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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Lull

I attended a seminar on personal reinvention last night, presented by a local author, Claire Cooke, Must Love Dogs, Summer Blow Out, and Wildwater Walking Club. Not thinking that she has six published books to her name as well as a feature movie created from one, I wandered out the door last night to make a ten minute ride with about fifteen minutes to spare. Oops. As I drove by the little blue bookstore holding the event, a line of humanity snaked down the front path. Once I joined the queue, I noticed a camera man pointing his lens out the front door. All in good time we realized that The Today Show was filming a segment on the author and would be covering her presentation last night. Hmmm. As the camera swung toward me, I artfully stepped behind a taller woman in front. Yes, I’m in the process of reinventing myself, but until I’m a bit further along, I prefer to do it away from national TV.

Due to the crowd and the camera crew, things were pretty tight--the author graciously stepped outside after the filming was complete and conducted the rest of her seminar from the steps of the book store to the group outside. If you haven’t read Claire Cook’s first book Must Love Dogs, then you don’t know that she used to be a teacher, and that she completed that first novel while sitting in the car, waiting for her daughter to finish swim practice. Last night she called that writing period her “guilty pleasure,” the time she did what she wasn’t supposed to be doing. Aha, I can relate.

Here are all the things I have not done in the last three weeks, while I have continued (with some disruption due to company) my guilty pleasure, which is writing this blog:

I have not finished The Copywriter’s Handbook. I did however, read Blessings, by Anna Quindlen.

I have not identified other freelance writers with whom to network. I did request to join two freelance writers groups on LinkedIn but to date I have not received acceptances from the group administrators. It’s been over a week, I’m feeling deflated.

I have not identified a course to take to further my writing career. Writers’ Digest is offering a 20% discount for the month of July. Several topics intrigue me…but none of them cover business writing. I did complete a long stalled essay, it is now out in the black hole of editor-land, and now I spend my time second guessing it.

I have not networked to find someone to help me develop a website (I’ll trade services if you need me to write your copy). I did find a little exercise on About.com and created my own first website. It says: “This is my first website.” That’s as far as I got.

I have not come up with a name for my potential business, and I have not opened a small business account. It goes without saying that I don’t have business cards.

When Claire Cook said: “Every day there is a really good reason not to get your work done” I thought to myself, I am getting work done. It’s the paying work that's a struggle.

Sigh. Today I’m scheduled to go back to the outplacement office. Perhaps that will get me back on track.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer Dreams

Today begins the first week this summer that neither my daughter nor I have anything extensive scheduled. Before I acquired my own, ahem, unstructured time, she attended camp in some capacity--day camp, overnight camp; she’ll repeat a counselor in training experience in mid July. That commitment however, extends only for a month. A bonus with regard to my employment status arrived in the form of our ability to offer her a few unplanned summer weeks. Her first week off from school we had company, so we were busy enough. This week though, she and I are a bit unsure of the blank calendar hanging by the desk. Watching the weather forecast calling for extended rain last night, we looked at each, and asked: “What are we going to do?”

Until 2009, her summers were planned, coordinated, organized—the opposite of mine at her age. She had drop off and pick-up times and attended extended day programs all summer long. The good news is that she has loved it all. It’s just hard for me to relate to.

Back in the day, if you will, starting in mid-June, my sister, brother and I waved goodbye to Mom at 9:30 a.m., jumping onto our ten-speed bikes for a trip across town to Lake Waban. Skimming bareheaded and barefoot up Route 135, we careened around parking meters and hopped over curb cuts. Traversing paths that snake through Wellesley College Campus, we peddled hard on the flatlands approaching the downhill then plummeted, no hands, no feet, arms swinging at our sides and hot breezes tangling our hair. Whizzing past sun blond fields loud with chainsawing cicadas, we pumped ourselves by the college science center replete with pseudo smokestacks and jutting metal beams, past honking frogs in the sculpted lily pond, over the hill near the brick art center and descended one more time. Panting, we hopped off our bikes onto summer callused feet; walking the last fifty feet over a stony drive to flash our beach badges at the desk that marked the territory we considered our summer home.

Ah, the lake. It was nothing more than a pond really--muddy brown and warm by August with a tiny beach molded out of mocha sand they trucked in annually. Peeling green and white docks jutted into murky water, olive benches and picnic tables toasted in the sun at the back. No matter how small though, the beach offered us huge freedoms. Long before I was my daughter’s age our parents let us go and beach rats that we were, weather permitting and even when it didn’t, we stayed at the lake until the last whistle blew.

My brother, sister and I weren’t alone in our passion for the beach. Living in a wealthy town, many of our school friends summered elsewhere. Those of us left behind dove into seasonal friendships; alternating between breathless games of raft tag and partnering up in striped-sailed Sunfishes to battle mid-lake sponge fights. Sometimes, we rowed boats, weaving long chains into the black water with our oars, and tipping precariously, plucked wild blueberries from bushes that dangled across the way. On the far side of the lake, we crayoned ourselves with chunks from an old demolished paint factory, drawing on canvases of suntanned skin. At night, chests aching after a day of swimming, we’d pedal home exhausted but exhilarated, counting the minutes until the next day.

I became a lifeguard at the lake when I was old enough and spent my summers earning a salary where I wanted to be anyway. Once age granted us driver’s licenses we met our friends back at the lake as the sun tipped below the horizon. Tunneling bare toes into cooling sand we’d laugh in blackness that turned us invisible. During the hottest nights we swam, ducking behind the dock and holding deep breaths when college security shined searchlights over moonlit water. Paddling row boats to the middle of the lake we gasped at shooting stars--quicksilver strokes brushed across crowded evening skies.

