-like traces
The last sip awaits

The 3-Day: Something To Consider ...

Note: I'm not putting the Ambassador badge on this. This is a personal 3-Day post, one walker to another.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, namely, the gym to which I once belonged, back in the days when I taxed my muscles on a regular basis, much to their chagrin, I came to be a fan of what one of my brothers affectionately calls "the magic pills."

The magic pills, you say? Whatever might those be?

The magic pills are these.

They're amino-acid capsules. Amino acids, if you're not remembering biology class at the moment, are the building blocks of protein. Or, put in reverse, the result of protein that has been synthesized by your body.

And how is this relevant to the 3-Day, you ask?

The reason these pills are "magic" is because they greatly reduce muscle soreness by, if I understand this right, making the full complement of amino acids readily available to muscles for repair.

Now, let me insert a bit of disclaimer:

I am not in any way recommending that you take these supplements either while participating on the 3-Day or as part of your daily diet. I am making you aware of their existence. You should talk to your health-care provider and/or pharmacist if you are interested in adding them to your dietary and/or workout regimens to ensure that they are appropriate for your circumstances.


I have yet to meet the person who completes a 3-Day without any muscle soreness. You're likely to see an awful lot of walkers moving rather gingerly through camp, especially after dinner on Day 1, once everyone's come to a rest after a day full of walking. While in camp, it is a very good idea to stretch. There will be areas set aside for just that purpose.

The amino capsules have proven very helpful to me on past walks. I take a couple here and there throughout the course of the day at pit stops, and then take a few more with dinner each night.

I'm still a bit sore, but manageably sore, not "Oh my God, I can't believe I have to move" sore.

I buy them at a nutrition joint that sells supplements, but you can find them online, too.

Again, I'm not telling you to use them. I'm telling you that they exist. You need to evaluate for yourself if they're appropriate. Given that they're simply the building blocks of protein, I can't imagine why anyone would have an issue with taking them, but everybody is responsible for what they ingest.

Food for thought, as it were.

Hope everyone's training is going well. It's hard to believe the season is almost here.

Mum ...

I won't be writing anything about the Joe Barton insanity from yesterday.

Except to say that BP is a global entity, not some kid getting sand kicked in his face. It could have said, "Screw you, we'll settle this in court."

So, a shakedown? Give me a break.

The company's name is literally soiled. It knows it screwed up on an epic level.

Agreeing to an escrow fund is the smartest thing it has done so far. Beats the hell out of lying about the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf or spending millions on advertising trying to buff up its image. Turns out, it's hard to shine anything with an oily rag.

It's funny that the GOP was screaming that Obama wasn't doing anything, so he did something, and then the GOP screamed about what he just did. Because it was a smart thing to do and he got it done in a single day, without the Republicans having a chance to step in and bog it down or kill it in its tracks.

We can't have that now, can we? We can't have constituencies in southern states thinking Obama might be a good guy for securing money that might see them through the next couple of decades while the region tries to recover.

But really, GOP? You apologized to BP?

Hmm. That'll play well in the fall. Why, ads for Democratic candidates will practically write themselves.

Keep up the good work! You're doin' a heckuva job.

Huh. I guess I'm not being entirely mum on the subject after all.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Design Startling ...

I missed the real-time premiere of "Design Star" on Sunday, but luckily, I have a DVR. So last night, I watched the first installment of the new season.

I'm not a die-hard fan. I didn't watch the first season, when David Bromstad won. I watched the second season, when Kim Myles won, but my viewing was less about interest in the show personally and more about the fact that I was being paid to write a blog about it professionally. I didn't watch the third season, when Jen Bertrand won. I watched the fourth season, when Antonio Ballatore won, which, frankly, I thought was an odd choice at the time, but I've since watched "The Antonio Treatment" and I have to hand it to him, the man has vision. Besides, Dan Vickery's designs were too "normal," and really, how many shows can you have that end with reveals that look like the rooms designed on most of the other shows? So, good on Antonio.

