Monday, March 29, 2010

John, Again With The Food ...

As I've mentioned, every photo I have of John and I together is in – or in front of – a restaurant.

Can you guess where we were here? (You can click on the image to see a larger version. If, for some reason, you need to see a larger version.)

Neither of us realized that the man who took the photograph was making it a point to capture the entire awning. We didn't make it clear to him that we didn't care about the "Tavern on the Green" part. We cared about the "us" part. But this is how it turned out. And it makes me smile. I've never looked as diminutive at any other point in my life as I do here, thanks to the most enormous awning ever constructed.

I had never been to Tavern on the Green, and John was happy to take me there. The food was entirely forgettable (except for the exorbitant tab), but the company could not have been more ideal.

After lunch, we grabbed a cab and headed to Bloomingdales. I needed a scarf to wear under my coat for an event I was attending that evening. I held up two options. John chose.

Tonight, I tied it around one of the handles of my purse as I readied myself for his wake.

John and I usually met in the spring. This time, as you can see – or perhaps you can't – we met in the fall. And the scarf is fall itself: grey, crimson, the faded gold of leaves long past their showy prime.

Artful yet understated, very much like my friend.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yes We Can ...

My conservative friends have been conspicuously silent of late.

Perhaps they've just stopped speaking to me.

Or perhaps they recognize that what's transpired in the past week or so is, really, indefensible, so they're not going to even try.

This morning, I was thinking about Sister Sarah's taunt during her highly paid Tea Party appearance, her "How's that hopey-changey thing workin' out for ya?"

Pretty well, thanks. Pretty well.

Because politics is serious business but it's still a game. It's still about wins and losses, yeas and nays. And last week, without a single vote from Republicans, healthcare reform passed in this country.

It passed.

It passed after Democratic members of Congress walked through the Tea Party protest (of a few hundred people, I've heard; nice commitment you've got there, folks) and were spat on and screamed at, epithets that are now well-known and which I prefer not to repeat here.

It passed after an apoplectic John Boehner screamed, "Hell no you can't!"

And now, a week later, Sister Sarah is campaigning with John McCain (because, as Andy Borowitz so amusingly observed, that worked out so well the last time) and has announced that Republicans are the party of "Hell No!"

We knew that, of course. But thanks for the sound bite, Sarah.

A couple of years ago, McCain ran for president on the slogan, "Country First."

Last week, he promised no more cooperation for the rest of the year.

Well, that's OK, John. You haven't shown any cooperation to date. There's no need to start now. We wouldn't want you to ruin that perfect game you're pitching.

As Frank Rich wrote for this morning's New York Times, the hysteria that's developed isn't about healthcare at all.

No, it's about a world that's changing. It's about white men no longer holding all the cards. Yes, it is very much about having a black president, a female speaker of the House, a Latina on the Supreme Court, and an openly gay member of Congress.

The times, they have a-changed.

Of course, the old white guys haven't done such a bang-up job, have they? Well, no, let me rephrase that. The old white guys have done a bang-up job in terms of benefitting old white guys.

But that exclusive club, with all its well-worn leather and self-congratulation and smoke from cigars, just ain't what it used to be. No, women and minorities have had the audacity to rise through the ranks, to challenge the old-white-guy ethos, to, much to the old-white-guy chagrin, strive to form a more perfect union, a country in which we value others, in which equality is more than just a polite notion, in which people aren't valued solely by the cars they drive and the number of bathrooms in their ostentatious homes.

We have a president who wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, who didn't squander an Ivy League education, who – yes, it's true – cares about the welfare of this country, the whole country, not just the top five percent.

And so he went to Washington and extended his hand across the aisle and his effort was met with scorn.

Yet he continued to extend his hand, month after month, initiative after initiative, convinced that the other side would find their way to reason, would stop pouting and realize that this country is in dire straits and needs everyone to work together to right so many wrongs.

Mind you, the party of Hell No, which was then just the party of No, nearly won this round. Last August, healthcare very nearly came off the rails. "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" one person shouted, my favorite moment of it all.

So misinformed were they, so stricken with fear by the likes of Glenn and Rush and Sarah and Fox, that they ceased to understand what they were fighting for. They were fighting because they were told to fight, never mind reality, never mind the truth.

Yet, those who believed in healthcare reform soldiered on. There were no white flags waved, thank you very much.

And just when we thought it couldn't get any uglier, it got so much uglier. More lies, more distortions, more hysteria. Not only is Obama a Socialist Fascist Nazi, they cried, he may very well be the Antichrist!

Oh, the hypocrisy. The exquisite hypocrisy.

This morning, I read this lede in the New York Times.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When Tom Grimes lost his job as a financial consultant 15 months ago, he called his congressman, a Democrat, for help getting government health care.

Then he found a new full-time occupation: Tea Party activist.

In the last year, he has organized a local group and a statewide coalition, and even started a “bus czar” Web site to marshal protesters to Washington on short notice. This month, he mobilized 200 other Tea Party activists to go to the local office of the same congressman to protest what he sees as the government’s takeover of health care.


And now the Republicans are pledging to repeal this landmark legislation, the culmination of more than 100 years of effort that began with Teddy Roosevelt. (Psst! In case you've forgotten, he was a Republican.)

We gesture widely to you. Go right ahead.