Even as I write this I sigh. Not only are those days of teenage independence ancient history for me, but the beach that was witness to my blossoming adulthood is fenced off now. It turns out that poisonous residue from that long abandoned paint factory where we unknowingly played, had leached into the surrounding land and waters for almost eighty years. When this was discovered, our beach became a hazardous waste cleanup site, complete with bilges, spillways and pumps. Trees were torn down across the lake, an impervious barrier laid and now playing fields for the college students exist where there were once woods.

Though I live fifty miles away now, at least once a year I walk by the lake, eager to catch some reflection of my youth. All this time after the cleanup though, a chain link fence still blocks the way. Perhaps in the future my little beach will open again. But this summer, my hopes are for my daughter. For the five weeks she has free this year, I wish her a summer with friends at the harbor, boat trips to our peninsula beach, salt crusted skin sticky with sunscreen, flip-flopped feet covered with sand, and most of all, a season riding no hands and no feet, arms flung wide as she negotiates yet another downhill swoop.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Week in Review (20)

Things I have learned:

You save over $1.50 a pound by buying brand instead of gourmet coffee beans. Buy whole beans and grind them just before you perk and it tastes just as good.

Rain won’t stop you if you don’t let it.

There is always something new to see around you, as long as you keep looking.

Skepticism is natural when you bring visitors to the cemetery to see the view. It feels better when they see it though, and stop looking at you like you are crazy.

On the first sunny day after two weeks of rain, you will get sunburned—guaranteed.

If I could invent a truly non-sticky sunscreen, I wouldn’t have to worry about unemployment.

I knew this one, but it bears repeating. Love has no bloodlines. Family is family--however it is built.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Good Bye

The house adjusts itself in pops and squeaks, while overhead, airplane motors drone above the tops of swaying pines. On the street a car engine revs; in the backyard a bird sings cheak, cheak, and then flies away.

Until a half hour ago teenage girls laughed and hip-checked each other and slouched and scuffed their flip-flopped feet. Grinning through gapped teeth, a six-year-old reached a brave hand to a temperamental cat then stepped back to tuck her fingers into a grown-up palm. As we clicked photo after photo, gathering proof, creating history, they tossed their heads bored, turning away, living the moments not recording them. Slamming victorious hands on the butcher-block table and high-fiving, they played “Apples to Apples” and “Mad Gab,” twirling brown hair while one said “You guys” and the others “Y’all;” one called me Mom and three called me M’am, but in similar timbres that confused all who heard.

Visitors to the area make us see our own world more clearly—the sliver of a moon framed between the halyard and mast of a dry-docked sailboat, hump-backed boulders lining the beach, sea mist floating above a churning ocean, snails that suction their way across damp sand. We realize that we don’t know the names of the trees whose shedding leaves carpet the roadway after two weeks of rain, nor the pink blossoms on the bushes that line a chain linked fence. Once again we see a windmill with arms that dip and circle and stretch above our horizon; rocks littering the beach come into focus as pink and black dappled stone, smooth gray granite or amber stripes, treasures brushed off and pocketed with memory attached.

We notice how fast we drive, how quickly we speak, how unthinkingly we interrupt here in the North, where the world spins at a feverish tempo. Before long the clock will pick up its measured movement, reverting to a previous cadence, life as before, time as always; but for now, raindrops splat on the wooden deck, a hummingbird vibrates and wings away, a truck speeds by, the computer clicks, a house shifts onto itself, cracking, squealing, echoing, empty.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day Trips

Spending time with our vistors:

Lots of trinket shops
Plymouth Rock
Old North Church

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fun Fact

Peacefield, the ancestral home that John and Abigail Adams bought after he returned from his stint as ambassador to France and was elected the second President of the United States, is open for tours in Quincy, MA. The home remained in the Adam’s family until the 1900’s and became property of the National Park Service in the 1940’s.

The tour guide who took us around the property had been working for at the site since she was thirteen, (she is in her mid to late 20’s now) and offers an informed and entertaining tour based on her own research. Grinning, she recounted how John's and Abigail's son, John Quincy Adams, an accomplished, educated and brilliant man as well as the sixth President of the United States, was, err, lacking in certain social graces.

There was no upper hall in the original home. Therefore, upon waking at 4:00 in the morning, rather than walking down the stairs, across the long front hall and up another set of stairs to get to his paneled study, he thought nothing of cutting through the guest room in his night shirt, carrying his lantern, even when it was occupied. Imagine spooning in a nineteenth century feather bed and waking to the President of the United States strolling through.

Eventually, his British born wife, schooled in a bit more etiquette, arranged for a back hall to be built on.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Good Light

On a sight-seeing tour with out-of-state visitors in a driving rain yesterday, we stopped at the beach and saw the ghost shadow of Minot’s Light, shrouded in fog, a mile out to sea. Our daughter explained the history of the lighthouse; that the first Minot’s Light was made of iron beams driven into to the ledge off of Cohasset and Scituate in a feat of optimistic engineering. In 1850 two assistant lightkeepers lost their lives in a storm similar to yesterday’s tempest, when the lighthouse collapsed into the ocean.

Yesterday, rain blew sideways with the wind off the sea and waves exploded like geysers up against the rocks surrounding the beach. I caught myself thinking about those two assistant lightkeepers; how they would have known that the lighthouse was not safe, holding on tight while it rocked back and forth, pounded and shook, shuddering with each wave; that they would have looked at each other in the eyes, knowing that unless some miracle occurred and the seas subsided, they wouldn’t make it through the night.