And here we are in the fifth season. Clive, the congenial, accented host of seasons past, is gone. Where did he go? I liked Clive. He was a good buffer between the contestants and the judges.

Now, the contestants and the judges interact directly, and ooh, ouch, I don't like it.

Granted, I'm not a big fan of confrontation, and I realize that conflict is a necessary component of drama, and the producers are striving for drama, but at the end of the day, we're talking about design, people. We're talking about creating aesthetically pleasing spaces.

Twitterpal Angelo has said many times that he believes there is great power in design, and I agree. The spaces in which we live can greatly affect how we think and feel. Which is no small thing.

But designing a space should encompass the emotions on the light end of the spectrum. Design should be fun. Or playful. Or artful. Or inspiring. Or intriguing. Or soothing. Or comforting.

What I saw last night wasn't fun. What I saw last night made me uncomfortable. What's with the tone of the judges? It came off as very parental, very "I'm so disappointed in you," as Vern told the remaining five contestants from the bottom six (after one had been sent packing) that he didn't want to see them there next week, and they slunk out of the studio like newly scolded children.

And what's with discussing the fate of the bottom two contestants in front of everyone?! That's just cruel, that "You just stand there and squirm while we huddle together and hash out which one of you sucks more than the other" approach.

There's a lot that I like about HGTV, though if I ran the network, I'd program about 75 percent fewer hours of "House Hunters" and "House Hunters International." Or, at the very least, I'd insist on less fault-finding with the spaces, because these homebuyers come off as ridiculous much of the time. "Oh, I don't like the color of this room," they say, as viewers at home roll their eyes, as if painting a room would be the most arduous home-improvement task in the history of home improvement. Or, "I don't really like the knobs on these cabinets." Because, as we all know, you need a specialized degree that requires years of apprenticeship to switch out hardware. Who has the time?

And so far, I'm not wild about Bromstad's reimagined "Color Splash." I suspect others feel the same way, as I recently saw him tweet about how great his new crew is and that we should give them a chance. I've watched two episodes. We'll see if I watch any more.

I miss Twitterpal Angelo Surmelis. I was consistently in love with the rooms he created on "Rate My Space." One room, in particular, had me yelling and pointing at my television it was so great. And reliably, I would watch the show and see elements intended for the room at hand, and think, "Oh, Angelo, really? That piece? In there?" And then I'd get to the reveal and marvel at how well it worked. He, too, has vision. Which is why he is a designer. And I am not.

But this new season of "Design Star"? Oof. I have an early sense of who I think should win, of who would make a good host. And I certainly have an early sense of who will go home sooner rather than later. And I'll tune in next week to see if the tone is still the same. (Even the cues in the first episode seemed overly sinister.)

Hopefully, they'll have lightened things up a bit. If not, I'll skip the interim and just tune in for the finale to see if my early choice for the winner was right. If what I'm seeing is the doing of Mark Burnett, let me say this: I don't watch "Survivor" and I don't watch "The Apprentice." On purpose. And if the Burnettification of "Design Star" is the new normal, I won't be watching it, either. Not anymore.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Recurring Dream ...

When I was younger, somewhere, say, around the age of 8, I used to have recurring dreams when I was sick.

Maybe I was younger than 8, even. The point is, I was young.

There were two dreams I'd have, but only when I had a fever. They were very brief, very stark, and very odd.

Last night, I was thinking about them, for whatever reason, and had a realization about one that sent a momentary shiver up my spine.

That dream always happened from my point of view. I was in a vast white room, so vast that I couldn't see the walls or the ceiling. And far off in the distance was a low white counter, for lack of a better word, about 16 inches high, that spanned the entire width of the room, which meant that I couldn't see either end of it. It appeared to go on forever.

