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Friday, October 30, 2009

11:04 a.m.

During a wind storm a few days ago, it became apparent that cats have no memory. This is the sixth autumn for our schizophrenic feline, in theory she should be well versed in the New England leave drop. Each fall though, the experience dawns new for her.

When not attacking our ankles, Winkie the cat princess languishes on the back of the family room sofa gazing out the picture window to her dream kingdom outside. These days, she’s blasĂ© about the squirrels and chipmunks. She lifts one eyebrow, gives them a “You shan't get a rise out of me” look, and then lowers her head with a sigh. For a bird, she’ll sit up, lean at the glass and emit little “chut, chut, chut”—even when I’m not looking at her I know she’s watching her imaginary lunch, but soon, she’ll hunker back down. At the first sign of falling leaves though, she gives up her regal detachment and regresses to kittyland again.

Imagine hundreds of wind driven leaves, blowing, circling, spinning, and a white spotted ball of fur diving and grasping at every single one of them—from the inside—an eleven pound mass of leaping dunk shot, crashing into glass—repeatedly. For a while, she’ll stop and sit at attention, a coiled spring, tail swishing, drilling her focus from one leaf to another, until she leaps back on two feet and this explosion of leaf chasing begins again. After a full morning of window thumping the other day, worn out myself, I escorted her to the welcoming darkness of the basement, where she could get some well deserved rest.

It’s the same thing each October. When I wondered why, if not year-to-year then at least through repetitive window bonking, she doesn’t learn that there is a wall between her and the leaves—someone better versed in animals clued me in. Cats live in the moment. So for our Winkie, the previous five autumns never happened. There is only the here and now.

A fascinating concept, living in the moment. For example, if I take this exact instant, the one that I am sitting in right now, here’s what I would react to: I’m hungry. I made cinnamon toast as a treat for my daughter this morning and indulged instead of my normal oatmeal. It’s not sticking with me. On top of that, it's cold. The thermostat has dropped to its scheduled low; I may need to tweak it. Having woken at 4:30 this morning, apparently for the day, I’m sleepy. Add this together and if I were a cat right now, I’d wander over to the pantry cupboard for a snack, jack up the heat, grab a down comforter and head off for a snooze.

Living in the moment would mean I could forget my trip to the post office, the bank, the library, and the need to pick up my daughter this afternoon, our hair cuts scheduled for later. The laundry downstairs would remain unfolded. There would be no call for me to get out and clean up the gardens, to plan for what will appear on the table for dinner. This post for Middle Passage? Nonexistent. No worry about the future, the mortgage, insurance or whether a fledgling writing business will help support them. The draft of my website I’m waiting for—oh, whatever. A Thanksgiving menu for twenty something? Not an issue. Report cards and looming college applications would exist in some other dimension. With no future, there would be no “what ifs,” with no past, no “if onlys.”

Just a couch, a quilt and a full belly. Oh, and I suppose a compelling need to take a swipe at that yellow leaf, swirling down from the grey autumn sky.

If you were living in the now, what would your moment look like?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

And Back to Earth Again

Honest to God, I remember being sixteen—the emotions, the compulsions that drove me, how impossible it was to hold my tongue (to tell the truth I’m not sure that part has changed). So when my daughter, Motrin-ed up and thinking she feels better on her third day of sickness commented to me: “I don’t know how you sit in this house and do nothing all day” I only took minor exception. “I wouldn’t say I do nothing…” after which she was abashed enough to say, “You know what I mean.”

The thing is I do.

When I received my outplacement package, an underlying panic swirled. That next day, after my husband kissed me goodbye, I leaned over the kitchen counter with tears dripping down my cheeks. Yes, I was worried about the money, the insurance, the 401K—and darn it, my feelings were hurt—but none of that was why I cried. Hovering over me was a crackling cloud of terror that with no job, and an almost grown daughter, I'd be consumed—swallowed by a mindless tornado of empty routine—that I’d spend my life wandering the rooms of my echoing house. That dread compelled me to scrabble like a rodent, digging for worthwhile activity, and suddenly, I’m here. With a life, inside the house and out.

My sister, who retired almost two years ago, told me it would take me at least twelve months to get used to the rhythm of this new stage. Perhaps I am on schedule. Closing in on nine months, there’s a routine of volunteering, walking, self-educating, blogging, and now, slowly, slowly, I am beginning to write for pay.

Somehow, it feels right, and yes, all the time now I'd like to spell that word “write.”

After my husband backed down the driveway that morning, I made my way to the computer. It dumbfounds me, given my panic, how quickly after receiving a pink slip—one blog post to be exact—I understood that my next career had to involve words. For someone who specialized in passivity--allowing a company to dictate my career, I’m astonished how easy it is to stick to my new direction. I get it though. Passion has trampled passivity and at long last bleeds through my pores.

For the first time in my career, rather than managing people, I’m managing myself—making the plans—drawing the map. The street is recently paved. It smells like a rainbow oil slick seeping up through shimmering tar on a hot summer day—and, it’s named after me. I decide whether to plan Japanese maples or Magnolias beside it, whether it remains a meandering country lane or a freeway with synchronized traffic lights blinking at four way intersections. I’ll set the speed limit and determine if it will ribbon past green-shuttered Victorians with tumbling stone walls, or rush by the straight-sided brick of a downtown business district. I’ll chart where to layout the sidewalks and if future expansion requires dynamiting through ledge or meandering around the impasse.

There’s a lot of heavy work ahead. I haven’t finished the design; that’s going to take some time. But when all is said and done, it’s my road. It belongs to me. And however it turns out, it’s heading toward home.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Today would have marked my 24th year at my old company but instead of walking across the windy parking lot and into those colonial red doors, I sent a completed freelance writing assignment to a client. Imagine that. I have "clients."

Each of the writing projects I’ve finished to date have swallowed me like a plunge off the deep end. I’m an expert swimmer but the water is cold and sometimes snapping turtles lurk out there.

At the lake where we swam as children, I loved flying off the springboard. Before every dive I’d walk to the middle of the supple Duraflex plank and pause, picturing what I needed to do next--the arm set, the pike, the extension, the toe point. Gliding across the sandpaper surface to the end, I’d force the board down and let it hurdle me toward the sun, reaching my hands, grasping my knees, wrapping a twist. I could tell, by the whoosh, the speed at which the water vacuumed me to the murky bottom--whether a petite geyser of spray emanated behind me or if I entered with a churning, washing-machine splash. In diving, it’s about practice and clean lines and perfection; if I stepped awkwardly on the board, over rotated, fell short, I’d hit the water hard, surfacing disappointed.

Writing projects require a similar precision. I interview my clients, determine their needs and set myself up by deciding which slant to produce. Practicing my approach, I read what I’ve written out loud--making sure the message enters straight and crisp. Walking to the end of the board, bouncing a few times, I edit. Then confident in the preparation, ready soar into the sky, I walk back to the middle, stride to the end and press send.

But here’s the difference. This dive freezes in mid air. I’m floating here in layout position, hoping at the end my toes will disappear into a silent whirlpool vortex. For the moment though, I’m hanging. Until I receive a response there’s no way to know if I’m plunging at the right degree—whether I've scored anything near a perfect 10.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009


It’s quiet today. A fever has invaded our home and I’m washing my hands excessively, hoping it’s not the flu. The house is hushed during the week, but today there is a vacuum of sound, an otherworldly stillness because I know I’m not here alone. A teenager sweats as she sleeps, twisted among wrinkled sheets in her bedroom down the hall. Even the cat knows something is wrong, weaving behind me as I crack the door to check on my girl, questioning me with a drawn out “Moeoow?”

