Saturday, November 29, 2014

An Open Letter to Runners World

Dear Dave Willey,

I hate to resort to open letters; however, Runner's World Magazine doesn't make it easy to find a letter to the editor address and I have a serious bone to pick with you.

That's a photo my husband took of me crossing the 10k finish line at the RW Heartbreak Hill 10k.  I had run the 5k a bit earlier and I was one of the last folks to cross the 10k finish line and it was a major accomplishment on more levels than you can imagine.

See, I am what is politely referred to as a "real sized" woman.  That means I am fat but in our world of manners and political correctness, no one wants to say that to my face.

I entered the cover of the Runner's World Magazine contest but realized quickly I didn't have a chance for three reasons: my social network isn't immense; I didn't have a truly inspirational story, just a normal one; and I'm fat.  I tried, so it goes and I'm OK with that, but I had hope the editors would actually go through the entries and read the essays and maybe, for once, pick someone that looked out of place on the cover so that folks like me didn't feel ignored.

I was wrong.

Can you imagine the amount of pain and hurt by going with yet another "I lost a zillion pounds through running" story rather than just one "I don't care that I'm fat and run and screw people who laugh at me" person?  I mean no offense to Michele Elberston's achievement of shedding 250+ pounds or any one else's achievements featured in the December 2014 Runner's World.  There are always those that face adversity and pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

They certainly inspire, but that's not everyone and sometimes we normal folks need a voice too.

You guys asked applicants to answer the question: "What is running important to you?" I wrote that whenever I think of quitting I think of a student who hugged and thanked me for showing her you don't have to look like an athlete to be athletic. In a world where girls are constantly told they are too fat - whether it's the First Lady taking on childhood obesity and nutrition or Abecrombie and Fitch's CEO saying that he doesn't want "fat girls" wearing his clothing line, only the cool kids - it's important that someone can inspire girls who will never look like chiseled athletes because it's just not their body type.

To understand why it was so important to see someone who looks like me on the cover comes back to prejudice and judgement I have received via the running community.  I was told by the head of one athletic gear company, "When you lose weight dear..." when I asked for a longer length running skirt to cover my generous ... um ... assets.  Trying to find a comfortable running bra that holds me in place so I don't give myself two black eyes when I'm running (please, I'm not a mystical Inuit woman giving Homer Simpson directions back to Springfield) or a long enough shirt to cover my midsection without having to go to the men's section of the store.  Many race directors don't think twice about the folks in the back of the pack, which is why I am loyal to those who make sure every last runner (or walker) is supported the whole race and stay until they have crossed the finish line.

There are all sorts of people like me out there in the gyms, on the tracks and on the roads and yet we are invisible, mocked and constantly discouraged because we don't look the part.  Once again, we are the kids who don't belong in someone's little club and it hurts even more as an adult.  I guess we never get used to that feeling of rejection.  You had a chance to change that with your cover and you didn't.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't about did I win or lose. This is me being upset that you didn't think outside the box.  You went with what is expected and, as a result, you missed the point, and a large portion of the population, entirely.

See I love running.  Hell I write haiku while I'm running and a magazine cover won't change that, but it might have changed it for someone else.  Your job is defined by Rodale Press's mission statement: We inspire and enable people to improve their lives and the world around them.

Today I don't feel so inspired, I just feel sad.  Perhaps a run will change my mood.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thoughts About Losing NaNoWriMo for the First Time

I am, most likely, not going to "win" Nano this year, that is, I am not going to hit 50k words.  I have come close to goal several times this month only to fall behind and fall behind and fall behind again as something called life happened.

Don't get me wrong, life has happened before, but I still managed to make my goal.

Last year I almost didn't make it.  My first semester of grad school and working, there were a bunch of other things happening but I pulled it out (mostly by quoting a lot of song lyrics).  This year I was catching up and feeling like I could make it but too many things going on between my mom's most recent hospital stay this week, final semester of grad school, work, prep for my "take over" week and the fact my story ended.... just like that.

But there's where I didn't fail at Nano - I have a solid story this year.  One I can commit to revising and editing and working with others to produce something worth shopping with a bit of work.  Not the bare bones of a story or a story that, with a large pair of scissors and a ton of work might have something to it.  I have a very real, solid bit of writing that has all the elements I tell my students they need when they write:

A solid beginning: The hook needs some work, but it's a solid beginning.