The replacement lighthouse is made of interlocking squares of impermeable Quincy granite; each mountain of water that crashes against it wedges the blocks closer together. It towers there, out beyond Barrel Rock, beyond the Grampuses and we count on it to set our bearings, recording numbers as it flashes 1-4-3. And then once in a while a storm reminds us that a long time ago, Minot’s Light wasn’t situated there, solitary at the edge where it has stood impervious, as natural in our horizon as the rocks surrounding it; protecting sailors for 159 years.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Week in Review (19)

Things I have learned:

Proofread, proofread, proofread--especially the word copywriter when you want to be one.

So far every writer encountered over the last several months has offered encouragement, ideas and resources. Note to self, if there is ever a similar opportunity make sure to do the same.

Rudeness is not location specific.

Seeing your words in print is never quite as exciting as when the news arrives that your piece has been accepted.

If you walk around singing the song: “The Sun will Come out Tomorrow,” eventually it will.

I think.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Doorways to the Present

I promised myself that I’d take the pocket digital when I went for my next walk, thinking I’d find some kind of pretty bird to photograph. The naturalist and writer whose blog I have started to read knows the names of all the birds he sees; I haven’t a clue other than the most obvious. But when it came down to it, it wasn’t the live birds that held my attention, but the stone animals yesterday.

My stroll covered the short route, the one by the library that starts with the cemetery. The rain held off long enough for me to get a good trot in through the mossy banks that point out to Little Harbor. Once I get to the middle of the cemetery, something usually stops me, an old family name, or a large memorial surrounded by tiny stones; “Kitty – aged 2” got me yesterday. After that I power-walked up out of the cemetery around the block, turning left before the library on my way back to town hall, where I’d parked my car in order to get more yardage under my belt.

At this end of Sohier Street there is a mix of houses, a yellow Victorian that underwent an enormous addition, center-front colonials, antique capes, and this home, sitting right up on the street that I admire each time I walk by.

Perhaps it is how clean the front steps always look, or the smile the owner gave me last week when she was bringing in her mail. But in truth, I think it’s the yin and the yang that draws me in, the mix of formal and whimsy; a side-lighted front door, the meticulous bluestone path leading up to the step, an impeccable cobbled driveway, and then this. Two stone bunnies, a stone frog, and a pile of tumbled beach rocks tucked into the corner of the entrance. Something that “Kitty – age 2” would have loved. In some way, memorials to the living, after walking past so many markers for those who do not.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Silence of the Ages

David Mehegan wrote in “Behind Closed Doors,” his June 15th Boston Globe article about the dwindling respect for personal privacy demonstrated via cell phones usage. His particular example was a woman who sat near him on a bus, conducting a conversation with her doctor’s office pertaining to a missing urine sample. Eew. Although cell phone etiquette as a topic is unfortunately old news, he garnered my sympathies. I even thought about devoting some Middle Passages space to the topic, except that he said it all; in my mind there was nothing to add.

Until today.

We’ve all had experiences with rude cell phone users who for some reason believe that they exist in a sound-proof bubble, say, surrounded by one inch thick Plexiglas walls the size of a phone booth. It’s as if, once they pull out their cell phone, a stockade seals around them allowing them to conduct their conversation in a vacuum.

My worst experience occurred on a deck outside my old company which is set up in the good weather months with mesh umbrellas and white plastic lunch tables. Late to eat that day, I enjoyed the relative peace of the empty area until a woman sat down two tables away from me, dialed her cell, and proceeded to engage in a high volume argument with what I assume was a significant other. By the time she started crying; I threw the remaining half of my sandwich down and retreated inside to the cafeteria with little sympathy. It amazed me that in addition to her “phone booth,” I had become invisible too.

I recalled that scene today as a gentleman, though I use that term as loosely as I know how, seated two tables behind me at the library decided to conduct business on his cell. Each time it rang (yes, I said rang, not vibrated), he answered in normal cell phone tone (that is to say, loudly) and finally my passive aggressive tendencies took over. Twisting in my chair, I glared at him directly, and sighed a few times, to no avail. He also failed to notice when I rolled my eyes as he announced to his caller: “It’s too hard to hear you with all that noise in the background, could you please call me back?” This is when living in a small town is a challenge. Direct confrontation seemed out of the question. I want to come back to the library next Thursday too.

Credit where credit is due. As he discussed the intricate landscaping design scheduled for his house, I heard the woman sitting behind me whisper into her phone, “Hold on, I’m in the library, let me step outside.”

To some degree, I admit defeat. Cell phones are ever-present, mine is in my pocket as we speak. All I can say is thank goodness that while I sat seething amid the landscape discussion, the communication from my daughter pertaining to a friend-crisis during school lunch arrived via a soundless text.

Next we'll discuss the topic of cell phone usage in school.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Charmed, I'm Sure

Charm bracelets.

That is the riveting thought I woke to at exactly 3:40 this morning. Specifically, the bracelet my daughter received as a present when she was seven, which now sports thirteen charms. Her sterling links contain a church (First Communion), a cross (Confirmation), a cat (first kitty), flip flops, ballet slippers, a replica of an island in South Carolina, a flute for her band participation, a Christmas nutcracker and several other trinkets marking milestones. When she wears it, it gives a satisfying little tinkle that demonstrates the fullness of her life.

No word of a lie, I didn’t realize it until my sister’s-in-law compared their charm bracelets while sitting at my counter one Thanksgiving, but I have a charm bracelet too—a silver chain that my grandmother gave me for my own First Communion decades ago. It sits in my jewelry box, and attached to the clasp is one charm—a sterling chapel. Up until a few years ago, you could peer into the window of the tiny church and read “The Lord’s Prayer.” Now, the minuscule document holding the words has slipped down and if you look though the hole, all you can see is—I can’t resist here—“the light”—streaming in from the other side. All the years that I’ve held on to the bracelet, it was simply my special gift from Grandma C. until that Thanksgiving a few Novembers ago, when I realized that it should have been clinking with charms.