On days like this I know I am a mother--absorbing the scalding heat of a boiled over engine through my cool palm on a damp forehead. Her warmth percolates from inside, bursts of steam released from a source down deep, smoldering up, blistering through. So long ago my mother put her temperate hands on my blazing face and I sighed at the feeling. Now my daughter takes my hand and places it on her hot neck, and I remember her relief.

Monday, October 26, 2009


About seven years ago our house was robbed. As excitement goes, it was a non-event, less of a violation, more of a serious annoyance. I reached into the velvet interior of my jewelry box for a small pair of diamond studs and they were gone. After calling my sister to confirm I hadn’t left them at her house when we stayed there the previous weekend, I returned to my jewelry box and realized that they were not the only things missing.

Nearest we can figure is that my discovery of the crime occurred two days after the fact. Thinking back, I remembered coming into our house with our then 9-year-old daughter after work one Tuesday and noticing a cupboard wide open above the desk. Surprised to have left it that way, I closed it and drifted into the schedule of our evening. Thursday morning, while waiting for the police car to pull up our driveway, it occurred to me to return to that cupboard—where I discovered a camera missing. Then it sunk in that someone had actually entered our home.

When my grandmother’s house was burglarized, her shades hung unevenly, her dresser drawers vomited apparel and after the detectives were done, black fingerprint dust covered her clean white trim--so when it happened to us, I sucked on relief like a lozenge. The intruders hadn’t trashed the place and I hadn’t walked into destruction with my daughter. The fact that our house remained pristine allowed us to gloss over the event with our girl--and with ourselves. Other than filing an insurance claim and walking door to door to lock up, on the radar screen of life, this registered as a hiccup--until I recall the things taken that day. Pickings were slim; the diamond studs were the most valuable jewels I owned in monetary terms. We all know though, there is no price tag attached to sentiment.

I sighed at the loss of an antique gold ring, minus an opal, that my mother gave me when I was sixteen. It had previously belonged to her aunt--the repaired ring would have gone to our daughter this past August, when she turned sixteen. There were the teardrop earrings my husband brought back from Los Vegas, where he spent our 5th wedding anniversary at a work convention, a gold herringbone chain, and my gold bangle bracelet--child sized to fit my tiny wrist, a long ago reward from my parents.

These discoveries made me sad but the thing that took my breath away and what still makes me shake my head, was a tiny gold bracelet that was a present to our baby daughter upon her birth--the irony being that I insisted she store it with my jewelry for safe keeping once her wrist was too big, in hopes she could give it to her own daughter some day--and nothing in her room was taken. The thought of that bracelet, with her initials etched in miniature print ending up in a pawn shop or melted down to support some crack-head’s habit instead of appearing on another baby’s wrist—well, a bracelet is small potatoes really, but that theft was a whole pot of mash.

When losses come, when accidents happen, we rationalize to help us get through. It made me feel better to say “It could have been worse and thank goodness no one was hurt and no one was home.” Certainly, things stayed smooth on the surface.

It is just that sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of all the things in life that I can never see again and last night, I remembered the heist. It took me just a moment to adjust my thoughts—to remember that the baby is irreplaceable, the bracelet is not. I’m human though and before I completed that transition, I got a bit ruffled underneath.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Last Drop

Is it possible to pour out all your thoughts as though from a pitcher, dribbling the last vestige of liquid into the glass? That’s how writing feels today—as if there is nothing left, no place to go, nothing to write about. Except that I know, from the last eight months of experience, that if I keep on, something will come—like the break in the grey October clouds that scuttled across the sky during our walk this morning--the shaft of light that illuminated a spot on the ocean out where the sky blends into the horizon—
Maybe I should write about the graffiti on the yellow sign that caused us both to chuckle—although here, a proverbial picture is worth more than words,
so I'll move on—to the maple tree standing amid a puddle of leaves, yellow orange in front of the porch of the Dutch colonial at the corner of Grasshopper Lane—

or to that name—Grasshopper Lane—that segues me to the show I watched on Food Network last night, where the host ate fried grasshoppers (and which I turned off before witnessing him snack on live larvae).

Perhaps I should write about the word "segue" itself, which was printed on a manila folder in my old office. In a quest to save the earth, I reused my folders. Each time I pulled that one out of the drawer, it brought back a conversation with my former boss about ten years ago, in which we both questioned the spelling. Does anyone else get frustrated when you are so far off that you can’t find the word in the dictionary? Once I finally found "segue" I inked it on the folder at an angle, so that I’d always be able to find the correct letters.

I don't know-maybe the topic should be the earthy cafĂ© where we treated ourselves for a post walk coffee this morning—a chalkboard covers the top half of a wall—it’s plastered with lists of sandwiches and salads lined up in Palmer method rows. The woman at the counter added my coffee, cream and sugar to a metallic thermos and shook it before pouring the brew into a cup—eliminating the sugary residue at the bottom and creating a strong and perfect blend.

Wrapping my cold hands around the mug while sitting at the lone wooden table, I commented to my walking partner that today my dream is to work right there. To arrive at 6:00 a.m. to heat the ovens, to mix batter for the lemon poppy seed bread and walnut muffins before filling and slicing the sweet roll dough that had been rising since the previous night. In between serving customers, I’d fry the bacon for lunchtime BLT’s and when the lunch rush waned I’d wipe down the counters, then drive the five minutes home to spend the rest of the afternoon writing.

Today’s post? A brain dump—one big segue—a dream and a couple of pictures. My pitcher remains awfully dry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Scene Storming"

Thanks to Darnell Arnoult, and Ginger Collins who referred me to Darnell, I have something to post today. This is an exercise for me…Darnell calls it scene storming--I used the word “press.”

Antique Store

In the cluttered corner, beside the felt-topped writing desk hosting a dusty tin lantern and a glass Cinderella shoe, she spied a wooden apple press--the bottom slatted like a wooden bucket, the round top fitting inside the circumference--a post poking up from a hole in the middle. Although she’d never seen it used, she knew what it was. It mirrored the one sitting up at Grandpap’s den. He shipped his leftover apples out for cider now, so she wasn’t quite sure how the actual pressing got done. Seeing the device brought back the smell of the farm, the sweet spicy scent of apples biting into the cut grass and damp earth aromas that mingled in the barn.

Until a few years back Grandpap sold his fruit to the local grocery stores, boxing up his off-the-tree-that-day Spencers and Macouns and loading them into the pick-up for the short drive down the road. That road was widened to a four-laner somewhere around '92--not long after, the big guys muscled him out. Used to be you could only get apples in season. Now they’re a year round fruit--shiny McIntoshes, Empires, Gala and Granny Smiths stacked row-by-row under ultra-violet lights glaring on produce sections in cavernous mega marts. The distributors refused to deliver to the stores for the rest of the year if they continued to buy from Grandpap in the fall. Thanks for 47 years of business Gramps, ah, no hard feelings, right?