Tell the story bit by bit: The story unfolds the way it should.  It doesn't hit the "and something here" point or the "I did more telling than showing because I didn't know what else to do..." point.  It unfolds the way it should.

I used juicy describing words/I showed, not told the story: I reread a random passage and saw that it was the balance between telling the story and overtelling/undertelling the story.  I'm good with that.

An ending that wraps it all up: The ending is a good ending.  OK, it's a bit of a Star Wars style ending of everyone standing there smiling into the camera, but it's the type of ending that matches the story and is good.

It's only about 20k words.  I have just over 12k of side stories that are related to but separate from my main story.  It means I need to write 18k words in 4 days.  I could do it.  I could find a way to incorporate a beleaguered elementary school teacher writing lesson plans and include the lesson plans I've been writing all month for work and my classes - which puts me WAY over the 50k mark.  Who knows, I may do that still because I just hate the idea of not making the 50k when I know I've been writing like there's no tomorrow.  But I know that I will not have won in the spirit of everything.

So I guess I'm saying, yes I can hit 50k but it won't be a novel and I'm only beginning to process it all.  I'll be OK with all this in a bit.  I know I have some incredible scenes (c'mon, a crow with an eating disorder as the side kick to a very bad ass squirrel - how can it not have incredible scenes?).

But today I sit here knowing that even if I hit the word count, I am not a winner this year and I can live with that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Turducken: a Cautionary Tale OR Why Backing Up Your Computer is Necessary

I had a little black MacBook and I loved it true and well.

I am married to an MIT alum that helped build the internet (back in the day when it was just time sharing).  I worked in high-tech for years.  I worked at an Apple Store, so if there is one thing I understood it was backing up.

I never really understood until my first NaNoWriMo in 2009.

After weeks of furious writing, I hit the 30,000 word point and the end was in sight.  I was so excited that my story was rolling along and spent a Saturday morning watching the Food Network and watching Paula Deen talk about how to make a turducken.  (It's where you stuff a chicken, then stuff a duck with the stuffed chicken and then stuff a turkey with the stuffed chicken that is now stuffed in the duck so that you have a turkey stuffed with a duck, a chicken and stuffing.)  I was 1,500 words into incorporating the turducken into my story when I heard it.

Click, click, click.

Like the ticking sound of the death watch beetle in Practical Magic, it was the sound foreshadowing the death of my hard drive.

A moment later all went blank.

"Noooooooo," I wailed, the plaintive cry shook the house with a chilling terror.

My husband ran into the room to find me in an overstuffed chair, a sobbing mess.

"My.... my... hard drive," I choked out between sobs, "it's gone.   It died."

He gave me that patient husband look and, like most MIT types, immediately went to the practical.

"Do you have Apple Care?"

"Yes," I sniffed.

"Did you back it up?"

"Last night, but that's not the point," I whined.

"Make an appointment at the Apple store will you."

I sighed and, using my husband's computer, went online to take the first available genius bar appointment available.  It said, "Hard drive click of death.... 1500 words about Turducken lost.  Help me Obiwan Kenobi, you're my only hope."

Then, with great care, I dutiful packed up my redundant back ups system of two external hard drives and little black MacBook and drove into Chestnut Hill.  The store was packed, as most Apple stores are on a Saturday.  I found a corner back by the accessories, MacBook clutched to my chest and tears welling in the back of my eyes.

One of my colleagues saw me and jovially greeted me, "What are you doing here on your day off?"

The damn broke and my tears began to flow like a small river down my face.

"My hard drive failed," I choked out.

Suddenly I felt a pair of strong arms around me.  And then another and another and another as my co-workers and friends encased me in a group hug.

"It will be OK," they all told me, "you know you're in the best hands here."

My tears stopped and I began to breathe.  Jason, one of our lead genii, came over with a box of tissues and gently took my MacBook from me and tried to turn it on.  He poked at it and made a concerned face.  He double checked something on his screen and smiled.

"The bad news is you need a new hard drive.  The good news is we have one in stock and it's covered by AppleCare.  But this is the hard part, did you back it up."

I held up the non-woven shopping bag containing the two hard drives.

"Good girl," he smiled.  "We'll have this back up and running again in a few hours.  I'll pop in a new hard drive and restore from your back up drive.  It will be ready around 6pm tonight."

For the first time in over an hour, I felt air rush into my lungs as I took my first real deep breath.