And in my dream, I walked toward it, so my view was like a camera pushing in, and as I walked, people in form-fitting white, one-piece suits crossed my path, some walking in one direction, some walking in the other, but always timed so that we never walked into each other. I just moved through them, toward the counter.

The people, though, had no faces. Just flat whiteness where their faces would have been. Faceless, human forms. Beings, if you will.

Last night, I thought to myself, "Was that supposed to be heaven?" (As a child, I believed in the specific concept of heaven.)

And in the dream, once I moved past the beings, and drew nearer to the counter, a large, black tractor tire appeared on it, on its side, not standing up. Rimless, just the tire itself. The blackest black against the whiteness of the space around me.

And I'd arrive at the counter, and then I'd wake up. Or move on to the next dream. But that was always the end.

I have no idea what it means.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Donna's Good Things ...

Donna danced.

Donna did many things, I'm sure. I didn't have the honor of knowing her while she was here. But I know she danced.

And wherever she is now, I've no doubt that she dances on.

But today, I spent the day at a school that was hosting recitals for the studio where Donna took her classes. I was there to help my friends Sheila and Jeremy collect contributions from attendees, contributions that will fund dance scholarships for children who want to dance but whose parents may not have the means to fulfill those dreams.

Sheila and Jeremy, two of the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege to know, established Donna's Good Things last year, after Donna died. (I wrote about Donna in this post.)

Donna's Good Things exists to not only fund the dance scholarships but also to provide DVD players for children undergoing treatment as well as other good things that have yet to be imagined.

So today, at the school, Sheila and Jeremy took the stage to tell the audiences about Donna's Good Things, and to ask them to contribute a dollar or five dollars or ten dollars or whatever they could afford to help them to continue to do good things in Donna's name.

Tonight, my account of faith in humanity is running a surplus.

Today, in a magical combination of dollars and cents, ranging from a $50 to a penny with a few checks in between, Sheila and Jeremy collected $1,362.53.

And with other monies collected in Donna's memory, this fall, at least 8 students will be able to stand where Donna once stood and learn to dance.

What a good day filled with good deeds in the name of good things.

My love to Sheila and Jeremy. You inspire me.

I am so honored to have spent the day with their family and friends. I did nothing more than smile and say "Thank you" to a near-endless stream of generous souls.

But in exchange, I feel an immense and lasting sense of gratitude. Much goodness shines in the world.

If you'd like to contribute:

Donna's Good Things
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Friday, June 11, 2010

Breathing. It's Just Too Much Trouble. Is There An Overpriced Gadget Manufactured in China That I Can Buy To Do It For Me? ...

Oh, how I wish I had taken note of what I was watching when I saw the commercial for the Handy Caddy.

Luckily, though, I tweeted the moment, lamenting, "Seriously, people, how lazy have we gotten as a society?" and cc:d Twitterpal Angelo, in case he'd like to feature the Handy Caddy in his new segment, "Are You Kidding Me With This?" on The Daily Tip, which returns next week.

Angelo replied, "Yes. Craziness. Silly me for moving my countertop appliances with my hands."

To which I replied, "Right? Every morning, I pull out my coffee pot, set it up, and push it back. I've never thought, 'I need a gadget for this.' "

I love how the woman in the commercial struggles to move her coffee pot. Oh, the humanity! In addition to all the other hardships in the world – war, famine, global warming, poverty, hunger, oil spills – how can we be expected to endure the possibility that we might need to use two hands to move something on the counter?!

Why would we suffer such tribulation when we can spend money on a petroleum-based piece of plastic that's no doubt manufactured in China and shipped all the way to the United States – no worries about carbon emissions, folks! – so that we can plop our coffeemaker on it and save one calorie unit's worth of effort every day?

Just think of how much more we could accomplish if we had that extra bit of energy. Why, we could probably do any of the following – but don't go all crazy with exertion, now, just pick one:

- Sit upright
- Cough
- Inhale and exhale (<— BEST VALUE!)