Her stomach still churned when she remembered that autumn. The corporation verses the little guy. It was the year that Grandpap stopped talking at supper—shoving his food around his plate with his fork, until one afternoon he stomped home and erected a hand lettered sign: “YOU PICK.” She might have been imagining it, but she liked to think a little gleam returned to his eyes that day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Of Wrong and Write

The sandstone courthouse stood high above the street, its doorway a yawning mouth framed by towering columns that reached from the landing at the top of steep brick steps. Inside, steam heat blasted, radiators clanked and high heels clattered over worn black linoleum. As prospective jurors, we were herded like sheep into the courtroom where we gazed at the brown tinged windows filtering light high overhead; looking out we could only see sky. Bailiffs hollered names and numbers; we sat as directed on wooden benches while two opposing attorneys selected the jury.

It was a murder trial, I was elected a juror, and without going into grisly details, it was the time I first learned the meaning of the word nuance.

For five days we listened to testimony while the suspect sat across from us, his face an expressionless profile, arms folded across his chest, legs shackled in silver chains. I couldn’t help thinking that, once this man was a baby who likely cooed and laughed; now he stood accused of murder. Later the prosecuting attorney provoked a similar sentiment when he circulated the high school picture of the seventeen-year-old victim. That photo replaced the horror pictures we had already seen with the vision of a lovely high school student--turning her into the girl next door--you know, the one your brother has a crush on.

After the closing statements, the jury sat around a dark stained table--a stocky white haired man slamming his hand down, convinced of guilt at the offset, the rest of us determined to use all manner of fairness before reaching any conclusion. If we were to convict, there were three statutes under which the suspect could be found guilty. Two were obvious, one, more obscure; as we analyzed evidence, we sought clarification on the third statute from the judge. Tearing a sheet of paper from a yellow legal pad, our foreman jotted: “Can we get a copy of the statute for Felony Murder?” and handed it to the bailiff to deliver to the judge. Shortly, the bailiff knocked on our door and instructed us to return to the courtroom.

Winding our way single file down a dimly lit hallway, we entered the courtroom, slid into squeaking wooden seats and gazed toward the bench. The judge spoke:

“The jury has requested a copy of the statute of Felony Murder. This building has no copy machine therefore I cannot fulfill the request. The jury may return to the deliberation room.”

Nuance. Twelve members of the jury sat back at the rectangular table, flabbergasted that the antiquated courtroom didn’t house a copy machine, and by the meticulous requirement of our legal system that meant the judge could do nothing more than respond to our request the way it was written. As a group, we were irritated. We used the wrong word and we couldn’t move forward.

That experience, which occurred many years ago, reminds me of writing. The law leaves no room for leeway, and yes, perhaps writing offers more. But in the end, it’s in the details, the fine distinction, the exactness in which you form a sentence that leads the reader on, convinces them, and tantalizes. The wrong words shut a reader down just as one wrong word stopped the jury cold. “He walked down the hallway” provokes a yawn of boredom, whereas a sentence like “Scuffing his feet, he ran his ruler across the bead board paneling; we could hear him getting closer with each click” engages the reader, make the reader ask who “he” is and where is he going.

As a jury, we spent several more careful hours discussing the case. Like a writer, when that word copy derailed us, we moved to another part piece of testimony. We knew that the one word was an issue, but rather than waste time on it, we worked together to draw a clearer picture of other details related to the case, the same way a writer moves on to a different part of the story.

When we were close to a verdict we returned to the word copy, sending a second note back to the judge: “Could you please read us the statute on Felony Murder?" Once again the bailiff knocked on the door and escorted us down the hallway. Again we took our assigned seats and waited expectantly for the judge. After reading our question out loud, the judge opened a thick, leather bound book and read the statute. The jury returned to the deliberation room. Within an hour, we had a verdict.

The right words will bring you home. When has a single word or scene stumped you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There's Something about "Mary"

I hope you don't mind but today's post is an exercise for me. I wrote this years ago; it was long and bla, bla, bla. Today I cut it down to try to make it flow. The newest Liza is a sophomore in college now; "Aunt" Liza works just fine.


The name bestowed on us at birth acts as a driving force behind the personality we form as we grow, so choosing a label for a child is an act with far reaching ramifications.

My experience generated a particular awareness as to the lasting impact of the naming ritual since the name I have been called since I drew my first breath is not, in fact, my birth name--and it’s a name easily mixed up, leading to an awkwardness with which I view myself--an intermittent questioning with regard to my own persona.

How I came to be given my birth name, a standard appellation which was my mother’s name too, was subject to dispute by my parents. They are both gone now, but in meshing their stories, I figure that my father wanted to name me for my mother, but she disagreed. Born several weeks prematurely, a quick hospital baptism was a necessity. While my mother recovered in her room, dad stated his name preference; the priest splashed water on my forehead and that was that--until my father informed my mother of my name. Never a gracious loser, she one-upped him by stating: “All right, but we are calling her ‘Liza’.” Her victory set up a dichotomy in my sense of self that hit once I entered school and has remained until today.

I was Liza until the day I walked into the playground at St. Paul’s on my first day of kindergarten. That morning, when my dad gripped my nervous hand, propelled me over to the flowing black robes of Sister Anne Mercedes and introduced me using my real name, I though: Huh?

Upon transition to public school two years later, my real name slipped underground, but the name “Lisa” was common; there were always one or two in my class. None of my friends confused my name, but most of my teachers did, mixing Liza with Lisa so that I found myself looking around furtively when that name was called: did she mean me? My report cards identified me as “Lisa,” and the teacher’s grade books identified me as “Lisa,” no matter how many times I corrected their spelling.

There is a disquiet that develops when your name, something that seems as much a part of you as your blue eyes and the curl in your hair, is misunderstood, and unease returned full-force when I entered college. After those early days at St. Paul’s I spend my public school years resigned to name mix-ups, answering to Lisa or Liz, or whatever derivative was proposed. But at college application time, a serious matter requiring given names and social security numbers, I printed my formal name in the appropriate spaces, oblivious that it would force that first name up from its underground repository. That fall, it emerged with a vengeance; I entered my dorm as a freshman to discover that I was one of six students on the floor with the same first name.

My first act of college life was to X out the name written on my dormitory door and print Liza in bold block letters, but formal records were not so easily edited. The name Liza worked with friends and peers, but in anonymous classrooms, the birth name often stuck. When I held my ground and repeated Liza, as always, Lisa appeared. There I was, thirteen years beyond that first asphalt playground still twisting my head to determine whether the teacher was referring to me, or someone else. On any given day, I could be my real name, or Lisa, Liz or Leeza. Who did that make me, after all?

I thought my salvation arrived along with marriage. I planned on using the Liza I am known by, and my husband’s last name, eliminating my real first name from future documentation. All good--until I realized that changing my last name would remove the single part of my identity that had assured me a consistent correctness in the world. I compromised by deleting my given first name and using my maiden name as my middle name, but it took me four years after saying “I do” to formally adjust things—when the Social Security Commission notified my employer of a name discrepancy attached to my social security number--the threat to my retirement benefits propelled me to legally make the change.

It seemed to work. These days, the first name rarely surfaces--the Liza, Lisa thing remains about the same and though a vowel at the end of our last name seems to confound people--it only gets mispronounced occasionally.