When I returned to pick up my baby, I found that one of my external drives had failed and needed to be replaced.  I immediately purchased a portable external drive that I could carry with me when needed.

I still use a redundancy back up because I still live by the motto from the early days of high-tech: save as often as you want to redo your work, back up as often as you're willing to lose your work.

That cold November Saturday morning, I lost 1,500 words about Turducken.  It was fresh enough to jot down and retype that evening.  Had I lost the 30k words to that point... and everything else... it would have been a disaster.

The clicking of the death watch beetle comes quickly and strikes without warning.  You have been warned, be prepared or be devastated.

It's your choice.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Morning Worship

After spending 24 hours moving through out the Boston area writing, we ended at the UU Church of Medford for the overnight session.  When the day was over, I walked into the sanctuary to deposit our contributions to the Interfaith Food Pantry into the collection basket and looked up at the window.

Watching the sun coming up and shining through that window  was a beautiful moment.  I called in my fellow writers and we stood there, about a dozen or so of us, in the silence just watching.  Then we heard the piano from the next room.  One of our intrepid band had been itching to play all night long but didn't want to sleep the handful of people who had crashed or taking a cat nap.

So we stood there, beautiful music in the background, the sun shining through the window and a moment where serenity and peace just washed over us at the end of a day of camaraderie, merriment, work and creativity.

The universe smiled on us, and we smiled back.

It struck me: this is what worship is about.  It's not about constructs, it's not about rituals or ceremonies.  It's about people connecting with each other and the universe.  It reminded me of the words said each Sunday at the end of service in that church: "Our worship is over and our service now begins."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Morning Coffee... a poem

(for Miles)

We talk every morning,

The steam curling up from the coffee cup
As we ask the big questions of each other
Between sips
Between spaces in time
Between moments of breath
Between time
                     And space
                                   And distance.

Two friends bound in silence
Tied together with words
In between sips
In between moments of breath
As the coffee warms our hands and we 
Look into
             Each other’s space
                                      Each other’s eyes

Treasuring our friendship
As we measure our lives in our morning coffee.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A squirrel with plan

Really, is there anything more dangerous?

Actually, this whole thing has taken an odd twist and it looks like Bob is about to take on a large flock of starlings.  Why is it that my books always take these odd turns?


“This is our town now.  I suggest you get your furry rodent butts out of here and find someplace new to live.  We own this town.”

“Yeah,” chirped a couple of smaller birds behind the tough guy.

Bob summed them up.  He remembered his father telling him once that bullies are weak without their chorus.  You can’t always beat them but you should never give into them.

“Do you know who I am?” Bob asked casually.

The small starlings twittered in laughter when all of a sudden the big bird took a close look.

“You’re that squirrel that took on the raccoons aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“You think you’re going to take us on do you?”

“Let’s just say I’m very protective of my dray.  I’m giving you a chance.  Stay on the Starbucks side of the block and you can have the whole commercial area, but if you try to cross to the parking lot and beyond, I will unleash a fury of hell’s fire on you.”

The starlings laughed.

“Yuck it up now.  You won’t be laughing when a polar bear with a chain saw shows up to cut down your habitat or maybe it will just be a monkey with an axe.  No matter what it is, it will be ugly.  It will be violent and it will make you sorry you ever pissed me off.”

“Good luck to you and the Boston Red Sox buddy.”

“The name is Bob and I don’t need luck.”

He turned around casually and slowly walked away.  He could hear the laughter change from mocking to nervous.  He had shaken them and the gauntlet had been thrown down.

Now all he needed was a plan.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What I've been working on

It's another fine NaNoWriMo and I'm behind much earlier than normal this year.  But that's OK as I've been busy finishing up a ton of stuff.  This year's a story about Bob the Squirrel, the product of genetically modified parents and broken out of a Harvard graduate student lab.  Bob's adventures have taken the lead and, here is one from yesterday where we meet his friend Nate the crow with an eating disorder.  Bob now has a girlfriend (Macy) and he has to get the special treat his human friend, Diana, left out for him to Macy without Nate eating it.


Nate was hungry again.

This was not unusual as Nate was always hungry.

That he could put away so much food without exploding was both fascinating and repulsive at the same time.

“I’m Italian,” he often said.  “My grandparents came over on a luxury liner from the Old Country.  It’s a genetic thing, I’m pretty sure of it.  You should see my cousins and uncles.  I’m a light weight compared to them.”