Seriously, people? Or, as Angelo would say: Are you kidding me with this?!

Can this day be far behind?

I'm being silly, of course.

In our brave new world, Bart won't have to wash himself.

Special Bonus Content!

I don't believe I've ever amended a post with a friend's comment, but Rick's is just too clever, and I don't want folks to miss it if they don't click on the Comment link. So here we go. Well done, Rick!

I watched the Handy Caddy ad and was entertained by how easily this person was able to place her formerly almost-impossible-to-move coffee maker onto the caddy.

She must have been made stronger just knowing the caddy was on her side now.

I noticed that she was using the cordless coffee maker. No troublesome power cords for her!

She will probably demand the Wi-Fi enabled caddy which she can command to extend from her home office where she makes millions teaching people on the internet how to make millions. This will save her two seconds when she comes into the kitchen to make coffee. That translates into several hundred dollars in increased income. Cha-ching!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Madalyn, The Hot Dog Lady UPDATE ...

She's coming back!

The details of the story are still sketchy, but whatever feathers had gotten ruffled have been smoothed, Madalyn has a lifetime permit, and she'll be back before the end of the month!

This story thrills my heart. Nearly 5,000 people joined the Facebook group to support her. What a testament to never truly knowing how we touch each other's lives.

No matter what you do, do it well and honestly, and you'll make the world a better place.

I can't wait to see the blue and yellow umbrella again! I imagine there will be much cheering!

Methinks I Doth Protest Enough ...

The other day, one of my brothers – I have two – mentioned that he wants to start dating. I was talking to the brother who is single again, not the brother who is married. If my married brother proclaimed that he wanted to start dating, I reckon that that would be problematic. But I digress.

I told my brother that I have no interest in dating. Those days are behind me, as far as I'm concerned. See that pasture over there?

He seemed a bit surprised. Didn't I want to find someone?

Well, sure, I said. And if I happen to meet someone in the course of my day-to-day living, I'll be happy to have dinner with that person if that person asks.

But dating sites? God, no.

What I tried to convey in the car, in that conversation that day, is that the experience of dating is very different for women than it is for men.

Television has done us no favors, we women. There are too many sitcoms that feature an oafish, rotund man married to a smart, skinny wife. I wonder how many men see them and think they're entitled to the same. How man Jim Belushis out there think they're going to end up with a Courtney Thorne-Smith? How many Kevin Jameses think they should be with a Leah Remini?

And then yesterday, my e-pal Patti retweeted a link to a story that appeared in the U.K. about women and how they perceive their bodies.

And it was written by a man.

Here it is.

It's a good piece. It covers a fair amount of ground. But it's also written from the perspective of a man who's involved with a woman, who tries, however in vainly, to understand how women relate to their bodies.

I posted the link of Facebook and Twitter, commenting that I could probably add 1,000 words to his treatise, and then I thought to myself, "I probably already have."

Yep, I've written more than that on the topic.

I've written this post about body image and this post about body image, which was inspired by seeing a piece about a model who was once thin, but is now "curvy," but who, of course, is still thin by any rational standard.

And I wrote this post about whether I should settle. (The short version of that post: NO.) And I wrote this post after seeing the play "Fat Pig" in which a man leaves a woman because he can't deal with the fact that she's heavier than "normal," whatever that is these days.

My point being that the man who wrote the article for the Telegraph, bless his well-intentioned heart, will never be able to understand the complexities of what women go through, because so much of what we go through is caused by men who don't grasp how much damage they're causing every time they cast aside a woman because she's not thin enough or not beautiful enough.

Those actions might seem insignificant from the men's perspectives, but they are not glancing blows for most women. Most women end up on the mat after taking one of those hits. Yes, we get up eventually, but the effect is cumulative. The damage lasts.

I truly admire the women who keep putting themselves out there. I have no interest in doing so. It may seem pathetic to some, but I'd rather live my life as single than face the prospect of being written off, yet again, because I don't look like a potential trophy wife.