Come November, when some of the practical applications of this legislation are already in place, you go right ahead, ladies and sirs, and campaign on taking those benefits away from your constituents. That mother who was finally able to buy coverage for her child with a pre-existing condition? I'm sure she'll be more than willing to give that up. I'm sure skewed ideology will be enough to keep her child out of the hospital again.

From what I've been able to understand in this Yes We Can/Hell No You Can't climate, Republicans are opposed to healthcare reform for fiscal reasons. Never mind that the report from the Congressional Budget Office reveals that this program will lower the deficit over 10 years by more than $1 trillion.

No, it's irresponsible of us to spend this money at a time when we don't have the money to spend! How dare we?!

Except, they don't mention that they had no problem with funding two wars that added to the deficit, that they had no problem with pushing through Bush's tax cuts that added to the deficit, that they had no problem, while they were in power, with granting enormous no-bid contracts to their cronies that added to the deficit.

Nope, all of that was just fine.

Except, of course, that it wasn't. It isn't. It's not.

Or maybe it's about government interference, that no one should be forced to buy health insurance. A show of hands, please, of those who stopped driving to protest government-mandated auto insurance?

Republicans say that they care about healthcare reform. But when they were in power, when they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, they didn't do a damn thing about it. They derailed healthcare reform under Bill Clinton and then just left it in the dirt. They didn't pick it up and dust it off and try to make it better.

So excuse us for not believing that you ever cared at all.

But now you're not in power. And now this horrible thing has gotten done. Never mind that if it didn't get done, it was going to bankrupt the country.

It's not a perfect bill. Though, as many have noted, it tracks very closely to the plan Mitt Romney implemented in Massachusetts. You remember Mitt, right? That Republican who thought he'd be his party's presidential nominee?

No, it's not a perfect bill. Democrats gave up single-payer, Democrats gave up the public option, both in the name of placating Republicans. Well, that didn't work out, now, did it?

But we had to start somewhere.

So we did.

And you, dear Republicans, have backed yourselves into a very tight political corner. "Hell No!"? Really?

OK, have it your way. Run on that. See how your temper-tantrum tactics play in November.

You tried. You tried to lie and distort into getting your way.

It didn't work. It won't work.

Because we're smarter than you give us credit for. The hopey-changey thing prevails.

And to your obstructions we say, "Hell no you can't!"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

John's Voice ...

John had an amazing voice, rich and expressive. Soothing.

I am so glad to have this, his reading of the last chapter of Davis Grubb's The Night of the Hunter.


(It is a large file as mp3s go, nearly 20 minutes long. If it appears to be taking a while to load, that's why.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

John ...

Oh, how I love this man.

We met on the phone. I interviewed him for a story for the Chicago Tribune, a piece about men, and open-heart surgery, and depression.

John was the least-depressed person I could have talked to for that piece.

He loved life. He loved bacon. He loved to tell stories. And he loved to lend a hand.

I sent out a note, two weeks back, asking friends and family for their help in my search for a job.

John replied, "Just out of hospital but will get on this right away."

I shook my head and typed back, "No, no, no, wait a second there, mister! What's up with you being in the hospital?!"

His heart. His larger-than-life, filled-to-overflowing heart was ailing. It had been ailing, a condition he'd known about since he was a young man.

And tonight, he passed away.

That first day, on the phone, we talked for the story for 45 minutes. And then we talked for 45 minutes more.

He was fascinating, bursting with stories of New York and Hollywood. He lived the life of "Mad Men." For a time.

But he was so much more.

A veteran of World War II. An artist. A husband. A father. Very nearly my father, and very much my friend.

We always met in the same spot in Rockefeller Center. John loved New York. And from there, we would walk, slowly, toward food.

Always food. John loved food. I do not have many photographs of us, but all of them are in, or in front of, restaurants.

Like this one, taken in the Oyster Bar in Grand Central the last time we were together in New York. I was there with my parents. I am so glad they had the chance to know him, too.



There is so, so, so much more to say. But those words will have to wait for another time.

Tonight, I extend my love to all who love him, who had the good fortune to be touched, however briefly but forever, by a gentle force of nature.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Waking Up To Reform ...

I fell asleep on the couch.

It was a full weekend, social, emotional.

So I fell asleep. And I woke up to "Life" on the Discovery Channel.

And to a bevy of e-mail alerts about the passage of healthcare reform.

Now, as Nancy Pelosi has said, what passed today is really health-insurance reform.

We still have a long way to go, but we had to start somewhere, and tonight, we got off the blocks.

David Frum wrote an amazing piece from the conservative perspective.

A passage from his post:

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.


After a year of faux hysteria and true lies, it is a relief that the Right was proven wrong. "No" was not enough.

This weekend, though, was beyond the pale.

The Tea Party shrill descended on Washington once again, in what I sincerely hope were its death throes. Momentum had shifted away from their summertime histrionics. What had once looked like certain defeat had been bafflingly resurrected. And so, faced with that defeat, backed into a corner, all chips in with nothing to lose, they showed their collective hand, bared their true selves. And proved what many had suspected all along.

Inhuman. Racist. Bigots.

Berating a man with Parkinson's? Screaming epithets at members of Congress? Spitting?

Disgusting. Truly. Sickening.

It is my sincere hope that most of America saw what unfolded over these past few days and said to themselves, "Those people do not speak for me."