Bob didn’t know about the whole “it’s genetic” thing.  It seemed to be an excuse humans and other intelligent animals often used to explain bad habits.  On the other hand, he was smarter than the bulk of the squirrel population as the offspring of genetically modified set of parents.  Perhaps there was something to the whole “it’s genetic” thing but it was like a tasty tidbit that had soured.  The type of thing that you knew, under normal circumstances, was an amazing bit of treasured food and yet, there was that off odor or color and you knew it wasn’t quite right and yet you had to try it to be sure.
That to him seemed to sum up that excuse… or statement… or observation.
Bob also knew that, so long as Nate was in scavenger mode, he had zero to slim chances of getting Macy’s hazelnuts home to her.  He wouldn’t make it a step or two before Nate pounced on the delicate and tasty treats and toss them down without a second thought to savor or cherish them as they should be.  Macy loved hazelnuts and he loved Macy, he needed to get these to her as she was probably the only creature alive for whom he would give up hazelnuts.

That meant Bob needed a plan and he needed one quick.

Since Nate would naturally eat anything, the question became how could he divert his attention for the handful of minutes he needed to make it across the yard and up the tree trunk?


“How’s it going?” He looked up from pecking at the boards on Diana’s deck to see if maybe there was an old bit of something stuck there. “Do you think Diana left something, anything out?  I can smell something but can’t quite find or place it.  Maybe it’s from breakfast yesterday.  I keep checking but… well, I can’t find anything.”

“Not that I’ve been able to see, but I heard a rumor the house on the corner restocked their bird feeder from one of the dogs walking by earlier.”

Nate patted his distended belly under his black feathers.  “Found it already.”

“Did you check the yogurt place down the block?”

“I haven’t been there all summer.  A flock of aggressive starlings moved into the ivy on the wall over on the side of the bank.  Alone a starling’s not too bad but a flock…” his voice trailed off as he shuddered.  “A pack will peck you like no one’s business.  It doesn’t matter how hungry I am, I’m not crossing into starling territory.”

Bob tried to think but all he could think of was Macy’s soft fur and the little white tufts behind her ears.  It was adorable how she sat on her haunches and moved her froth paws in time to whatever Diana was listening to when she was out on the deck.  If he didn’t know better, he would have sworn there were some genetic modification in Macy to as she didn’t act like other squirrels.  She was smarter.

“It was trash day yesterday, so no compost pails today,” Nate’s sad statement cut through Bob’s day dream.

“That’s it!” Bob jumped up and ran up along the gutters to the front corner of the house’s roof.  He scanned the street and spied something as Nate landed gracefully next to him.  Bob was always surprised at how, in spite of his size, Nate could elegantly lift off and land.  One would think a bird that size would struggle over his leaner counter parts.

“Look,” Bob pointed up the street.  “They put their stuff out late yesterday and they’re waiting for the second chance truck.  I bet their compost bin is still out too.  If not, I’ve heard chatter that the berry bushes have taken over and are still producing some late raspberries.  They’re too sour for the humans there, but they should be just about right for you.”

“Bob you’re a genius, but you knew that all ready.  Thanks buddy.  I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Better later than sooner, Macy’s waiting for me.”  He gave Nate a wink.

“Gotcha.  I’m off.”

He lifted off again and circled overhead once before flying up the hill.  Bob waited until Nate was on his way and wasted no time scurrying back to the deck.  He opened the little box Diana had started to use to hide special treats for him and he was rewarded with a bag of hazelnuts.  Carefully taking the bag in his mouth, he ran across the yard reaching the old oak tree in no time.  Quickly climbing up the trunk to his den, he entered just as Macy was starting to stir.  He dropped the nuts by her and smiled.

“Breakfast, my dear, is served.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A different view on the world

Tonight I was speaking with my professor after class and I mentioned that I went to St. A's back when 90% of the women there were nursing majors and I was a Lit major.

He laughed and said, "You were breaking ground, a pioneer."

I had never thought of myself that way.  I had seen myself as an outsider, someone who didn't fit in.  But his words made me realize I was born to stand out.  It was a different perspective I needed to hear.  It makes me wonder how many of us forget that other perspective.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bon Voyage

This is my son, back when he was an awkward teen running xc his first season 10 or 11 years ago. This morning I dropped him at the airport and said goodbye as he goes on a major adventure: 6 months in Thailand to teach English.