If the one "offense" of not being thin is enough to negate "smart," "funny," "kind," "talented," and every other good trait, I'm not interested in playing that dating game.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

People: They're called Rules of the Road not Vague Suggestions of the Road, So, Like, Maybe Follow Them, OK, Unless It'll Harsh Your Mellow

I went to the DMV to get my license on my 16th birthday.

Through the magic of birthday cut-offs and school calendars and all that educational hoo-ha, I started school when I was 4.

For the purposes of getting my license, though, the calendrical weirdness meant that while all of my friends turned 16 during their sophomore years or the summer before we became juniors, I was a few months into my junior year before I was able to get my license, so I didn't wait a day longer than I had to wait.

So, I've been driving now for nearly 25 years. I have a pretty good grasp on it. The pedal on the right makes the car go. The pedal on the left makes the car stop.

But for the life of me, I don't understand why people can't manage the non-complexity of an all-way stop.

People: If you stop first, you go first.

That's it. That's the whole rule. It doesn't matter if you're turning left. It doesn't matter if it's Tuesday. It doesn't matter if the sum of the numbers representing the month, day, and year on the Gregorian calendar add up to 3. It doesn't matter if your car is blue.

If you stop first, you go first.

In my world, this qualifies as "simple."

Why then, do people sit at stop signs looking at each other, blankly?

I'm forever waving people on, directing traffic from my driver's seat, as it were.

And directionals. How about using them? And using them the way they're intended to be used?

How about not just slowing down for no apparent reason and then turning, with no use of your directional?

Or how about not turning your directional on – this is a personal favorite – while you're in the process of turning?

You know what? I'm pretty smart. I can surmise that you're turning by watching your car change directions. At that point, I really don't need a flashing light to clue me in.

And speed limits. Now, I'll admit that I'm not always the strictest of observers. And some speed limits might seem unnecessarily slow, but who are these people who decide residential streets are de facto drag strips? And why is there never a cop nearby? Yet I once got pulled over for following too closely at a stoplight.


Yep, a cop pulled me over and swaggered up to my car in that coppy-swaggery way (Is there a class in swaggering at the academy?), asked to see my license and registration, and asked, in that superior tone of theirs, "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

"No, officer, I don't, actually."

"At that stoplight, you were following me too closely. You're supposed to stay two car lengths behind another vehicle."

At which point, I was thinking, "On the road, sure. But at a freakin' stoplight? Do you know how backed up traffic would be all over the planet if we all stayed two car lengths behind each other at stoplights?"

He stared at my license and registration for a long time – there are no secret codes embedded in them, Dr. Nash – and thrust them back at me in that coppy-thrusty way (another class as the academy, no doubt) and let me go.

Gee, thanks.

(I really appreciate cops, for the most part. They put their lives on the line every day and we don't pay them enough, I'm sure, but some cops in squad cars seem to be on real power trips. Surely, somewhere at 1 a.m., there's someone in a car, oh, driving drunk who they can be pulling over, and not bugging me for "following too closely" at a stoplight.)

Anyway, my point is that rules apply to everyone. Yes, you do have to stop for a stop sign even if there's no one else around. You know why? Because it says "Stop." And because there might be a person or a car that you're not seeing who's expecting you to stop. Because you have a stop sign.

And speaking of stopping, a flashing yellow light does not mean "Stop." That's a flashing red light.

To that person I once nearly rear-ended because they thought they were supposed to stop at a flashing yellow light, you might want to brush up on a few things before you get behind the wheel again.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Nuthin' ...

I logged in with the intention of writing, and whatever it was I intended to write has decided to vacate my brain.

I'll try this again tomorrow.

After sleep.

Which is just around to corner, despite my consuming both cola and chocolate this evening.

I suppose some days just take their toll, stimulants be damned.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Urged ...