To those who oppose healthcare reform, by all means, don't avail yourself of the changes. Pay higher premiums. And pay those premiums year after year yet continue to risk denial of coverage when you need care. That's your right.

But now, those who are ill and most in need of insurance will not be denied because they may be a drain on profits.

Is this bill perfect? No, it is far from perfect. But it is a cornerstone, a place from which to build, the first brick, a stake in the ground. The New York Times provides an overview of the changes and what they mean.

Tonight, America declared that life is more important than the bottom line.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Good Reasons ...

I'm scared.

Not fear-for-my-life scared or holy-crap-that's-a-giant-spider scared, but "What if this actually pans out?" scared.

Maybe most people aren't like me. Or maybe I have plenty of company on this front, but in my mind, there's a pretty big gulf between thinking about success/wishing for success/wanting success and success itself.

One is hypothetical, one is concrete. Careful what you wish for, indeed.

There's a company in New York that's developing a show about amateur bakers. That'd be me. The only thing preventing me from going pro is that I'd like to be able to bake in the Olympics someday. Oh, wait, no, the Olympics are open to pros now.

So the only thing from preventing me from baking in the Olympics is the fact that there is no baking event in the Olympics. Which is kind of a shame, really, because what would be more charming during the Winter Olympics than an event that produced the best cookies to enjoy with a cup of cocoa?

But a television show featuring amateur bakers would be cool. And my cousin Patty sent the link to the site to me which contained information about the show and how to apply.

So I applied. And someone from the show was in touch to thank me for my materials and to inform me that they'd be in touch if they wanted any further information. Don't call us, we'll call you, so to speak.

And then earlier this week, I received an e-mail that began:

CONGRATULATIONS!

And informed me that I'd been selected for the next round, as it were, and that now they wanted to see a video of me in action. No firm deadline, they said, but they'd like to see something in the next two to three weeks.

Cool, I thought. I can make something happen in two to three weeks.

And then, the next morning, I received a follow-on e-mail letting me know that there had been a change to the schedule and that they now needed something by next week. Wednesday. Or, put another way, in eight days.

Hmm. Well, now. Perhaps there's increased interest in the show. Or perhaps they want to see if we can kick things into gear and roll with the changes.

Either way, I now have to get a video shot and edited and into their hands by Wednesday.

For those playing along at home, today is Friday.

The good news is that I have a plan. Several plans have combined into one plan and I should meet the deadline.

And the further good news is that it would be really cool to be a part of this show. In my application, I mentioned that Bill Kurtis loves my oatmeal-raisin cookies and that perhaps he could do a cameo on my episode. Fun, right? I haven't asked him yet, but he'd probably do it. He's game for pretty much anything (his AT&T commercials are testament to that) and he's a friend and, most importantly, he'd get oatmeal-raisin cookies out of the deal.

And the potentially even further good news is that this could lead to something else, right? Rachael Ray has to run out of hours in the day sometime, eh?

And this is precisely the point in this whole scenario in which I stop and say, "Eeeeek!"

Something new! Eeek!

Something different! Eeek!

Something which could lead to people referring to me as "the talent"! Eeeeeeek!

All good "Eeeks!", mind you.

One of the quotes on my office wall is: "Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown." Claude Bernard said that. And he was right.

Still. Eek!

My pal Dave pointed out that I used to be scared to sing and that I overcame that. I laughed and said, "Yeah, for one person. I only sing for Brian." But that's not entirely true. I've performed in front of groups. In a cabaret. And I lived to tell about it.

And everyone has to start somewhere, right?

My Twitterpal Angelo wrote, "You'll be great. Be original. It will always be successful if you are ... ."

Original, indeed. I can't think of anyone to model myself on anyway, so being original is the plan.

Maybe this will be the start of something greater. Maybe this will just be what it is. I can't know.

But what I can know – what I do know – is that I'd regret not trying. And that while I should be and am the first person for whom I pursue this, there are others in my life who provide reasons. My friend John loves it when I write or talk about food. I know he would be delighted if I was able to turn my love of baking and food in general into something more. So I'm pursuing this for him, too.

And for my friends who have been such excellent cheerleaders through the years, no fewer than three of whom will have their hands in helping me with this video project: Dave, who is providing his HD camera and editing advice; Jay, who is donning his videographer hat for a day; and Doreen, who is providing the location.

And for my family who are loving and supporting no matter what I choose to do. If it weren't for Patty, I wouldn't even know about this.

And for L.A. Dave, who would be plotzing at the notion of me baking on TV.

When I lost my full-time job, I decided that I would follow whatever paths appeared in front of me.

This path is particularly intriguing.

I'll let you know where it leads.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mac Power! ...

Earlier today, my pal Dave and I were discussing the superiority of Macs versus PCs. I told him PCs are like the Fisher-Price cameras we had when we were kids versus Macs being like HD video cameras.

He said, "That'd make a good poster!"

And you know, he was right.

So I made one.

Not A Saint ...

Years ago, many years ago, many, many years ago, I traveled to Sag Harbor, N.Y., for an interview with Joe Pintauro.

Joe is a playwright, but for the purposes of this story, the germane detail is that Joe was friends with Nelson Algren.

I was in Sag Harbor, really, to visit Nelson's grave. I was writing a paper about him for a college class, and wanted to open the paper with some exposition about the grave site, the look of the headstone (very simple), whether or not there was shade (there was), but my parents had balked at me going out to New York on my own to visit the grave of a man I never knew. And I couldn't have rented a car, anyway. I was 19.