After four years of high school and another four of college, he spent the last year as freelance writer before deciding it was time for him to stop talking about teaching English abroad and go for it.  Now, he's on his way and I have "Sweet Baby James," the lullaby I sang him so long ago stuck in my head as I hold back tears missing him already.

Now he and his sweetie are winging their way on a big adventure that will change their lives.  I wish them well and look forward to hearing their stories and seeing their pictures and all I can do is wish them safe travels.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The last voice mail

My iPhone screen cracked yesterday.  Not a big deal for the most part except for one thing that occurred to me at the Apple Store that lead to a simple question: How do I save a voice mail message?

You see, my dad was not a big technology person.  One of my favorite pictures of him was taken the day he got a digital camera years ago and, in true Dad fashion, said something to the effect of, "How does this damn thing work?" and snapped an accidental selfie of his eye.

Years later, this photo still not only captures my dad, but also makes me smile.  The other day I showed it to someone who just laughed outright and said, "That's beautiful."

That was totally my dad.  When he died unexpectedly in January and it left a black hole in my life I also didn't expect.

See, as he got older (although I suspect he was always like this) he was a total pain in the ass.  Sometimes he would go into "lonely old man mode."  At night before he fell asleep, he'd be sitting alone in his home watching TV and call me randomly.  If I answered and said, "What's the matter?  I'm at school do I need to head down there?" he would sheepishly apologize and say he meant to call one of my siblings.  One night I was at school and saw his selfie pop up on the phone and let it go to voice mail.  It was just a message saying, "Oh Karlsie... sorry, I was trying to reach Puppy..."  with some other somewhat unintelligible muttering.

I don't know why I never deleted it and a month later he was gone.

It right around his birthday when I went into my voice mail to delete something and notice it.  The sound of his voice brought me comfort, a smile and some tears.  It was his last voice mail he left for me.

The summer was a bit of a struggle with me.  I kept artificially busy but there would be times when I would get hammered by a series of small events that would leave me numbly sitting on the couch trying not to get sucked into that black hole left in the fabric of my life.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to go through with duplicating his tattoo.  I had it placed above my right ankle as he was my anchor.  I wanted to keep the "USN" from his WWII Navy tattoo, but chose to slide it onto the anchor itself and have his initials on the banner that originally bore his proud affiliation.  I know when it's my mom's turn to let go of the grass and become part of Heaven's light that shines through the fabric of the night sky, she will float above him as the North Star to continue to guide me.

So yesterday, when a student needed to call his mom, I lent him my phone.  It slipped from his hand and landed face down on the playground asphalt and cracked.  I sat in the Apple Store hoping for an appointment, that never came, when it hit me.  That silly voice mail is the last time I would my dad's voice and I'm just not ready to let that go.  Which is when I asked, "How can I save a voice mail?  I don't think I want to risk never hearing my dad's voice again."  He told me of a program that might work and I was able to import that short statement of apology.

There is now an .mp4 of my dad's last vice mail on my hard drive to listen to for as long as I need.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Farewell Summer

It is the last day of astronomical summer and it's beautiful out. Fall has started to creep in around the edges, but today is sunny and warm and a real rag top kind of day. 

As I drove down the highway on the way to visit my mom, I put iTunes on shuffle to see if the secret mood selector was working today. It was mixing along nicely when I was passing Dorchester Bay and "Blue Roses Falling" started playing. 

Now I admit I love Jake Shimabukuro but in that moment, I felt summer would last forever. 

While I waited for my mom's activity to finish up, I took a walk next door to visit Abagail Adam's garden and muse a bit. 

Summer will officially end in a few hours, but sitting on a bench at Peacefield, listening to Jake play while recording these thoughts on modern technology, I am at peace. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Creepy Cherub

 If you walk past the house and look quickly, you will see a cherub holding a lantern in the front yard.  You may dismiss the lawn art as tacky, but there's a story.

Shortly after we moved to this house, I went out for a run one morning.  When I got back about 45 minutes later, the cherub was there.  It's really kind of creepy looking and freaked me out a little.  I assumed one of the kids acquired it somehow and thought it would be funny.

I was wrong.

It appeared.  It appeared magically and it is creepy looking.  It has spent the last 8 or 9 years freaking out those who stop to take a close look at it.