Yes, well, we won’t deny that I’m slightly slow on the uptake.

Anyway, now that I’ve figured it out, once in a while I wonder if I should fill the bracelet up. What kind of milestones would be important, and would it be cheating to start adding to it so late? It's a fair bit after the fact to document say, my own Confirmation, or my participation on the varsity diving team, or singing in the chorus. There have been graduations from high school and college, but if I dug through the trunk in the basement for diplomas, I’d find enough evidence of that.

Yawning in the dark this morning, I entertained myself by building this bracelet:

With out question, I’d add a charm etched with the date of our marriage and one engraved with our daughter’s birthday. Perhaps I’d find a little piece to acknowledge my garden, as long as it didn’t come with weeds. A sun chair would testify to my joy at the beach, but given a minor skin condition, I’d have to add a bottle of sunscreen too. Measuring cups or a little spoon would display my love for the kitchen, but if the truth be told here, that interest stems from my infatuation with food—all food. The jewelry store couldn’t sell enough charms to cover that.

Rolling over in bed, I smirked at my own silliness and then recognized this: After the ornaments signifying my husband and my daughter, the only other absolute would have to be a pen. It wouldn’t come close to thirteen charms, but I’m pretty sure at that point, that bracelet would be all filled up.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Weather--or Not

I am sitting in the spindle-backed chair in front of a slow computer wrapped in the same down comforter that I sat under in February. The plaid scarf get-up I wore indoors all winter has been put to rest, but it is June 16th and outside the thermometer hovers at a damp 58 degrees. The furnace just kicked in because the programmable thermostat, long dialed down in anticipation of summer, registered temperatures below the minimum threshold (FYI, that’s 60). This morning, I yanked on one of the three interchangeable pairs of blue jeans I lived in all winter while gazing longingly at the Capri’s and shorts I swapped to my drawer last month. Then I sighed and snuck back into our cedar closet to find a warmer sweater.

Spring in New England is iffy. Growing up in our thrifty Yankee household, Mom always turned the thermostat off at the beginning of May, though there were plenty of days after that we'd tweak it back up--Heaven help us when we got caught. Now the oil bills belong to Tim and me and though I’m tempted to push the “up” arrow until I hear the whoosh of the furnace, instead I wander with my comforter—at a time when I should be planning for the beach.

Not this June though, and after an interminable winter in which I tried my frugal best to keep the heat down, I’m starting to take it personally. According the National Weather Service, in the last fifteen days the average weather has been 62.5, which is 3.5 degrees below normal for the month. And that my friends, is in Boston. It’s been a long time since I worked in the city, but those tall buildings hold residual heat and, depending on what street you are on they also block the wind. Here, we live in the shadows of towering pines, and suffer the breeze; a straight shot off of the ocean which today, according to a blackboard at the deserted beach, registered a water temperature identical to our backyard--a balmy 58.

As I regretfully turn down the thermostat so the furnace stops, and wrap myself tighter in the comforter, I recognize yet another unexpected impact of unemployment. At work, I didn’t pay for the heat. We programmed the home furnace down when we left the house, and up when we returned, in between, the company paid for my warmth.

And yes, it’s New England. Don’t think I’m not aware that before I finish grumbling about the cold, we’ll have a heat wave. In spite of the fact at the moment, my fingers ache in the dampness--any minute now I’ll be longing for my old air conditioned office. Power of positive thinking though, that one I’ve got figured out. On hot mornings I’ll work in the library. In the afternoons I’m heading to the beach.

Of course, as soon as I finished editing this, the sun came out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Out on a Limb

A hundred years, and several lifetimes, oh all right, I guess it was only four months ago-- the day after the corporate restructuring that altered my life, I wrote in my first Middle Passages post:

“Writing about my reinvention and job search will give purpose to my days, and perhaps direction in my career.”

Back then, I had no idea how important and valuable this writing tool would become for me. But as I reread that statement, it’s clear that as far back as February 5th, even as I reeled from shock while professing not to know what I’d do next, my compass arrow was on the “write” course all along--only I lacked the confidence to admit it.

Middle Passages has indeed given me purpose--to the point that when I know I can’t write on a given day, I spend precious time running around with my camera taking pictures of the sea, or my garden--anything to avoid a missed post (and a certain sister’s gentle teasing when nothing new appears). Even more critical though, is the direction Middle Passages has given to my career. Through this blog I have proven to myself that I can write regularly and on demand—and that even when I am struggling to find the words, I can coax something out.

I am still, in so many regards, a “newbie” when it comes to writing but continue to school myself, reading resources recommended by writing experts--reading that begets more reading and more writing, I find. Now the true business end of that homework, as I mentioned last week, means plugging through The Copywriter’s Handbook in an effort to figure out how, exactly, to make my passion for words pay a bit more than peanuts.

I love the kind of writing that you find in Middle Passages posts and plan at an important level to continue in that vein. But the fact of it is that literary types are everywhere, it’s a challenging market; and busy editors drown behind stacks of hopeful submissions. In a perfect world, I’d sit here at my cubby all day, writing essays that would all be published, but we all know how perfect this world is. Eventually, I need to put my skills to work in a way that is more, err, lucrative. So I am learning about “writing to sell” and “copy motivators” and “unique selling propositions” and here is what it has come down to.

If I’ve learned anything over the last few months, it’s this. In the movie Field of Dreams, secret voices whisper “If you build it they will come.” In my Field of Dreams the voices say, “If you say it, it will happen.” So, I’m saying it--in print. Over the summer, I will be developing a plan to hang out a shingle as a freelance business writer. In the meantime, there is much more I need to know and so much more I have to do. Middle Passages will still be a regular part of my schedule, but it’s possible there may be days that I can’t write, and other times when the subject matter expands. We’ll see how it all goes. In the meantime, I’m ready, willing and able. Stay tuned; cross your fingers, and if you know anyone who needs to hire a writer, please call me.