Nonetheless, I laugh now that history has repeated itself. The day my brother’s daughter was born he called to share the news and we asked her name. His response was, “Elizabeth…Lizzie.” We took him at face value and called his beautiful little girl Lizzie upon meeting her, not understanding that when he referred to her in that excited phone call, he meant a pet name he's used for me. Her name isn’t Lizzie, or Liz or Lisa--her name is Liza.

Nothing will ever diminish my pride in the honor presented to me when she was born, but truth be told, since her arrival, my name has morphed yet again. Now, when I am around her, I’m called “Big Liza,” “Old Liza” or “Liza Senior.” When I take rueful exception, they refer to her as “Liza Carens” and my head automatically swivels--old habits die hard, if you will.

So lately I’ve been wondering. If I run back to the Social Security Commission, do you think they would change me back to Mary?

Monday, October 19, 2009


I refuse, simply refuse, to give credence to the n'oreaster that blanketed the towns to the west of us with snow last night. Rather than give it another thought, I’m submitting the following picture called: The Way things are Supposed to Be.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Dueling Voices

In my first Middle Passages post, and in a few since, I wrote of the (former) secret writer in me, the one who emerged from hiding eight months ago, referring to that modest scribe in the third person--a "she" and not a “me” as if we are two separate souls. In Negotiating with the Dead, A Writer on Writing, Margaret Atwood suggests that perhaps I’m not the only one who lives a life divided.

Yesterday, during my stolen hour at the library I shivered when I read:
“There has been widespread suspicion among writers...that there are two of him sharing the same body…When writers have spoken consciously of their own double natures, they’re likely to say that one half does the living, the other half the writing…”

This concept resonated, and I backed out of the library parking lot cognizant for the first time of two competing parts of my brain. One drove down the highway with eyes focused a requisite twenty feet forward, muttering a silent monologue “That SUV is going to pull out in front of you on the right—watch out for the pick-up coming toward you, he’s too close to the middle line—the light up ahead has been green for a bit—it’s going to turn yellow before you get there, ease your foot on the brake.” All the while the other side of my brain remarked: “That comment from Margaret Atwood--how can I turn that into a blog post? Oh, wow. The red tree by the Stop and Shop? I swear last year when the leaves changed it was a bright orange. Look at the rush of leaves skittering across the pavement--the branches as they brush the sky, what would I call that movement, that cloud design--striated?”

When you are a writer, you live with competing voices: one that gets you safely down the street—while remembering that boneless chicken is on sale and that you are out of soap. That one prompts you to shop at the Farmer’s Market because it is the last one of the season, insisting that you purchase a pound of fresh beans even though they are pricey, because they are shiny and crisp and you need something green as a side to the leftovers you plan for supper. All the while, another voice is commenting on the crystal chime of the bells striking the quarter hour from stone church up on the hill, the twang of the guitar from the folksinger taking shelter under the tent, the damp-wash storm smell that pervades the air.

For many years, the dominant voice in my head meant security and food on the table and drowned out the music of another type of nourishment. As of late that tune has emerged, endeavoring to stand up straight, to throw back her shoulders, fill her lungs with air and release a pure note among the clamoring cacophony of crowded brain noise.

It seems that authors like Atwood must let—no, encourage—no, compel this other voice, not only to speak, but to yell, to holler, finally refining it to an aria of unique and brilliant language. In comparison, my writing is a ghost whisper, but it is enough that it exists. I’ve made it to a place where rather than squelching each other, my voices pause politely to listen. “After you,” one says. “Oh no, after you,” insists the other, both striving to remain on their side of the path, heading toward a symbiotic balance.

OK writers out there—put me out of my misery. Am I nuts? How would you describe your voices?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More Reflecting

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As you may have read a few days ago, we took a last minute drive to Maine over the weekend, holding our cameras at the ready. As is my wont, I took shot after shot--the blending hues of the foliage palette, a row of apples trees shaken of fruit, clouds chasing the sunlight over a gray Lake Sebago--even Portland Head Light at Fort Williams where we pulled in next to a busload of leaf peepers and where we’ve taken hundreds of pictures over the years. Nothing spoke to me as the perfect photo, or even a superior shot, but it was still good fun.

Then, back in Massachusetts--ten minutes from home on a curving back road that we’ve traveled countless times, I plotted to take a picture of this pond. Expecting a wash of fall colors, the camera sat in my lap, but when we turned the corner to view the water spread out beside us, the trees stood subdued, a tired green verging to yellow, swamp plants pointing crippled brown fingers up from the farthest shore. The water barely rippled though, so cognizant of the car behind us we pulled over and I took three rapid shots--unaware of the mirror image until I downloaded the photos to the computer the next day.

We traveled well over 300 miles during the course of the weekend, but five miles from home we found the best picture—and another reminder that upon reflection, things are often better than at first they seem.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Cover Up

The thermometer hovered at 40 degrees this morning—I pulled out my first wool. Ah, New England. There’s so much to endure—humid summers, tropical storms, leaves covering the ground, freezing rain, nor’easters, snow, and my least favorite, the annual “changing of the closet.” I wonder what it is like to live in a climate where you wear the same clothes year-round.

I’m not blind to the fact that our seasonal chore offers a fashion refresher. Uncovering apparel that has been hidden away for six months results in a mid-year wardrobe update. On top of that, the two season closet is conducive to expense management. If you wear your clothes half the time, they’ll last twice as long, right? Go ahead if you feel the need to check my math.

It’s only that swapping closets also means confronting the shortbread cookie recipe you perfected in June; the batches of gingersnaps that followed. It means pulling up zippers while praying that the apple crisps you refined over the last few weeks were magically infused with weight reduction properties. It means the pasta sauce with heavy cream—well, forget the pasta sauce with heavy cream—just remember that the rule of changing closets includes purging clothes that no longer fit. OK, at a minimum, it means discarding those that will be long out of style before standing any chance of appearing on your, err, curvaceous body again—a process never offering much in the way of fun.

Confounding that proposition are the light weights and the cottons of spring and summer most of which still hang unworn this year, in my bedroom closet. When May rolled around, I dutifully swapped out my wools for warm weather garb, a lot of which I used to wear to the office. That apparel has hung, neglected for the last several months as I cavorted around in shorts, jeans and athletic Capri’s. Now that it’s time to retire them, is it a permanent retirement or do I simply lug them one room over to off season storage?

Growing up, our out-of-season clothes hung in a cedar closet—a paneled compartment in an upstairs section of the house that was big enough for our family of eight. The cedar, supplemented with mothballs, helped to stave off holes in our woolen garments. In the two houses my husband and I have owned, there was no such innovation until two years ago, when we had the 50-year-old-floor to ceiling closets in our home reconfigured. I’m 5’3” on a good day; our ceilings are 9’ tall. Let’s just say that there was a lot of wasted space.

We had the closets framed in and replaced hollow core doors with colonial looking six panels which offered character to our modest home. Our daughter’s room sported the largest closet, a 7’x 9’ monstrosity—too big for a teenage jean queen. When the doors popped off track which happened frequently, they swung half way across her room. Since the majority of her closet pulled duty as storage space anyway, we framed a third of hers into a separate unit that my husband lined with cedar panels. Now, we too have a cedar closet. Currently it's stuffed to capacity with her old dance costumes and my wool jackets and pants, which I am debating whether to relocate this afternoon. Given the current state of self-employed affairs, most of that wardrobe, I probably won’t wear.