"Seriously dude, it's not that bad..." they all say when I give directions to the house.  (Look for the lovely red brick house with impeccable landscaping.  We're the tan house next door with the creepy cherub bringing down her property value.)

You see, I'm pretty superstitious. And I truly believe this thing has something bad trapped inside, so I try to plant things around it to neutralize the ominous vibes I get from it.  I have never seen silver artemisia die so fast as the time I planted several around the base of the creepy cherub.  (In fact, it may be why Artemis got pissed off at me for a while... we're sort of back to friendly, but I never made that mistake again.)  The only things that seem to be able to hold it at bay is rosemary and sage.

One winter we had so much snow, the cherub got buried in the snow.  It was a happy winter where things seemed to be OK and flow nicely around here... then came the spring thaw.

As you can see, the cherub made it clear it was still here and not carried off by a plow.

Eventually it emerged from the snowbank and declared it's triumph.

A friend suggested dressing it up for the holidays.  Feather boas, knit bombing, etc. might be enough to neutralize the way the spell, "Ridikulous!" neutralizes a boggart in Harry Potter.

I'm too scared to do so.

But today, as I came into the house with the cat food, the Cherub told me it was time for me to tell others of its existence.  I don't know why, but like I say, the thing scares me.

If it disappeared in the middle of the night, as quickly and silently as it appeared, I wouldn't object.  I wouldn't ask questions and I would probably breathe a sigh of relief.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A lesson adults need to learn

There is lots of speculation of what is wrong with this country and the world.  In my opinion it's a simple thing.

One of the things we teach kids is to say, "I'm sorry," when they're wrong.  It's a lesson more adults need to learn or, at the very least, remember.

Take, for example, Campbell Brown's crusade against teacher tenure and her dragging the ladies from "The View" into the battle.  Rather than say, "Wow, I hadn't realized I'd been fed misinformation and tenure actually is being a misused term here...." and looking at what is the real problem (the process of dismissing people who are truly bad teachers - and they're out there), it would be one thing.  Instead these folks have become the public face of misinformation and are more worried that they'll look stupid or weak or whatever than accept we make mistakes.

One of the greatest things I teach kids is, "I used to think, now I know."  It is a way to take a misconception out of the personal realm ("Everyone will think I'm stupid...") and into learning ("Oh, I didn't have all the information so now I understand...").

So let me start with this: the Common Core isn't entirely wrong.  Don't misunderstand me, I still believe it to be deeply flawed in its overemphasis of non-fiction texts and gearing towards high-stakes testing (which is a mistake no matter how you look at it), but the way it layers and builds information from one grade to the next is actually pretty logical.  It also lays down a baseline to make sure that it shouldn't matter where you go to school, you are guaranteed to learn science is real and not some mythology that caters to the fantasy that early humans got to play with dinosaurs.

Let me finish with this note to Whoopi Goldberg, Campbell Brown and all those who think teacher tenure is bad and the union needs to be broken:  Unions are not the root of evil.  If so, then I challenge Whoopi to burn her SAG card as an act of resignation.  I certainly hope that Campbell Brown doesn't belong to the National Writers Union.  I ask why you support police, fire, athletic, actors, writers and so many other unions but feel teachers don't have the right to union support?

So you have a choice right now.  You can stand up in public and say, "I used to think.... but after listening to what others have to say and doing a little research (which ALL good journalists should do), I have learned that...."

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Childhood memories
Live in my rear view mirror
Guiding my future

Friday, June 6, 2014

The perils of being a writer

Blunt Object

Most writers I know will understand.

The other day I was sitting in the waiting room at the dentist's office waiting for my son when the story began to reveal itself.  It was a young girl who began to let me know about her presence and I began getting a sense of her.  I pulled out my writer's journal and began to take notes.  It was mostly a bullet list of characteristics: what her hair and clothes looked like, what was on her iPod (including what it looked like), some of her thoughts and so on and I diligently took notes on what she revealed.

Wednesday morning I had plans to clean my office after the recent cat attack that left it in shambles but, instead, she began telling me her story and I was obliged to record it.  Three chapters in, I realized I still didn't know her name, so I posted a question over at the Writers Unboxed page asking if this had ever happened to anyone before.  A number of others over there told me that happens to them and pointed to other pieces of literature where the characters are never named.


At the end of the first act, five chapters in, she told me her name.