There. It's in print.

And, if you are reading this, it means hallelujah; I had the nerve to click "Publish Post."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Week In Review (18)

Regular readers may be aware that a germ of confidence with regard to “next steps” is beginning to grow. It’s only a seed at the moment, but a few months ago, I never would have imagined the rewards that would develop as a result of a February “job action,” or “restructuring.” At this point in my “rebirth” (or in truth, the emergence of the “real me”) I have so much gratitude for the support and kindness and caring I have encountered along the way. Over the last week especially, I woke up every morning filled with optimism and possibility. So today, I’m canceling the list of things I have learned, and replacing it with …

People to whom I’d like to say thanks:

In no particular order:

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: to Tim and Megs, always.

To Connie and Phil, my regular cheerleaders.

To Sarah—Who knew in some regard we’d be on this road together?

For Kathy S., who not only cheers, but offers sound, practical advice…and who led me to Gary G.

To Barb C. for that first lunch weekday lunch, for Whitney Woods, the Aaron River Reservoir and most of all for helping me find new places.

To Joanne and Mary Jo, who went before me, and whose supportive calls and emails let me know the path ahead is safe.

To Nancy B. for being a constant friend.

To Gary J. for his encouraging phone call, and to Annie, my regular reader and commenter.

To Eileen S. for her wise counsel and her knowledge of four-wheel-drive.

For Tish and John because they are always there, and I’m especially glad they were the day The Globe called.

To “Boom Boom” for her email to The Globe and for being as funny as she was 23 years ago.

To Ann and Terri, and those first restorative oceanside strolls.

To Kris C. whose regular emails keep me connected.

To Gary G., Maureen C. and Robyn B. all of whom interrupted their busy schedules to advise a stranger and convince me that I am a writer. Robyn gets a special call out for the word “chops.”

To Lori C., John J. and Steve S. who met for coffee and lunch, and whose ongoing communications have been well considered and kind.

To Jane S. for her quiet perception and one exceptional walk.

To MC, for being someone I’d never question reaching out to, and for Dunkin Donuts and dinner.

To Mike W. and his consistent, measured counseling.

To Bill S. who remembered a friend from when we were both beginning.

To Jenny D., a newer reader and advocate, and for Ali S., whose little emails along the way always make me smile.

To Kirsti, who signed up as an early Middle Passages follower.

To Amy W., my inspiration, and for Joel, who remains a friend even though there are no business prospects.

To Paula V. for her comments.

To Ali F. and Liza C. for “following.”

To Mary Kay, Karen and Linda, who have welcomed me since that first frosting covered Monday; Karen for sending me links to good writers, and Mary Kay, who announced: “Since you write we have a project for you.”

All lists must come with a disclaimer, I suppose. After I print this, someone else will surely come to mind. Please know that everyone, simply everyone I have encountered over the last four months whether in person or via email, has had a hand in this evolution of me. I am grateful to all of you.

And, since it seems strange not to impart at least one kernel of wisdom I have acquired over the last week:

Chunky peanut butter on English Muffins is clearly better than smooth.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Knocking on Wood

There is nothing better than when an idea descends in the middle of the night and you remember to write it down. I have a pad of paper and a pen on the bureau next to my bed for just such occurrences. It used to be there because things were so crazy at work that I’d wake in the dark remembering something I’d forgotten at the office. If I didn’t write it down, I’d stay up all night worrying. Thankfully, that is over for now, but at night my subconscious still percolates with blog ideas, essay inspirations, and yes, occasionally things pertaining to my future that I’ve forgotten to do.

The bad news is that sometimes I don’t tear off the top sheet that holds the idea, but carry the whole pad to the computer to record my revelation. I did that last week, and when I woke up in the middle of the night with a proverbial light bulb over my head and the pad wasn’t there, I could have cheerfully shot myself. And, no, it was dark, I was tired, surely I’d remember, right? I failed to get up to jot the thought down, and darn, wouldn't you know that Pulitzer Prize winner sunk back to the netherworld of my psyche, perhaps never to return again. Beats me how I’ll ever know.

Anyway, the night before last, this idea surfaced, the pad sat in its proper location, and I jotted down one simple sentence. The phrase thrilled me though, because it was tied to an essay that I tried to write once in 2004 and again in 2006, each time faltering midway. Since I haven’t given either incarnation any thought for a long while, it’s intriguing that a concept that solved my dilemma popped up over Wednesday night. Once it did though I couldn’t wait until morning to start working on that piece once again.

Routine wins out though, so while I wanted to run the computer when the alarm sounded, instead I showered, mulling the idea, made breakfast and lunch for my daughter, eyeballed my midnight jottings before drying my hair, dropped her off at school, came home, forced myself to check email and read my favorite NY Writer’s blog. Afraid to be too optimistic, only then did I allow myself sit down in front of a blank screen.

It was harder than I expected, but words came, and in less than two hours, I had the bones of an essay. So, I walked away, packed up the laptop—and The Copywriter’s Handbook, the self-assigned homework that I have been highlighting my way through this week. After a short walk, I read that for an hour while sipping coffee in the French café downtown. When it got so loud there that I was forced to re-read words, I drove to the library. There, from 10:00 until 2:15, I sat in front of the laptop in a straight-backed chair pulled up to a cherry wood table, re-working the essay--plugging in pieces from my former attempts, shuffling, cutting, pasting, editing and word counting. Finally, I saved it to the flash drive, picked up my daughter at school and drove home, promising myself I wouldn’t look at it again until today.