So my father went with me, and while the alpha interview was with Kurt Vonnegut, alpha only by virtue of the fact that the name Kurt Vonnegut rings more bells than Joe Pintauro, Nelson had lived in one of Joe's houses, so I wanted to talk to Joe, too. (There's a sweet photo of Nelson and Joe at the top of this page.)

He was a perfectly lovely host. At one point during our conversation, he got up from his chair on the screen porch on which we were sitting, disappeared into the house for a few moments, returned with a cassette tape and a cassette-tape player, set it on the table in front of me, inserted the tape, closed the door, and pressed Play.

And for the first time, I heard Nelson's voice. Which was different than I expected it to be, not nearly as deep or weary, but which overwhelmed me just the same.

Joe regarded me as I regarded the machine, rapt.

"Nelson instantly decided whether people were bitches or saints," he said. "He would have liked you."

With that, my eyes began to well, and so I looked up, hoping gravity would spare my eyes from spilling over. "Your parrot matches your ceiling," I said, making very little sense, saved only by the fact that he had a stuffed parrot hanging in the corner and it did, in fact, match the seafoam-green color that he had painted the ceiling of the porch.

I put that detail into my paper, but I had since forgotten about that exchange until a few days ago.

Of course, I am far from a saint. But it set me to thinking about the relationships in my life, of which there are many, and which span the spectrum from acquaintance to confidant.

According to both the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and my own assessment, I am very much an introverted person. I like one-on-one interaction with people. Groups do not thrill me. I do not like wandering into a party. I can make small talk, but I'd rather not.

And yet, when the opportunities arise for those one-on-one interactions, I forge very strong bonds very quickly.

My college friend Brian asked not too long ago, "What is it about you? You meet these people and become friends with them." He was referring to the few "famous" people I know, but the question applies to everyone I meet.

A few years ago, on a consulting project in Denver, I met George and his son Brian. The company for which I was working had partnered with their company, and we met in suburban Denver for meetings with the client. We all checked into the hotel at separate times then convened in the lobby to go to dinner.

And from the moment I laid eyes on George, I knew we would be friends. Brian and I got along just fine, too, but there was something about George that resonated with me.

Last week, an e-mail arrived from him. He was stuck in an airport on a layover. He was writing to find out how the interview went with Melissa. He had been very helpful in pointing me toward the right gear to record the interview, and I had written to tell him that it all worked like a charm, but I hadn't given him any details beyond that. So he was writing to find out more.

I replied, telling him how much I adore her, how she very kindly invited me to meet her backstage when she's in Chicago on tour, that we really seemed to hit it off.

In his next note, he wrote, "I'm not surprised."

To answer Brian's query, "What is it about you?", I said, "I don't know. I just sort of presume a level of familiarity with people and many of them respond."

Truly, I have no idea why so many of my relationships stick. I surely have my share of those that don't. Really don't. I mean, really, really don't. Sometimes, I'm really wrong about people. Misjudge them completely. Give them far more credit than they deserve.

But for those relationships that do – stick, that is – I am glad. They enrich my life in innumerable ways.

As for why they stick, I remain stumped.

Though whatever it is I do, unwittingly, I wish I could make it a career.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Five Years ...

On this date, five years ago (it was a Sunday, for those who were wondering), I wrote my first blog post. This was it:

One Voice Among Millions ...
Jeff Phillips (www.postnuclearart.com -- brilliant photography, check it out) is the reason I am here. I've batted around the idea of a blog for a couple of years, but never got off my ass (or, as I am sitting at my desk typing this, gotten *on* my ass) to do anything about it. Until this very moment. But I believe that everything happens in its time, so for whatever cosmic reason, today is the day that I lend my voice to the millions of others in this parallel universe.
I can't wait to see what happens.
Here we go ...


Jeff's photography site has since morphed into this and you should still check it out.

But here I am, five years later, still clacking away, still using ellipses ... I love them ... I really do ... .

Over these five years, I've written ...

... profane poetry about a chipmunk.

... about my struggles with my weight ... and body image in our culture ... and the insane standards to which women are held.

... theater reviews (this one is especially gushy but it was an exceptional play ... and a friend of mine was in it) ... and book reviews ... and reviews of films.

... a post about love that developed before my eyes ... and what became a eulogy for a dear friend.

So far, 1,516 posts. This will make 1,517, I suppose.

And all along, readers have come and readers have gone. Some have become dear friends. Others remind me that it is possible to see a single situation in many ways.

Sometimes, I was silent. Sometimes, I thought about throwing in the virtual towel. Some days, the words wouldn't come.

But I stuck around. And others have, too.

And through it all, my most popular post, the one that corrals the most visitors based on an Internet search, remains this little musing about Mike Rowe.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Need Your Help, Please ...

I just sent this out as an e-mail blitz to a slew of folks in my address book, but I'm posting it here, too, covering all my bases.

Hello, family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances:

My pal Lance is fond of saying that he's not participating in the recession. Lance has a very good outlook on life.

To date, I've been more of a participant in this recession than I'd like to be. But I'm done. Enough's enough.

My network – that'd be you – is vast and varied. And so I'm writing today to ask you to pass along any openings of which you're aware or to forward this e-mail to anyone who may know of such openings. If finding a job is a numbers game, I'm putting chips down on both red and black, so something has to hit.