I sit here at the computer though, contemplating that last sentence. My feet are cold, my hands frigid. (Remember, no heat until October 15th. Oh hallelujah, that’s tomorrow.) In particular, I’m pondering two boiled wool dress jackets that I used to wear with flannel pants on the coldest of days. Is there some rule that says that I can’t wear them around the house? The old company was a business casual environment. My home “office” is even more so. It seems acceptable to merge the two when I realize if I pull out my wools, I may actually stay warm through our next dose of winter. If I’m this cold at 40 degrees, I can’t even contemplate 20. Cedar closet here I come.

Personal comfort aside, another reason to switch those work wools out of storage is for our daughter. By their nature, summer clothes are thinner. That leaves room in the cedar closet for her to hide her unfolded laundry basket on the weekly occasions that I evoke motherhood and demand that she clean her room.

Just don’t tell her I know.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Little Life Journies

It was a white 1972 Toyota Corolla with 93,000 miles on it and holes in the floor, but it was mine. My car-geek brother convinced me that it was a reliable make--the price, good.

I was desperate. The property manager for my first apartment assured me the townhouse was on public transportation. There was no reason to question her; a “T” sign stood at the driveway--it, however, failed to indicate that the complex was a weekend-only stop. The first work morning in my new home, I waited an hour for the bus, running back up the hill to snag a ride with my later-scheduled roommate, arriving at work way too late. Having inked a lease believing public transportation would arrive at my doorstep, I was stranded with no transportation at all. The bus route I needed stopped three miles away.

The options: ask practicing-lawyer dad to get me out of the lease, or beg pseudo-banker dad, to extend a loan. I went with option two. Hello “Want Advertiser?” Within days I drove home with the two-door, standard-shift model that we were assured “had been driven up from Florida.” We weren’t that gullible, but my brother convinced me it was a decent purchase, so I pocketed the registration to what my now-husband used to call: “The Little Engine that Could.”

At first though, it was more like the “Little Engine that Couldn’t.” I no sooner parked my wheels at my apartment when the tires started deflating. Looking over my shoulder, I wondered what kind of neighborhood I’d moved to; the mechanic reassured me. There were leaks in the tire stems—small expense for parts—larger expense for labor—the headache, biggest of all. The fan belt followed. It squealed when I accelerated; the car stalled when I stopped, but I was broke. When the car finally died it required a new alternator.

The voltage regulator though, is my favorite story. I left my parents’ house on a dark night to spend Thanksgiving with my now-husband-then-boyfriend. On a two-lane highway, sitting in the middle of the road about to turn left, the car stopped dead—no lights, no emergency blinkers--a driver coming up behind me wouldn’t see me in time to avoid a crash. Popping the shift into neutral, I opened the door, straining to steer and push and was suddenly surrounded by four male athletic types who yelled: “Get to the side of the road!” as they maneuvered my car to safety. Then they introduced themselves.

No introductions though, were necessary. Five years previously, they were a grade behind me in high school, where I slouched shy and invisible down the hallways and they were celebrated football heroes--unaware of my existence. That night, they demonstrated all manner of chivalry while dropping me back at my parent’s house. Voltage regulator necessary to keep a battery alive: $12.50. The tow truck to move my vehicle: $40. Rescue by kind former high school jocks: Priceless.

Oh my little car. The engine ran hot in the summer so I learned to turn the heat on while driving to my boyfriend’s at the shore. One night both low-beam bulbs blew out and I traveled home from my sister’s though flickering lights flashed by drivers who suffered my blinding high-beam glare.

Finally though, I learned that regular tune-ups staved off more expensive repairs and once I did, that little car took me places—in my early twenties, the calendar was full of weddings and parties and most of the time the Corolla and I arrived. It saw me through two apartments, three roommates, my romance with my husband, and our first year of marriage. For four years, the car carried me through my life changes and I milked it through maintenance and adjustments, partners until, as a two-incomed newlywed, when the headlights blew out again, I got tired.

With 113,000 miles on the odometer, we traded it in for a new Mercury Lynx with a shiny finish and new-car smell that blanketed our guilt when the dealer explained the old car would be shuttled to the scrapyard across the street. While there were no repetitive repair jobs on the Mercury, it was a short lived luxury. Lacking dashboard indicators to reveal engine overheating caused by a hole in the radiator, the Lynx’s engine seized up at 60,000 miles--we owned it for less time than I’d had my first car. The next vehicle we purchased was a standard-shift Toyota Corolla that lived with us through 120,000 miles.

I loved that second Toyota, but somehow, it wasn’t the same. Above a towering cliff on Route 53 in Quincy, a grocery store and an apartment complex are situated on what used to be the scrap heap that absorbed my first car. Whenever I’m stopped at the traffic light there, I give it a little wave.

This week, Boston Globe columnists Bella English and Bill Porter wrote about former cars, jump starting this memory.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hidden Fruits

The first time our family went apple picking, our daughter was two, and we were visiting my husband’s brother, his wife and their two kids in southeastern Maine. Packing a picnic lunch we laid a blanket on the high grass of the orchard—relaxing as the warm September sun leached through sinew and muscles and into our blood. The kids reached on tiptoes to pick apples one by one. Later in the year I dug to the bottom of the apple bag and pulled out a shriveled specimen bearing the Chicklet indentation of two-year-old teeth.

We repeated the trip regularly, until one year, unable to make it up north; we picked our apples in-state. Friends recommended a farm northwest of us and when we arrived, a long line of cars snaking into the orchard telegraphed a warning that we weren’t in rural Maine this time. Crowds tripped over each other in the fields, a tractor pulled hay wagons full of humanity out to a distant pumpkin field to pick, and at every tree there was someone standing next to us competing for the prettiest fruit. The day was salvaged—marginally—by the apple cider donuts we purchased hot and by the bagful, which we munched on our way home.

The next time we didn’t make it to Maine we decided to forgo all the business above, proceeding to a new orchard, which wasn’t really new at all. Located on a tree-lined road about fifteen minutes from where I grew up, in memory it stood as a leaning shed doing business as a dilapidated farm stand. My mother used to load us into the car to make the ride there each week; we’d return with brown paper bags filled with fresh picked produce. With six kids, she bought peaches and apples by the bushel, transporting them home in baskets woven from wooden splints held together with twists of wire.

Visiting the farm stand with her, we stood barefooted on the cool cement, reaching over to touch forbidden fingers to the harvest—green beans, fresh peas we’d be conscripted to shell later, earth covered radishes and carrots, misshapen tomatoes, corn piled into tilted wooden bins. The owner reached for mom’s selection of vegetables with dirty fingers, placing them on the hanging farm scale where the needle jiggled up and down before coming to rest on a weight. This is what I pictured as we planned our apple picking outing—I remembered the directions to the farm by heart. We arrived easily to the same location, but nowhere near the right place.

Again, cars and people flooded the property. The ramshackle shed that I recalled had been replaced by a cement-block building selling gourmet preserves and ice cream—arrows pointed to expansive parking lots—from there signs directed us to a barn where we were required to purchase a bag for a flat fee. We’d be charged later by the pound for the apples we picked. My husband and I looked at each other, aghast at the exploitation of what we had previously experienced as a simple autumn outing. Cognizant of our daughter’s expectations though, we dutifully strolled out to the apple trees—where we encountered the proverbial last straw. Signs lining each row of trees stated: “Eating apples is stealing.”