This morning the essay came to mind first thing when I woke, and I actually prayed, well, more like begged: “Please, please, please when I open it this morning let it make sense and tell a smooth story.”

Whew. I’m pretty sure it does. After another hour of editing, I closed it down again. I’m not reading it again until Monday. Cross your fingers that I’m not jinxing myself by telling you this, but I feel good about this one.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Favorable Results

An author of a blog called “30 Minutes a Day on Foot” that I discovered while Googling the Aaron River Reservoir last week offers an intriguing component to his post. He’s a naturalist, and after photographing something of interest and describing his “half-hour” walk, he finishes by noting how many new species he encountered, as well as the number of what he calls, “Stranger Hello’s.”

I thought of him while traipsing through my favorite cemetery today. Those of you who have been reading all along will remember that I’m not a ghoul; Central Cemetery is close to the library--my ultimate destination—and offers an amazing view. A short hike this morning was medicinal; the 4.6 miles I walked with a friend yesterday produced a sore back and stiff hips, so I took a lesser stroll to loosen up. (Now, if someone would remind me next time that sitting at the library in the same position for four hours facing my laptop would mitigate that benefit, I’ll be good.) The long route didn’t bother me the last three times I completed it, but perhaps the sub-arctic, 55 damp degrees yesterday had a negative impact. Truly, I’d have no idea that summer was coming, unless I saw the signs advertising the start of our Farmer’s Market today--hooray, but I digress.

So, getting back to the cemetery, as I descended the steep grade, I gazed out to Little Harbor and spotted an Snowy Egret standing near shore. They are not new or rare around here, but for as many years I have lived in this area, the beauty that I encounter as a part of my regular day invariably causes me to take a deep breath--and to long for a camera. I’ll try to remember the pocket digital when I walk from now on.

As for “Stranger Hello’s,” well the cemetery was dead silent (sorry--couldn't resist) but there was an enthusiastic “Good morning” from the woman pulling her mail from the box at the side of her antique colonial, and I returned a smiling hello from the man in the windbreaker walking his yellow lab. The two women power-strolling in sweatpants though, one of whom I believe was more likely being walked by her dog, well, they ignored me. In spite of that, I’d call it a successful outing, according to “30 Minutes a Day on Foot” standards. As we all know, two out three ain’t bad.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


My options came down to a self-imposed homework assignment or a blog post today, and unlike yesterday, the reading won out. So, this entry celebrates Foxgloves--Digitalis for the science-minded. My fun fact is that “Digitalis,” the medicine that strengthens the contraction of the heart muscle is derived from these beauties. Apparently the therapeutic property of one of my favorite plants has been known since the days of the Roman Empire. Am I the only one who wasn’t aware of this?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Musical [A]Musing

It was fourth, fifth or sixth grade and I desperately wanted piano lessons. Not that we had a piano, but my grandparents owned a baby grand--when we visited their house across town, my sister and I sat on the mahogany bench in front of it, plunking out tunes by ear and staring at the yellowing sheet music in front of us as if we understood it. Envious of my friend Amy, whose family owned an instrument and received weekly visits from a jazz instructor, I pleaded for lessons of my own.

It was a surprise however; when I returned home from school one day to find my mother speaking to a nattily dressed representative from the “Royal Conservatory of Music.” My mom apparently, had just signed me up for accordion lessons. I remember wrinkling my brow and saying: “But I wanted to learn the piano” and my musically-challenged mother nodding as the salesman responded “This is a wonderful way to get started on the piano.” The leather case perched beside our crushed velvet couch contained a miniature accordion--which he left as well as instructions to attend three beginner classes, conducted in a seedy studio on the second floor of a white clapboard building, steps away from the buzzing traffic of Route 9.

There I sat in a semi-circle of grown up squeeze-box aficionados, pushing buttons, pressing keys, hauling in and out. After three classes we graduated to the full-size instrument which weighed almost as much as me. With this standard model, it was no longer possible to convince myself that these lessons were a precursor to the piano, and I viewed the weekly visits as a unique form of torture. It didn’t matter how badly I played--and let me assure you that I played poorly indeed--the teacher complimented me. I couldn’t read music, the instrument was too heavy, I faltered through each exercise, but still I was “doing great!” Soon, as hard as I had begged to learn piano, I implored my parents for release from the class. To their credit, it didn’t take long for them to understand that in my brief accordion nightmare, they were the only instrument that was ever successfully “played.”

After that fiasco, my widowed grandfather downsized from his expansive colonial, and his gleaming piano moved into a third of our living room. For three years, every Wednesday afternoon my mother trucked my sister and me across town for lessons in Mrs. Ohmart's rosewater scented den. With liver-spotted hands, the teacher forced our hesitant fingers to the correct keys; we dutifully repeated our scales and learned simple renditions of Chopin, Beethoven, and Liszt. Knobby knuckles aside, Mrs. Ohmart was no slouch, she called me out when it became clear that junior high school activities were eating into practice time. Once I rationalized that the practice required for my voice, an instrument at which I was already proficient, was built into the five chorus classes I took each week, piano lessons faded away. Still, I took the keyboard’s presence for granted, occasionally pausing to plunk out a tune, unaware that a silent death knell had already sounded for our ivories.

With no one playing it, the bulky instrument occupying her living room stretched my tone deaf but house-proud mother’s patience; we arrived home to an empty corner one day and the news that the piano had been bequeathed to Catholic Charities. Lots of door slamming and feet stamping transpired that night, but after the initial fuss we moved on. In spite of the lack of a piano, chorale, glee club and various ensembles ensured that music remained in my life through the rest of my high school days.