My background, in a somewhat wordy nutshell, is this:

Words are my life. I just finished a profile of Melissa Etheridge that should start appearing in newspapers and on web sites soon. A couple of years ago, I was honored to edit the final drafts of "The Last Lecture," the collaboration between Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch and Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Zaslow, who I am privileged to call my dear friend. My resume contains stints at the brand-name publications in Chicago: the Chicago Sun-Times (working with Jeff), Chicago magazine, and five years at the Chicago Tribune. I've also worked for a content syndicator (a division of Thomson Newspapers, back in the day; Content That Works, currently) as well as for two IT consulting companies. I have a background in voiceover, I've done a bit of public speaking, a bit of teaching, and bit of producing a weekly radio feature, and a whole lot of blogging, yes, personally, but also professionally.

I can also hold my own in a kitchen. And I really, truly would love a job that would help others. Of course, combining writing/editing/food/media/good deeds is the pie-in-the-sky scenario, but if you don't get for what you don't ask for ... well, I thought it best to lead with the big guns. And I did just apply to be part of a television show that's in development about amateur bakers, so we'll see where that goes.

But in the meantime, any positions that feature one or more of the aforementioned traits are worth investigating, so if you know of anything, I'd truly appreciate it if you'd give me a heads up.

Likewise, if you happen to be on the hunt, let me know what you're hoping to find. If I can many any introductions, it will be my pleasure.

I hope this finds you well and happy – and if you're getting this more than once, I apologize for any wonkiness in my
address book. I'm sending this a slew of folks from my address book, so if you're reading this, thinking, "Who is this woman?", I promise we've been in touch at some point.

Thanks to you all for reading. And thanks for any leads, introductions, or ideas.

All the best,

Beth

Update: I should have been clear that I'm looking for something in the Chicago area.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The 3-Day: Lessons For Living ...

It's not that Robert Fulghum's pint-sized wisdom wasn't sage. We really did learn all we need to know in kindergarten.

But if I look behind me, kindergarten is a speck on the horizon. I can hardly remember what I learned 10 minutes ago, never mind what I learned when I was 4.

And so, my brain, working as it does – when it decides to work at all – started thinking that there are plenty of life lessons to be found within the 3-Day. And I thought I'd better write them down.

The 3-Day is a microcosm in many ways. The three days, the route, the camp, the people, everything and everyone about the event is life on a smaller scale: The three days are a lifetime, the route is your journey, the camp is a community, the walkers and crew and volunteers are your neighbors and friends.

Here are a few lessons that popped into my mind. You will surely think of more. They apply to the 3-Day, but they also apply when the 3-Day is done. They apply to every day, if we remember apply them.

☯ Lesson 1: Be kind to strangers – The beauty of the 3-Day is that you quickly realize that no one is a stranger. Sure, you may not know them yet, but you have something in common with every donor, every walker, every crew member, every volunteer, every police officer who helps you cross an intersection, every driver who offers a honk of encouragement as they drive by, every store owner who displays a sign of support, every resident of every community who decorates the front of their home or sets out their sprinkler, every bouncy little boy and girl who can't wait to high-five you as part of an awe-inspiring pink parade.

It's an emotional journey and the surprises are endless. You might walk by someone, offer a casual "How's it goin'?", strike up a conversation, and end up with a new life-long new friend. Or you might find yourself standing next to someone in tears. Go ahead and hug them. Trust me, they won't mind.

But it's not just for those three days. We are all far more alike than we are different. I have a T-shirt that says, "Humankind. Be both." Indeed.

☯ Lesson 2: Be kind to yourself – You are doing something amazing here, something beautiful and bold and brash. There is nothing meek about walking 60 miles, my friend. And that's only part of the journey. Think of all the training, all the fundraising, all the planning and packing. You're not just a walker, you're an ambassador, you're a teacher, you're an activist. You're not willing to accept a world with breast cancer. You're literally changing lives. Including your own.

So, on the 3-Day and every day, be kind to yourself. Take care of the body that carries you through every day. Rest when you need to rest. Give yourself water. Give yourself fuel. Nurture your body. Nurture your soul, whatever that looks like for you.

☯ Lesson 3: Enjoy snacks – Speaking of fuel ... . The 3-Day is affectionately known as the 60-Mile Buffet. You will eat. All. Day. Long. Not non-stop, no, but regularly. Do not deprive yourself. You are asking a lot of your body. Give it fuel. Lunch and dinner are provided, of course, but along the route, at pit stops, you will find an array of treats. Off the top of my head, I remember: bagels, peanut butter, bananas, oranges, pretzels, potato chips, peanuts, animal crackers, baby carrots, string cheese, raisins, chewy granola bars, and the perennial favorite, Smuckers Uncrustables. I might be misremembering the raisins. But you get the idea.

Now, snacking in the real world should probably not be so constant, but that doesn't mean we don't deserve a treat every now and again, either. Celebrate the first warm day with an ice-cream cone. Or buy little bites of dark chocolate for those moments when you need something sweet.

☯ Lesson 4: Find reasons to celebrate – One of my favorite parts of the 3-Day happens somewhere around 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday nights. That's when the route closes. (In Chicago, anyway; that time may vary depending on cities and dates.) Of course, somebody has to be the last person on the route, right? That parade of pink has a beginning, a very long middle, and an end. A 3-Day staffer, on a bike, rides behind the last walker, making sure they get to camp.