We never apple picked in Massachusetts again.

In spite of the disappointment we experienced close to home, apple picking remains a favorite activity for our family, so when a trip to Newport was cancelled this weekend, we sent a hopeful email and gratefully scampered up the highway to Maine for an overnight visit and a trip to the orchard.

Driving 45 minutes north from my husband’s brother’s house, we lurched into the muddy driveway beside a white farmhouse expanded by a screened porch tailored along one side. A smiling woman greeted us, selling us bags that she welcomed us to fill as full as possible while offering us directions: “Macintosh, Delicious and Gala are up the road to the left. Cortlands, Macouns and Spencers are down to the right. Stay as long as you like and enjoy yourself.”

Squishing though raised tire marks and mud, we reached trees bent like old woman under burdens of ripe fruit and rubbing apples on our sweatshirts, bit in and savored tart juice--sour at the back of our mouths, flesh puckering and sweet in front. Wandering up and down aisles of weighted trees, we picked one or two apples, wandered to another grove, picked a few more. Still, it took only twenty minutes to fill two bags. An afternoon activity to a two-year-old occurs at warp speed when that child is a teenager.

We encountered only one other family while apple picking. The sun stippled in and out between the scuttling clouds forming on the canvas of the day; maples towered crimson and orange above the orchard. The crop was so abundant we laughed as we slid and tripped on the tumbled fruit beneath.

Today, gazing at our stash of apples and remarking on how good they taste, our sixteen-year-old announced: “It goes by way too fast.”

Imagine that. There weren't even any apple cider donuts.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Before I went to bed last night a surge of uneasiness descended. It’s a school professional day today; our daughter has an extra day off before the long weekend. My husband has taken a vacation day too. The sailboat is scheduled to be hauled out of the water this afternoon--before that he will remove the sails, the life jackets, the detritus of summer floating around the cockpit.

I hold to the routine and structure of my days as a defense mechanism. Beginning in May of 1981 until this year, five days a week I got up and went to work—since February there has been no choice but to keep busy. Moments without purpose frighten me. At first, a black tide of despair lurked around of my house—it was imperative to keep the doors bolted from the inside. Writing and walking, and serving at the senior breakfasts kept the cracks at the entrances sealed. While there was always a book to read, in my mind, it was, and remains somehow, too self-serving to read during the traditional work day. I could stretch things by saying that the more I read, the better I will become at my chosen craft. Reading, though, is too fun—impossible to rationalize as labor—therefore not allowed until the “work” day is complete. The TV stays dark. The clock at my work cubby clicks the seconds away, the refrigerator cycles on and off.

Last winter, as I tried to chart out next steps in a bewildering, overgrown territory, Middle Passages handed me a hatchet and demonstrated how to chop through the weeds. It nodded its head like a wise and inexpensive therapist, reaching behind the couch to pull out a spade with which to unearth joy; a compass to show me that writing is the map.

Today, the road is cleared in front, but I have yet to define the traffic laws. Because my family has the day off, does that mean I can take one too? Back when someone signed my paycheck, I counted the days until long weekends, sighing with relief during four-day weeks. This new route though, includes no paid vacation days, nor sick days or holidays and last night I worried. What will I do while they are home? Is it OK to take time off because they are? Guilt tiptoed in. Am I allowed? The despair, which relocated to another continent months ago, talked about coming to visit. Shouldn’t I always be doing something about moving forward?

The answer, easily enough, stole in as a compromise. I let myself sleep in until seven. Instead of taking a shower, I cleaned the clogged drain in the sink and washed my face. I brewed a pot of coffee and gulped two cups before sitting down to write this post. Later, if the rain holds off, I’ll drive down to the harbor to watch the spectacle of the sailboat, a modest lady, double in size when she’s hoisted onto the trailer. I’ll gaze up as the marine service truck raises a trellised crane, attaches a winch to the mast, and lifts it as easily as a threaded needle before resting it on the bodice of the hull. I’ll peer down the way as this last vestige of summer trundles dripping, over the narrow street leading from the dock.

Our daughter is sleeping down the hall. My husband is off readying the boat. The house today is less quiet, less empty and I still have purpose.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yes, Indeed

This morning, I shipped off “Project Two” in my professional role as “Freelance Business Writer.” (It still sounds funny. I want to mock myself.) The business is an infant, not even lifting its bald head in the crib--but the good news is that writing this second piece got me just as jazzed as the first, even though the topic wasn’t a) my own or b) Middles Passages.

Also gratifying is that regardless of the absence of technological support that a $1.5 billion company provides, my business skills seem adequate—i.e., I can design my own invoice and it’s a cinch to organize spreadsheets to keep myself on track. Though that’s all administrative and not technically the paying portion of the equation, it’s rewarding to remember that I like that kind of work too. When tax time comes it may be a different story, but in keeping things organized, hopefully that will be less painful then I anticipate.

Many of the blog authors I read are writing books, and as such, offer weekly updates to WIP's (Work in Process). My WIP is a different flavor, say, a dense chocolate cake instead of a strawberry ice cream cone, but for those who may be interested (I saw that yawn...) here’s where my venture stands.

A broadcast email to most of my “network” informing them of my plan to write freelance generated one quick referral (I wrote about that last week) and one project from an acquaintance. Less than two weeks since that email, I’ve “ghostwritten” an article for a local interior designer, and developed marketing language for a brochure for a woman new to the Real Estate industry--a nice start.

On the way--my website--under construction but soon to be completed, and business cards, which are waiting for confirmation on the website URL, at which point, it will be time to press send and order them. When the website is live, I'll launch another broadcast email into cyberspace, urging every one I know to look at the site, informing them of the work completed to date--requesting that they spread the word. With business cards in hand, more face to face networking will be possible too. Oh, and for now, I’ve decided not to link Middle Passages to my website. The writing is personal--I’m concerned that it may be a turn-off for those seeking to engage a professional writer. Would any one care to comment on that decision?

I walked through the dining room this morning to pull out a red folder to label “Accounts Receivable” (yes, I have it on-line, and backed up to a thumb drive, but forgive me for still liking paper). On the way, yet another of the incredulous thoughts that have flashed through my brain in the last many months, powered through. “Whoever knew I’d be doing this?” Recalling where it all began eight months ago—and what I’ve proved to myself since, I yanked the folder from the cupboard and announced to the empty room: “Yes, indeed Liza, you can.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Birdie, Birdie

You were going to get an old story in this post, but I’m going to save it—because, today, the blackbirds came back.

Last year, for some unknown reason, I was home with our daughter one weekday afternoon in the autumn, when a migrating flock of blackbirds descended on the trees surrounding our house. Somehow the word “flock” doesn’t seem to do the image justice. Picture the Alfred Hitchcock horror movie, The Birds, and you’ll get a better sense of proportion—hundreds upon hundreds of birds lining the telephone wires, chattering in the trees, hopping from limb to limb—flitting short distances through the woods before coming to rest again.

On first hearing the sound--my daughter and I ran outside to look—just as quickly scampering back in as we were reminded, quite unceremoniously I might add, of the old childhood adage: “Birdie, birdie in the sky. Why’d you do that in my eye?”

The enormity of the assemblage became apparent when our next door neighbor called to comment on the noise, and, once we glanced out the front windows to observe that the woods behind the houses across the street were filled too. In all the birds covered several acres.