It's weird, the urge to write. I don't know where it comes from so I can't conjure it on cue. I wish I could. I'd surely be more successful.

An accomplished writer, some might say. Some have. Well, one. One has.

Have I not told that story here? I tell stories on Twitter, and then I tell stories on Facebook, and then I neglect my baby here, my digital home for the past five-plus years, this place where I write serious things and frivolous things and everything in between.

Even poetry. (Poetry that may or may not be safe for work, depending. Or may or may not be offensive. It contains the F-word. I was angry.)

But tonight, on the couch, where I usually write in the mornings, I'm clacking away, having just read Stephen King's column in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, which I'd link to for you here, but I can't, because it's the June 4 issue, and it's June 2, so as a subscriber to the dead-tree version, I get to read Uncle Stevie a few days before those who insist on the electronic version. Enjoy your devices in the bathroom. Don't drop them in the tub.

Uncle Steve, swell guy that he is – no, really, I love Uncle Stevie – kicked off his column talking about those aptitude tests kids are given in high school to direct them toward possible careers. Personally, I don't remember taking one then – like it'd have made a difference? – but Uncle Stevie was told he should go into advertising, which made me smile, because my dear friend John used to tell me I should go into advertising, and I used to think about going into advertising, but I never did.

Life has worked out reasonably well for Stephen King, though, and while I don't fancy myself a fiction writer of his caliber, as there is no other writer of his caliber – there are good writers, sure, and there are writers who may enjoy success on par with King's, but let's face it: the man is in a class by himself – and because I don't write fiction, I do write this nonsense, and King's columns in EW are kind of like this. Chatty, that is. I'm sure I ramble more than he. But we have "chatty" in common.

Chatty is good.

Years ago, in college, for my Anthropology class, I wrote a paper that I titled, "Frank, The Real Big Gorilla."

It was about Frank, the real big gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo, who, sadly, is no longer with us. I just did a search of past posts and I am a bit gobsmacked that I've never written about Frank before, but suffice it to say that I wrote that paper in a chatty style, even while I expertly incorporated all the required information, and the teaching assistant for my section gave me an A, wrote on my paper, "Are you an English major?", and thanked me in class for making it fun to read.

It was a nice tribute to Frank. I'm glad I wrote it. I'll dig it out someday and key it in and share it with you.

Trust me, it's riveting.

In a chatty way.

Oh, Christ on toast, I just scrolled back to the top of this entry and realized that I was going to tell you the "accomplished writer" story. Some accomplished writer I am. See? I forgot the direction of the post.

Anyway, the "accomplished writer" story is this:

Many years ago, 25 to be exact, I first wandered into Dave Konkol's classroom. For class. His class. It was on my schedule. I hadn't just wandered in by mistake.

Dave, then, was just 35, which I know because today is his 60th birthday and I can subtract, and he was teaching, if memory serves, what must have been Junior Honors English.

Dave was a very good teacher, and it was my misfortune to have him only for the first semester that school year. Unfortunate because I'm sure I would have learned a lot from him in the second semester that year. I would have been guaranteed to learn more from him than the woman to whom I was sentenced, whose name I will not name because she has passed on and I don't like to speak ill of the dead.

But I think she was a little insane.


Anyway, I was lucky enough to have Dave for my entire senior year's English escapades, and even though he pissed me off with his enhanced grading scale – 93 for an A, yo* – he did his teacherly duty and surely prepared me for my first college English course which was taught by a woman who, thinking back, looked a lot like Roz from the movie 9 to 5.

The point is, Dave and I have stayed friends for all these years and this past Saturday, he delivered the commencement address.

And he shared the text of it with me that evening, via e-mail.

And in it, among several other students, he mentioned me.

Which made me cry.

He referred to me as "an accomplished writer."

Which, in some ways, I suppose I am. I've been published in some interesting places and I've been privileged to interview some interesting people. If "accomplished" is relative, and it is, I am an "accomplished" writer.