But here's the really cool part: The last walker (or walkers) to arrive in camp get to raise the camp flag, which is the signal that every walker has made it home for the night. But even before then, even when the last walker is simply nearing camp, people start clapping: staff along the route, walkers setting up their tents, diners in the dining tent, hundreds and hundreds of people start clapping. Whomever's making announcements interrupts themselves to announce that the last walker is making his or her way into camp. More people start clapping. Whomever is running the sound for the evening cues up U2's "Beautiful Day" and more people start clapping. And then they start to gather around the flag pole, into a huge circle, still clapping, keeping time to the music, and the walker raises the flag and the crowd goes crazy.

It's awesome. I cry every time. I'm crying right now.

Just think of how much better life would be if we all took a few moments out of every day to cheer for someone. It needn't be such a big production. A pat on the back or a well-timed "Woo hoo!" will do.

☯ Lesson 5: Ask for help – You'll be walking ... and walking ... and walking. And no one can do that for you. But a small army of others will help you make your way. And if you need help, just ask. If you're on the route and you don't feel well, a sweep van will be by to give you a lift to the next pit stop. If something more serious happens, ambulances drive the route, too, and one is never far away. The medical personnel in the pit stops and in camp are amazing.

Somewhere along the line, in life in general, I got it in my head that I should be able to handle anything that came my way. It's not easy for me to ask for help. But I'm getting better at it. Because I finally got it through my thick skull that people – gasp! – want to help. It's what we do. Don't you feel good when someone asks you to help them and you're able to lend a hand? I know I do. So why I used to be loathe to ask that of others is beyond me. It's a win-win, really. And it makes the world go 'round.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

'Bird By Bird' ...

I don't read a lot of books about writing. Maybe I should. But I don't. Writing for me has always just been something I do. Whether or not I do it well is open to interpretation. I think I do it well. My parents do, too. But they're my parents. And they're nice people. Even if they thought my work was dreck, they'd find something nice to say. Or mom would offer to make me a sandwich.

Mind you, I have a fair number of books about writing. Just as I have a fair number of books about figuring out what I should do with my life. Just as I have a fair number of books about diet and exercise. There's always the hope that owning such books will inspire me, or, as is really the truth, do the work for me.

So far, no luck.

I don't remember who told me to read Bird by Bird. Several people, probably. So I bought it, once again hopeful that this book, this time, would hold all the answers.

It doesn't. No book does.

But not only do I recommend it as a must-read for every writer, no matter their area of specialty, I recommend it as a must-read for anyone who knows a writer, who cares about that writer, who wonders what the hell is going on in there.

This book will tell you.

C.S. Lewis once said, "We read to know we are not alone."

My copy of Bird by Bird is now heavily marked up, many passages underlined, many notes in the margins. Some go on at length. Others simply read, "Exactly."

So, it's not just me. Other people feel the same way, think the same way, worry the same way, obsess the same way.

Of course they do. And I knew that, really. But it's so comforting to read her words, her honest, funny words, and know that there is at least one person in the world who can relate to the Technicolor scribbles in my head.

Bird by Bird is geared toward fiction writers but her advice relates to writers of other stripes, as well.

I thought I might leaf through all the pages and pull out parts to include here, but really, there's no need. Those are the parts that resonated with me, and including them here would only serve to explain myself as a writer to you, but that's not necessary. I am the writer I am. You are the writer you are. Or aren't. Or wish you were.

But I do recommend it. It's as laugh-out-loud funny as it is insightful, which is a pretty good recipe for a bestseller. Its subtitle is "Some Instructions on Writing and Life" and it does indeed contain useful advice about writing as a craft, as an art. But a lot of it is commiseration, like sitting down with a wise friend who very kindly pulls you out of your head and makes you realize that, no, in fact, everything is not about you.

Writing, real, honest writing, is all about you. It must be. Who else is going to write what you have to write, say what you have to say? If you imitate other writers, you're not really a writer. You're a mimic. The world is full of imitations. It's the reason everyone now feels compelled to capitalize on all things vampire.

But real, honest writing is equally about giving. As Anne writes, "... think of how many times you have opened a book, read one line, and said, 'Yes!' And I want to give people that feeling, too, of connection, communion."

That's when I'm most fulfilled as a writer. Next Saturday is the five-year anniversary of this blog. Five years of my prattling on about mostly nothing but sometimes something, sometimes writing a post that resonates with someone who takes a moment to comment and let me know. And what I wrote probably didn't change their life, but if it gave them a moment of understanding that there's one other person in the world who can relate to the way they're feeling, who's felt that feeling, too, there is no better reward.

This is not the post I thought I'd write about Anne's book. But then, writing rarely follows any rules we have in our heads. We think that we're in control, so crafty, bestowing beauty and surprises on our readers, when really, we're often just as surprised ourselves.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Quiet Epiphany ...

It came to me in my car.

Devoid of fanfare. No trumpets.

I've never had a dream.

Dream as in "aspiration," not the nocturnal nonsense that plays out in my head.

I know people who know, from an early age, what they want to do. And they've done it. I have a friend who always wanted to be a sports journalist. Today, she's rather high in the ranks at ESPN.

And I have a friend who has a friend who was once a kid who wanted to be in a band. Today, he's the lead singer of Pearl Jam.