Early October in our latitude offers a rusty afternoon light that blends with the first yellow bleaching of the birch trees, the bright red poison ivy vines that climb sturdy trunks. The birds, backlit by the sun, caused shadows to flicker as they sailed through the oaks, the pines, the ash trees. For obvious reasons pertaining to the verse noted above, we chose to remain inside--but opened the window to catch an immense invasion of sound as the normal afternoon noises--cars speeding down the road, the wind chime peeling out back, the squirrels chattering in the trees, were drowned out by the clatter. And then, as quickly as they arrived, the birds left, a black mass of pulsing wings that lifted and disappeared, leaving behind a hushed intake of silence.

I’m sure, sometime in my life I’ve sat in a migratory path before, but don’t remember it, and last year, the enormity, the awe the flock engendered, made me glad to be home to experience it. So much so that last weekend, when a few blackbirds flew by, my daughter and I looked at each other and said, “Remember last year? I wonder if the birds will come back.”

Today I sat here alone and once again birds surrounded me. Though she was at school and not allowed to use her cell phone, with no one to share the marvel, my wonder, I was compelled to text my daughter: “The birds R back wish U were here.” Notwithstanding a certain Tippy Hedron creepiness, it is gripping be minding your own business when a force of nature of this magnitude descends upon you.

Kneeling on the family room sofa, I watched once again as the trees behind the house were filled with swooping blackbirds until, after about twenty minutes, they took off again. I pictured myself running up the path to my next door neighbor’s to see if she had heard the noise, and then noted a few stragglers still lining the trees. I’ll wait, I thought. Living on a migratory path is extraordinary after all, but caution ruled. In spite of my exhilaration, I chuckled as I muttered the last lines of that ditty we used to quote so long ago:

“I’m sure glad that cows don’t fly.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Brain Freeze

It’s been a long time since we’ve been involved in our daughter’s homework. By sixth grade, her math was so far over my head I had to jump, and with the rest she’s been on her own for ages. Other than a few flash card practices before tests, we’ve let her be. Last night though, her psychology homework required her to interview us over the dinner table. I should have smelled a rat. Over the fruit crisp I had fashioned out of apples too long ignored, she pulled out a questionnaire.

“Are you ready?” she asked, shuffling her pages. “How old was I when I first smiled at you?”
“Gosh Megs,” I replied. “I don’t remember that. Seems to me you were always smiling.”
“OK, then how about this one? How old was I when I first raised my head.” My husband and I looked at each other. “Are you kidding?”
“Well, do you remember when I first crawled? How about the first time I sat unaided?”
More clueless glances between parents. The big letter “L” for loser began to surface on Tim's forehead; a fat “F” for failure emerged on mine.
“When did I first grasp something? When was the first time I stood up?” “When was the first time I walked?”
“Oh, I know! I know that one!” I shouted. “It happened before you were one.” You were walking all around on your first birthday!”
“Yea, but when? When before my first birthday?”

Thanks, Mr. Psychology Teacher. Just because your kids are young and you still have brain cells, since when does that mean we need homework? With a big sigh, I said to her, “How does he expect anyone to remember that? It was sixteen years ago and by the way, we were sleep deprived. We'll have to look in the box on the top of the closet; the one with all your baby memories in it.” She looked mystified until I explained. “There's a “Baby’s First Year” calendar in there. I wrote everything in it.”

Unfortunately, her firsts weren’t the only memories short circuiting. Mr. Six-Foot-Four checked the tops of all the closets to no avail, after which thank goodness, one vague recollection did surface. Feeling more um, gratitude toward the psych teacher, his student and I crawled behind the walls to the unfinished, spider filled portion of the basement. Tripping on the yard sale collection that’s encroaching on everything else, we reached a pallet stacked with items that my husband and I can’t seem to part with--a ceramic baby lamp made for our future child by his grandmother before she passed away, a high chair we figure could come in handy sometime. Beside a doll crib stenciled by her grandmother, sat a clear plastic tote, on which, in block print were the words, “Meghann’s Memories, 1993-2001. DO NOT THROW AWAY.”

Hauling it upstairs we opened it and found other irreplaceable objects--a sweater knit by the same great-grandmother--a plastic bear that came home with our baby from the hospital--a second grade booklet she wrote called: “The Best Day of My Life” (Disney World—first grade) and yes, big sigh of relief, the calendar. Turning the pages, we discovered that she first smiled at six weeks and grasped a rattle at two months. Our little Einstein rolled over and sat alone at four months and took her first step six weeks before her first birthday.

Oh, and in case you wondered, Mr. Psychology, there’s also the first bath, first visit to the doctor, her first ear infection, first rollover and first sleep through the night. Turning the pages we noted her first solid food and her first trip out of state--also recorded: her first major illness (Chicken Pox) which popped out on my first Mother’s Day. We have her first hand clap, her first crawl, her first trip to McDonald’s (French fries only). There’s the first time she “sang” in church--burping for the finale; the first time she said “Dadda” and the first time she chirped “Mama,” (the day before the Chicken Pox arrived.) In all, with these crib notes and the rest of the plastic box, her firsts are fairly well covered. Though come to think of it the rest of her life has continued to be filled with them.

Dubious letters of the alphabet may have faded from our respective foreheads, but before any more family psychology assignments are due, my husband and I need to figure out where we stashed “Meghann’s memories, 2002 to present.”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Two Hundred

Historically it’s a Week in Review day, which, it so happens, I’m finding harder and harder to complete. I'm forcing myself to do them, and it shows, so today, I'm passing. On top of which, for this, THE 200th POST, (drumroll please) my heart dictates that the words be oh, I don't know, memorial in some way. My head however, isn’t in the game. It’s a wet Saturday; rain crescendos on the roof and hisses on the patio behind me. The temperature registers low enough that the heat kicked on before I turned down the thermostat. (It’s New England—no heat allowed until mid October—unless you are my sister who holds off until November. There will be no such martyrdom from me.) I’m in my jeans and fleece and slippers, contemplating this Middle Passages milestone and all I can come up with are trite phrases like, “Time flies” and “How did I get here?”

Eight months into this endeavor, I continue wake up with the distinct feeling that life is different. Saying goodbye to my 23 year employment habit has been a long process—ongoing yet. The proverbial big picture though, feels positive and right (I started to type “write” there, isn’t that funny?) and even when my chest constricts and my stomach heaves—which happens more often than you want to know—there’s an undercurrent of hopefulness. I’m on a road, and though it winds around blind curves, looks down over steep cliffs and my map blew out the window; I'll get to my destination. So with this post today, I’d like to recognize some bloggers whose words have pointed me in the right direction, buoyed me up and inspired me over the last eight months—all of whom have educated me as I clear my own path.

If you haven’t already, take a look at AmyMusings, who makes me laugh out loud every time I read her. Gosh, I wish I could be that funny. Then there is Suzanne at Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness. Her writing is evocative, redolent in imagery and description. There’s a surge of anticipation when I see she’s written a new post. Check out Through my Eyes. How wonderful that, with a sister living “down under,” out of the five million (or so) blogs out there, I’d find one from Australia. But that’s not the only draw by far. Tabitha writes beautiful, meaty words that regularly produce a chuckle, occasionally a tear. Terresa at Chocolate Chip Waffle makes me feel warm and gooey inside, just like her title, which wins my favorite blog name award, by the way. This list wouldn't be complete if I didn't include Amy at Seven Hundred Fifty Words. I know I gave her a call out yesterday, but since she's been there since the beginning and has been more encouraging than she can ever know, she gets another holler from me. At If You Give a Girl A Pen, I regularly find inspiration. Today I found Tes Hilaire, a guest blogger who wrote “I needed to write. I wasn’t me unless I did.”