But it feels a lot like a label that I don't yet deserve, so I need to earn it.

Some days, I sit down to write and I feel a duty to express myself well here on a grave subject, even if I may as well be shouting into the wind.

And some days, I sit down to write and what falls out of my head is this. Nonsense, really. Not important in any important way. But it amuses me.

And hopefully, it amuses you, too.

But it really doesn't matter. I write for me. Because I want to or I need to. The fact that there are a few people out there who stop by to read it is nice. I'm happy to share. If the medium allowed it, we could chat instead over coffee and pie.

Maybe someday.

* = I am well aware that I am far too incapable of using the word "yo" in any kind of hip or credible way. But I write for cadence, and a "yo" fit there, so a "yo" I wrote, yo. See? I did it again. Though, I give you my solemn vow that the only "yo" I utter henceforth will be preceded by "fro."

Will You Meet Me In The Middle? ...

The title of this post popped into my head followed closely by the song which contains the same words as lyrics. Poetically, the song, "Sister Golden Hair," is from the band America.

What's happening to our country?

Last week, I published a post about a conversation that evolved on Facebook. A few people chimed in from both sides of the divide, but it dawned on me that we weren't having a conversation. We were refuting each other. Or we were defending our beliefs.

We were not, however, accomplishing anything worthwhile.

And that concerns me.

I understand that not everyone believes what I believe. Not everyone shares my liberal views. But as I wrote in one of my comments on that post:

We're both in our respective corners of the ring, so to speak, we come to the middle to duke it out, and then we return to our corners when the round is over.

And while we're in the ring, we're just trying to beat the hell out of each other.

Just like boxing, it's futile. Winning by beating the other person unconscious is no way to win.

I'm sure there's always been political animus. It just seems so overheated these days.

I'm not Bush-bashing here, but his rhetoric of "if you're not with us, you're with the terrorists" really seemed to widen the chasm in this country to a point that seems unbridgeable.

I truly, truly hope I'm wrong.

Then again, if the pendulum swings one way, it has to swing equally wide the opposite way, right?

(In the name of accuracy, Bush's exact quote was, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.")

But I don't really want the pendulum to swing entirely the other way. I'd like it to move slightly to the left and right of the middle. I don't expect us to come together as a nation and sing "Kumbaya" and hold hands and wear flowers in our hair. I think perspectives are good things. Looking at problems and situations from different angles enables us to consider all the possibilities and develop the best remedies and solutions.

In order for that to happen, though, we have to talk to each other. Really talk to each other. To each other. Not at each other.

Discourse in this country is no longer discourse. It's discord. And there's no end in sight.

I turned 40 last November. I'm trying to envision life in this country when I turn 50, less than a decade from now. What will life look like? What will politics look like? What will the middle class look like? Will there be a middle class?

What will education look like? Will parents still be able to afford to send their children to school? What if they can't afford to send all their children? How will they choose?

What will our infrastructure look like? Will we still be at war? Will we still be funneling unfathomable amounts of money to Iraq and Afghanistan to rebuild the cities we've destroyed while bridges in this country are deemed unsafe?

Will the Supreme Court have reversed its horrendous decision to allow corporations to spend limitless amounts of money on the campaigns of those who will do their bidding?

Are we headed for dystopia?

On the continuum of pessimism and optimism, I hover right around the middle. I believe that the universe is a benevolent place. I believe that most people are inherently good. Light conquers darkness. Kindness prevails.

But I also see a world that is becoming more divided, more selfish, more "I've got mine, screw the other guy."

And perhaps that's just a path humankind must travel, an extreme it must reach before it can right itself back toward the center. Life is nothing if not cyclical.

But this era of cynicism, of lying and distortions and petulance and greed, concerns me, gravely.

Because I feel powerless against what feels like an overwhelming tide.

But thankfully, gratefully, gradually, tides turn.