Goals are good. Destinations. Not end points, but landmarks along the way.

And I've never had one.

No wonder I don't know where the hell I'm going.

Mind you, I'm a big believer in everything happening the way it's meant to happen.

I don't regret anything. My "career" to date may not have been part of a master plan, at least not any master plan of which I'm consciously aware, but I have met some extraordinary people along the way, people I otherwise might not have met, and so, in that way, I have done very well.

But at the moment, I am bobbing along in a vast sea of possibility. Which way is shore? In which direction should I start swimming? I have no idea.

I mentioned this to my mom the other day, hoping that she might say, "Oh, honey, don't you remember? When you were little, you wanted to be ...," that she would remind me of a forgotten plan and the light bulb would illuminate above my head and off I'd go.

But no. She did remind me that there was a time when I wanted to be a doctor. Mmm hmm. I remember that. I was young. And I was going to grow up to own my own hospital and I told my grandmother that she could stay there for free. My cousin Lora was going to be my nurse.

Today, Lora's a nurse. I'm not a doctor. Mind you, for a while, I was on that path. I started college in pre-med. But I quickly learned that that was not the path for me.

I also remember, as a child, wanting to be a lawyer. But that desire wasn't borne out of any deep-seated desire to practice law. No, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer when I heard my parents discussing how much their lawyer billed per hour. I didn't understand then that what an attorney bills is not what they earn. To my young mind, there were people working at jobs who made a few dollars an hour and then there was Mr. Attorney Man who was billing $125. And I thought, "I would like to make $125 an hour." And my brief legal plan was born.

It didn't last.

I returned to the doctor plan.

And then, late in my senior year of high school, a teacher declared that I was going to be a writer. Hmm. Yeah, OK. That sounded good. I liked writing.

But who got paid to write, I wondered. Journalists, I thought.

OK, then. Journalism school.

But not real journalism school. Not Missouri or Northwestern or any of the heavy hitters.

Alas, my journalism plan was short-lived.

Back to the aforementioned pre-med status.

But I had no patience for all the prerequisites. I wanted to jump right into anatomy.

I took a writing course to lighten my heavy science load.

And it was fun. So I took another.

And one day, lying in bed in my room in my parents' house, I looked at my Einstein poster, given to me by English Teacher Dave, and the quote "Imagination is more important than knowledge" suddenly seemed to say "English is more important than medicine."

So I declared my major – English – and took what non-fiction writing courses I could. The university where I'd landed didn't have a journalism school, but it offered a non-fiction specialty within the English curriculum.

And then, sitting next to my friend Brett in a Victorian Literature class, I noticed that he was taking notes on Chicago magazine letterhead. I asked him about it. And he told me that he was doing an internship there.

That seemed cool.

So I wrote a letter. And got an internship there.

I had already worked for a summer at the Chicago Sun-Times, so Chicago magazine seemed like a complement.

And then, once I was out of college, oh-so-useful English degree in hand, a friend at the university told me about an opening at the Chicago Tribune. The job market was awful, so I thought I'd land that gig – it was part-time – stay for six months, slap it on my resume, and then get a real job.

It didn't work out that way. I ended up staying at the Tribune for nearly five years. Which was just as well. As I never knew what that real job was going to be.

And then, just about the time I was getting fed up with life at the Tribune, a former Tribuner offered me a job working for a division of another newspaper company.

So I tendered my resignation at the Trib and started the new gig.

That lasted three years, until the entire newspaper division was sold off or – in the case of our little company – shut down.

And then, in need of a job, I took a position as an editor at an IT company. And eleven months later, that ended.

At this point, you may be thinking, "Beth, were you really that clueless? Could you not appreciate that you were constantly being kicked out of the nest?"

Yes, I could see that. But there's a lot to be said for being able to pay one's bills. And so, having worked for one IT company, I eventually took a job with another.

And three years later, that ended, too.

So, here we are.

I really do like my life these days, except for the issues with income. I'd like to continue this life, to get up and put on coffee and fire up the computer and write for a few hours and maybe have meetings now and again with interesting people about things related to my writing or some other fun, collaborative project. And many people very kindly tell me that I'm a very good writer, thereby reinforcing the notion that I could have a writer's life.

There's just one thing missing at the moment: an idea.

Taking freelance assignments isn't my dream. I take them, and my editors seem happy with the results, and sometimes I get a really good gig, like interviewing Melissa Etheridge last month.

But if the process of elimination is valuable, and it is, I know that I don't want a career as a freelance writer in the traditional sense of that word. Yes, I can take on assignments about a wide variety of topics and do research and find folks to interview and write up 1,000 words, but is that my heart's desire? No.

Somewhere in me is a book. Or a screenplay. Or some longer-form project that I'll write from the inside.

Sort of like this blog. I've been blathering on in this space for nearly five years.

Others have suggested that the key is contained in these posts. Somewhere, in all this rambling, is the germ of an idea.

So far, I haven't found it. But I have years worth of material to review.

In the meantime, I would like a large bag of money to fall from the sky, please, and land on my front stoop.

Or, perhaps slightly more realistically, I would like to find a job that pays enough to cover my expenses.

I can feel the possibilities swirling. In addition to the Melissa story and interview, earlier this week I applied to be part of series that's in development that will highlight amateur bakers around the country. I recently fell in love with the next song I want to record. I'm making changes to my home.