That comment sums up my last 199 posts, the previous eight months, and in truth, most of the last 23 years.

Friday, October 2, 2009

With Some Alarm

Four mornings a week, my husband gets up at 3:45 a.m. to exercise for an hour. I know, you just said “ugh” didn’t you—the same way I do when I don’t sleep through it. But hear me out.

Many years ago, his physician informed him that he was a victim of hereditary high cholesterol and that exercise was a critical component to keeping it in check. Back then he played basketball two nights a week, but per the Doctor needed more activity, so we bought a Nordic Track. Do you remember those? They were the first ever “ski machine” and were recommended for providing an unparalleled cardiovascular workout minus the damaging impact of running. For a while, we both used it, but some ache or other psychosomatic illness chased me away ages ago. My husband though, completes five miles on each of his four mornings. He worked the first machine to death, inherited another one second hand, and now since parts are pricey, jury rigs repairs when it gives out--a dog leash is currently doing service as a belt between the flywheels.

So what’s with the 3:45 thing, you ask? Well, the man leaves for work before 6:30 a.m. and doesn’t return home until after 7:00 p.m. The nasty wake up time allows him to work out early enough to get an hour on the machine, then take a quick shower and come back to bed to cool down for another hour before getting up for breakfast. The extra rest is the carrot he dangles in front to make himself get up in the first place. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, it does to him, and though there have been many occasions I’ve stuffed my head under the pillow when he gets up, I’m used to it. In fact I admire him, not only because of his diligence and dedication, but also because of the thing I can never—and we are talking over fifteen years of exercising here—understand.

He does this all without an alarm clock.

Alarm clocks. Let’s discuss them shall we? Both my husband and I are extremely nearsighted, and since we both can’t see, we have clocks on each side of our bed. Over the course of our marriage, I have relied on the radio alarm clock at my side to rouse me with music fifteen minutes before I have to rise. That way there’s a warning, the waking is soft. Fifteen minutes later, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to stumble into the shower. My husband though, goes back to sleep after his workout and rises on his own accord, still without the alarm. His clock is there for time keeping only. The music is all for me.

This summer my over-sized digital display clock radio (marketed to senior citizens, I’m sorry to say) began to lose accuracy, and with no need to get up for work—and our daughter’s job schedule starting later in the day, I stopped using the alarm too. Still I was up and dressed well before 7:00 and when a new clock appeared on my bedside table there was no need to set the alarm. Then school started and wake up time became a predawn 5:45 again and I was out of the habit of alarms. My husband’s automatic rising triggered my own wake up call—until he went to an early meeting one morning recently, and I overslept.

Now, I wouldn’t call myself a technological guru, but generally if I read them out loud, I understand directions. This new alarm clock though has me flummoxed. Press “set” once, press “function” twice, hit the right arrow button until you get to “alarm” and you have five seconds to press “+” or “-” to arrive at the time you want before the darn thing goes ahead and sets itself. Day one with the alarm scared the, err, stuffing out of our daughter when the radio went off full volume at 6:40 p.m. and there was no one at that end of the house.

On day two with the alarm, I got the time closer but was in the shower when it blared. As a precaution, when adjusting it once again before I went to bed that night, I made sure to lower the sound.

Day three, who knows what happened. It didn’t go off. I vaulted out of bed when my husband woke me and stomped into the shower.

This morning, day four—it went off at the correct time all right—at full blast accompanied by expletives deleted out of me. Heart pounding, I gained a fuller appreciation of my husband’s capabilities.

There will be no day five. Our daughter uses her cell phone as an alarm and wakes up fifteen minutes after me. She’ll be the back up plan for days Tim has early meetings.

Other than that, I sleep next to Mr. Nordic Track. He’s the one born with an internal chronometer. He’ll have to wake me up. If he values his knee caps he'll give me a fifteen minute warning.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


The first blog I ever read regularly is authored by a NYC based writer whose prose touches me to the core. Her blog, called Seven Hundred Fifty Words was a vehicle in which she challenged herself to write daily for a year. Loving her style, I gobbled it up, a bit late in the game comprehending that a 750 word essay is about the standard size for a one page magazine article. I’m self taught here, so let me know if I’m off on that, but I think I’ve got it. Over the last few years, I’ve had a few pieces published, but the first (and only) article appearing with my byline in a somewhat (how’s that for hedging--maybe “almost” is the right word here) major publication, approximated 750 words. The next time I targeted a piece for for a magazine, I kept it to 750 words and within 24 hours, the editor emailed me to tell me they wanted to print it. Hmmm, I sense consistency here.

Last February, when the paying job went away, I dove into this blog. Though I required nothing of myself other than regular writing, if we average the posts over the last eight months, I’m guessing that most will come in somewhere in a ballpark between 500-750 words. That’s five days a week (not counting Saturday summaries) 500-750 or so words each day. I haven’t sought publication for any of these words in any other media--none have appeared in traditional print--and sometimes--OK a lot of times, I've wondered what in heaven’s name I've been doing. Regardless, something down deep compelled me to keep going--regular practice I figured, at a minimum would improve my writing. Still, a thought niggled that Middle Passages has been leading me somewhere, and though I couldn’t tell you where, for the last several months I’ve listened to my inner voice whispering “This will pay off somehow” and kept on plugging.

I spent the spring hemming and hawing about how to transition my employment life to incorporate writing, until last June, when as a result of networking phone calls to incredibly kind people (Thanks Gary, Maureen, Robyn, and later Rosemary) I began to understand that I could start my own freelance writing business. As is my practice with all new things, I took it slowly, like a puppy running up to the sea and then high-tailing it away as soon as a big wave arrived. I started saying the words to myself: “I think I might…no I am going to open my own business,” then practiced saying them out loud. When that overwhelmed me, I retreated--enjoying a first ever summer with my daughter, time with my visiting sister and writing for this blog.

Finally, September rolled around and it was time. Targeting a deadline, this past Monday, I sent an email to 67 people informing them of my new venture and almost immediately learned that yes-in-deedy, Middle Passages has prepared me for something.

Yesterday at 4:00 p.m. I spoke to an interior designer who needed an article written for a local publication in less than 24 hours. Her normal copywriter was swamped and referred her to me (Thanks again Robyn!). Could I write the article? Hallelujah yes. Did I interview the interior designer last night, two of her contacts this morning and write a 748-word article which I submitted before 2:00 today? Yup, I did, because even though my stomach churned, heck, I’ve been writing something like a 750-word essay five days a week for the last eight months. In the spirit of entrepreneurial-ship, what’s one more? Oh, and yes, an invoice was involved and remuneration for my effort will be forthcoming.

Now though, I’m really over the moon—because the interior designer just called me. She received the article that I emailed to her this afternoon. Guess what? She loved it.

Hey folks! Light up the firecrackers. It appears I’ve become a freelance writer.