Now, I get my kicks as an eager albeit word-challenged companion to the radio, who, upon encountering a piano nostalgically punches in a two fingered “Fleur Elise.” The sound of a polka though, well, that’s a different matter. The first strains of “Roll out the Barrel” transport me to the erstwhile home of “The Royal Conservatory of Music,” which in subsequent years has housed interchangeable karate studios and tax accountants. So, please forgive me if it seems rude, but regardless of whose wedding it is, you’ll catch me quick-stepping it to the bar the second the band strikes up “The Chicken Dance.”

Monday, June 8, 2009


When all was said and done, it wasn’t our niece, the eighteen-year-old graduate who is also our neighbor, and my husband’s Goddaughter, that forced me to blink hard Saturday. The arrival of her sixteen-year-old cousin from out-of-state (on the other side, no relation to us) triggered my deepest breath. She is two months older then our daughter, and unlike our girl whose subtle changes we miss due to proximity, the signs of her approach to maturity were unmistakable.

This cousin once removed if you will, stands tall at 5’6”—having sloughed off the soft plains of childhood; she smiles with teeth no longer encased in braces, holding herself erect and participating in adult conversations. I noted all this as we sat with her family at the graduation program. Our own daughter, a flute player in the school band, joined us at the end of the ceremony and as she stood next to this cousins’ cousin, the fog in which I regularly view her receded. They may be about an inch apart in height, but they’re both positioned the same short distance away from the looming cliff of adulthood.

A State Farm Insurance commercial on TV advertises a safe driver course that, based on the strength of the message, causes me to wonder regularly if we should change our coverage. A little girl, pigtailed and freckled and no more than eight, enters the room and asks her dad if she can borrow the car. The father responds with the typical litany of questions; where is she going; when will she return and the child responds, “To the movies.” At that moment, the camera angle switches away and back, and the viewer sees what her father is blind to, that the daughter is actually a licensed teen who grabs the keys and bounds out the door. Soon, a little boy wearing dress pants, strolls out throwing a jacket over his shoulder. The dad calls out “Where are you going” and the little guy replies, “To work.”

All parents experience some rendition of that commercial, it is almost impossible for us to visualize our children grown up. Graduations pull the image of pending maturity into focus. This weekend signified so many things, the end of our niece’s high school years, the commencement of her adult experience, her imminent departure for college. And while clearly the backyard party held later honored her and her friends, it occurred to me that they are not the only ones who matriculated. After watching our daughter socialize confidently with her cousins--trading jibes with the coast guard ensign and volunteering for clean up duty, I realized that to some degree, the commercial that’s been playing in my brain for the last fifteen years concluded on Saturday too.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Week in Review (17)

Things I have learned:

You can live in your town for seventeen years, but during four months of unemployment, you’ll discover so many fascinating things, it will feel like you just moved in.

A mountain of mulch delivered to the driveway will always ensure rain.

That rain will invariably start as you are helping the neighbors set up for an outdoor graduation party.

Being an unemployed career changer is a lot like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. At first none of the pieces match, but finally, an outline of the whole picture takes shape.

It is What it is

Not only did I almost forget to write this yesterday, I completely forgot to post it. This weekend, you get two for the price of one.

Today, I fulfilled a request from my volunteer “job” and developed a draft a letter to the editor of our local newspaper in order to market the goals of the group (a professional writing assignment?), then conducted research on the Internet in preparation for a networking interview. While dialing the phone for that conversation, a dump truck deposited six yards of mulch in our driveway—and of course the weather threatened rain. After a successful conversation and some additional editing on my “assignment,” I shoveled away at the mountain in the driveway so that the remainder could be covered with a tarp. Not only did that mean lugging wheelbarrows full of mulch up the hill in the backyard, but the gardens required weeding first. When the rain began I wrestled with tarps until the mulch was covered; then it was off to dig out banquet tables in the garage and basement and deliver them up the path next door to for tomorrow’s graduation party. There I volunteered to complete some additional prep work, which included in a trip to the grocery store for some last minute items.

I am telling you all of this, why? Well, sorry to say, but Middle Passages took a back seat for the day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

All Filled Up

The last time I visited the Aaron River Reservoir, our daughter was a tween and my husband and I brought her with a friend to Wompatuck State Park which borders the dam, for a bike ride. My father told stories about short-cutting the trip from his year-round-home, through what is now this parkland on his way to a summer house in North Scituate years ago, but with the advent of World War II, the military converted the area to a munitions depot; to my knowledge vehicular traffic has been banned ever since.

We taught our daughter to ride a bike in Wampatuck because wide roads built to transport military vehicles provide a perfect setting for wobbly two wheelers, and once she rode well, it was an easy pedal past old bunkers, through shadowy tree lined lanes, where we emerged blinking on sunny boulevards leading to the water’s edge. On that last ride though, the girls raced ahead of us and threw their bikes into a patch of poison ivy in their haste to stand at the shore. We hauled them home for a scrub with Fels Naptha (my grandmothers’ remedy for poison ivy exposure) and for some reason have never gone back.

So, when my friend issued an invitation to join her and her two dogs at the reservoir, which happens to feed the pond and town-water-supply a few hundred yards from our house, after such a long absence, I jumped at the chance to return. We met at a new location for me--a direct entrance via a straight shot about a mile down the road from my street, no bicycles or winding trails required. Bemused to learn how easy it was to get to the spot, I followed my friend through an opening in the chain link fence, climbed the checkerboard of a cement grating positioned over rushing water, and hiked through knee-high timothy and clover to the top of the aqua duct. The dogs followed their own agendas--after a toss of his green tennis ball Grady, the golden retriever, plunged spread-eagle-style into the water. Skitch, a petite black and brown mixed breed, took a delicate sip of water before trotting off to nose a trail of seductive smells behind us.