Ideas and creativity are returning to me, nicely aligned with the arrival of spring. And I am following the paths that appear before me. I'm anxious to see where they lead.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Entertain This ...

I am a long-time subscriber of Entertainment Weekly. My most recent subscription has been in effect since April 1999, nearly 11 years.

Yesterday, I received an URGENT renewal request from Holley Cavanna, EW's Consumer Marketing Director. There are ONLY 9 ISSUES LEFT! The sky is falling, the sky is falling!

I've been receiving renewal mailings from the fine folks at EW since at least last October. I know this because I saved one of them because I thought I'd write a blog post about 'em someday.

And today's that day.

When I received the renewal request (also from Holley) in October, the one which informed me that I'd been a subscriber since 1999, I was struck by the language, "You're one of our most valued subscribers, and we want to keep it that way."

Really? That's nice. I like being valued.

EW, sport that it is, was offering me not one, not two, but three renewal options. Gosh!

I could ...:

- ... subscribe for one year (55 weekly issues – hey, there's simply too much entertainment in the world to fit into 52 weeks, OK? – plus 4 free issues) for $1.23 an issue. So 55 x $1.23 = $67.65.

- ... subscribe for two years (110 weekly issues plus 8 free issues) for $1.13 an issue. So 110 x $1.13 = $124.30.

OR

- ... subscribe for three years (165 weekly issues plus 12 free issues) for $1.03 an issue. So 165 x $1.03 = $169.95.

On Amazon, a one-year subscription to Entertainment Weekly is available for $20.

Yeah, twenty bucks.

Assuming that a one-year subscription is 55 issues, as EW spells out in its mailing, let's see ... wait a sec ... divide by three ... carry the one ... that comes out to 38 cents an issue. (Aside: Why did we get rid of the cent symbol on keyboards?)

Thirty-eight cents an issue. For one year. For someone who's never subscribed to EW before, perhaps. But who may have been hypnotized by the creepy Johnny Depp "Alice in Wonderland" cover and now feels compelled to subscribe.

Compare that to my $1.23 an issue, the best rate EW can offer to me, as one of its "most valued subscribers," someone who's subscribed continually since 1999, before Y2K wreaked absolutely no havoc, and Prince was still partying and may or may not have still been named Prince.

Now, I've worked in publishing. And I know full well that companies don't make their money on subscriptions. Hence why I also received, yesterday, an offer from the Chicago Tribune to receive the Sunday edition, delivered, for 99 cents. If I went to the store, I would pay, well, actually, I don't know what I would pay. What's the going rate for a Sunday Tribune? $2.00? $2.50? But with the offer I had in hand, I could get it delivered to my door for less than a buck.

It's not about subscription dollars. It's about the number of subscribers. The greater the number of subscribers, the more the publication can command for its advertising space. Advertising is from whence the real money comes. That's why you get "professional" rates offered to you no matter if the publication has anything to do with your profession. (But don't you feel special, knowing that you can receive a "professional" rate?) Yes, you too can receive a subscription to a magazine you don't want valued at $259 for only eight bucks!

Sometimes, publications will just send out issues. I once received a "complimentary" year of Reader's Digest. And that USA Today that's outside your hotel-room door when you travel (or if you live in a hotel)? USA Today gets to count all those copies in its circulation, which allows it to set higher rates for ads.

It ain't altruism, folks.

Anyhoo, back to EW.

I was feeling a bit miffed that I'm one of EW's "most valued subscribers," yet any schmo could subscribe for so much less than me. Yes, I understand that what's offered on Amazon is an introductory rate, designed to lure readers into the Entertainment Weekly lair, but still. Shouldn't my 11 years of loyalty count for something?

So I called EW customer service. And I took notes.

On October 16, 2009, I spoke to a man named Peter, who sounded Indian. So I question whether his name was really Peter. But I digress. Peter was a pleasant man who listed to my question and then told me that the rate on Amazon was an introductory rate.

Yes, I understood that, I told Peter. But I was wondering if EW was willing to extend a better rate to me, given that I'm such a loyal customer.

Peter, very nicely, mind you, told me "No." He did say something about 28 issues, but my notes aren't thorough. Perhaps he was willing to give me a rate on a 28-issue extension.

So, I asked Peter, why wouldn't I just let this subscription lapse and subscribe through Amazon for twenty bucks? He told me that I was welcome to do that, but that I might miss out on issues, between my current subscription lapsing and the new one taking effect.

Which is why I find it very handy that EW let me know in yesterday's mailing that I have ONLY 9 ISSUES LEFT!

Because on Amazon, it states that my first issue should arrive in 4-6 weeks. So I can time things pretty neatly. And I might have a week or two of overlap, but that would be OK.

And so, Entertainment Weekly and I will be calling it quits. After 11 years. But only symbolically. I'll re-up through Amazon. On principle.

I feel more valued already.

Little update: I just noticed that the reply envelope that came with my Entertainment Weekly renewal request is preprinted with the address to Travel + Leisure magazine.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Need Kodachrome? ...

Hey, photofolk:

I have 20 rolls of Kodachrome if any photographers out there are looking for a stash to shoot without getting raked over the coals by retailers who might be charging a mint for whatever stock they have left. You can have all 20 rolls for $200, exactly what I paid for it, plus whatever it costs to ship it to you.

Expiration dates are 08/2010 and 09/2010, FYI.