In her book, The Narrative History of Cohasset 1950-2000. Volume III, Jacqueline M. Dormitzer explains that the creation of the reservoir occurred after a twelve year battle that began when wells supplying our town no longer provided for a growing population. My husband remembers viewing the boulder strewn bottom of Lily Pond during drought times; a picture our daughter and I can only imagine, given today’s green depths. Engineering in order to dam the Aaron River commenced once the water department gained environmental permission to flood part of Wompatuck; the project reached completion in 1978. We now boast a surplus of water even during the driest months through an extensive lake that spreads over 133 acres, fringed by pines and oaks, outlined with secluded coves.

Because it’s a water resource, a sign at the entrance (that Grady can't read) forbids power boats and swimming. With the exception of a large house, recently built on a distant hill in a bordering town, only roofs and windows blocked by ivy covered fences indicate the presence of the few homes nearby. As we stood at the edge, a kayaker dug a repeating pattern of circles with his paddle; hawks glided overhead and the cark of seagulls vacationing inland echoed from the middle of the lake.

Turning from the water, I looked straight ahead as we measured our steps over the granite edge of a now-dry waterfall above a boulder strewn gully--exhaling once we reached the meadow at the end. (A path from the parking area works for those less adventurous, meaning me, the next time). Beyond the field, a trail meanders through the woods, trees bend toward their clear water reflections and point leafy fingers toward a flat stone outcrop. There we paused, listening to bleating bullfrogs, the distant moaning of seagulls and breeze-driven chop lapping at the shoreline below. For a moment there was no man-made noise, only nature shifting and settling itself, the sound of our own deep breathing, and wiggling Grady, who bound up joyfully to flap his wet fur, showering us with a fresh water spray.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Upcoming Attractions

Stay tuned--

A Study in Contrasts

Yesterday’s blog post, milestone that it was, ended up being called due to Internet failure, which fit right in with the tenor of the day. Here is what you would have seen, my 100th entry, which I came close to publishing, as you will note, when everything went dark. This morning when the Internet was still down at 6:30, high anxiety ensued, but crawling into the dusty cupboard; untangling wires and unplugging them, disconnecting the auxiliary power, plugging it all back in and hitting reset finally did the trick. That breeze you felt around 6:45? Well, that was my sigh of relief. With no further ado, yesterday’s abbreviated post. We’ll see if anything else comes out of today.

I thought this blog post was going to be devoted to the Aaron River Reservoir, but I was wrong. Today was dedicated to article revision, networking emails, a two hour seminar on networking techniques at the outplacement office, (perchance you recognize a theme building here) various errands for my husband and my daughter, further responses to employment search emails upon my return, and nothing at all with regard to research on one of my new favorite places. Just when I was preparing to do so, the Internet went down.

So, more to come on that, and instead, you get the dichotomy of our New England backyard—irises, velvet-soft and purple, bowing in a subtle breeze in front of hulking granite ledge deposited long ago by some prehistoric glacier. Unchanging, impermeable rock, fronted by fleeting blossoms--which will wither and disappear, returning next June, as they always do, a harbinger of summer, that I wait for each year.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Cookies and Comfort

Though the proverbial carpet flew out from under me when I first lost my job, now life reminds me of when my grandmother used to hook her own rugs. The metal frame is perched on my knees; and slowly and methodically, I am pulling the wool through the canvas backing, twisting the hook and creating a whole new pattern.

This thought was triggered, as with so many things in the last few months, in an unexpected way. Over the last several Mondays, I’ve spent the mornings volunteering at the senior “Coffee Café” organized by the “Friends” of the elders in my town. These days, people know me by name, and not as the stranger who appeared six or so weeks back. For today’s offering, rather than baking a quick bread or a coffee cake, I made my aunt’s ginger snaps, which thanks to her recipe, come out crisp, spicy and delicious. After setting up and greeting the first group of seniors, I grabbed my cell phone and trotted down the hill to the quiet of my car to make a previously scheduled networking call.

As I sat in my car taking notes and quizzing a busy business owner, awe blossomed at the simple generosity of people. Up above me at the function hall, seven or eight people were spending their Monday cooking, pouring coffee and washing dishes for our seniors. And me, well, I was speaking to a talented professional; a referral from a friend of a friend if you will. This woman took time to offer me, a complete stranger, wise counsel and actionable ideas related to parlaying my writing into employment. Though my fingers remain crossed, the reward is not simply the potential that something concrete will come of that phone call. Painted into the larger picture is one more example I have experienced in the last few months of a selflessness that exists in the world that, prior to losing my job, I think I lost sight of for a while.

Smiling softly, I returning to the polished floor of the function hall and cleared coffee cups and pastry plates until another volunteer informed me that there was someone who wanted to meet me. Grabbing my arm, she led me to a table and introduced me to Catherine, a petite, 93-year-old woman whose eyes filled as she thanked me for “her favorite” ginger cookies. While sneaking back to the kitchen to package up several more for her, one of the many seismic shifts that have occurred inside me over the last several months reverberated. Once again it dawned that the world didn’t end when I lost my job, and head’s up, there isn’t a pay check large enough to take the place of the squeeze I received when I handed off those additional cookies.

Back in the day, if you will, in order to balance full-time work and parenting roles, I drew away from extra commitments, including friendships and volunteer activities. Prior to February, I’m not sure I could imagine how thankful I could be for a stranger’s kindness, or the friends that now call me for spontaneous walks, or the warmth of a hug from someone like Catherine. Now though, that full-time working, unaware of how stressed she was, inwardly focused recruitment manager is a part of an old design. The new design I’m trying to weave includes my appreciation for the type of generosity I experienced on the other end of the phone today, and gratitude that my current circumstances allow me the time to give of myself too.