So yes, I wrote 1/3 of a novel not knowing my main character's name.  I knew the name of a couple of kids she hung out with, her teachers and others, but not her name.

There are other oddities in this story so far.  For one, I don't know where it's going.  I know a couple of things that will present themselves, but I don't know how or why yet.  I don't know what happened before the story started to set events into motion.

If I didn't know better, I'd swear I was reading the story, not writing it.

Then I remembered the story J K Rowling told about Sirius Black's death.  She said that right after she wrote the scene she was bawling her eyes out and went to tell her husband.  Her husband told her to just rewrite the scene and keep him alive when Rowling looked at him and said she couldn't because that's where the story went.  I immediately understood but several non-writing friends had the attitude, "That's ridiculous.  Of course you can go back and fix it."

No, no you can't.

So I will let her finish revealing her story to me over the coming week and then go back through with a critical outsider's eye to edit it.  Maybe she will tell me why she doesn't like her name (I'm assuming that's why she's not telling me much about it).  I know she will tell me her back story once she trusts me enough (and yes, I really feel like she's determining if she can trust me or not) and yes I'm keeping my notebook near by for when she starts talking to me again.

It's another one of those perils of being a writer.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Happy Birthday

My mother turned 90 this weekend.

I suppose it's not as great a feat as it once was given medical science in all.  In fact, it was a year ago that she had her first stroke (literally) on the eve of her 89th birthday.  A year and another stroke later, we gathered with a group of women at the skilled nursing facility she's in and had a sing along, cake and ice cream, and just celebrated.

It wasn't a large party but it was a big one in that, had you asked me at this time last year if I thought we'd be having it, I probably would have said, "No."  Yet here we were - me with two of my brothers and my big sister - leading a sing along to standards like "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Ain't She Sweet."

Mom's engagement picture
My brother lead on guitar, my Pi guy provided rhythm and at one point we got my older boy in there on uke to join in as well.  It truly was just a happy get together celebrating a woman who raised the six of us and used to love to sit down at her keyboard and sing.  Growing up, my parents would have these parties at the house that would always end up with her playing and people singing.

My dad couldn't remember the words to any song (why remember when you could just scat bum-diddy-bum-diddy-do to just about anything?) but he loved to hear her play.  His face would light up and he would whistle along.

Painting of our parents
by my sister, Paula Villanova 
We had a hi-fi in the corner of the living room where my folks would listen to Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and other records.  I still remember the Danish modern cabinet it sat in with it's beige fabric covered speakers and gold threads woven in a diamond pattern through out.  As a kid, my mom bought me a copy of the Mary Poppins sound track and I loved listening to it.

My folks went to fancy dances at the country club and yacht club (which sound far snootier than they really were).   Sometimes my mom would be in the kitchen getting dinner ready and my dad would walk in, whistling, and grab her to give a quick spin and a dip.  She would always growl, "Paul I'm trying to get dinner on the table," and he would wander off with a grin on his face.   Music and dance - what a happy set of memories to have when I think of my folks.
my folks dancing at my wedding in '88

As we grew, all of us had our own phonographs.  Never the close 'n play kind of crap but a real stereo with a record changer and two speakers and everything!  We also had transistor radios - and not just the AM ones but ones that picked up those crazy underground FM stations that were starting to emerge.

Hell, 50 years ago she let me try to stay up late to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and let my big brother Phil take me to see my very first movie: A Hard Day's Night.  He took me to the Satuit Playhouse, where I was so small, he had to hold his knee against the seat to keep it in the upright position so I could sit on top to see the screen.  I remember asking him why all the girls in the theatre kept screaming to which he replied, "I wish I knew...."  It was years later before I understood what his answer really was.

My tastes in music were formed in the sounds of those early years of the big bands, rat pack and crooners that my parents loved and the emerging underground radio of my youth.  Back when WBCN in Boston introduced me to music as diverse as Jimmy Buffett, Gil Scott Heron and Steeleye Span (sometimes all in a single set).  Mom never did get my love of Bruce Springsteen or the Ramones or even where I developed a taste in classical music along the way.  Sometimes she would tease me about it, mocking it on the days I was allowed to listen to "my music" in the car, sometimes she would just flip the dial back to her music.  When they moved back up from Florida a few years ago, my sons were helping unpack and Pi had on a Flogging Molly shirt.  My mom asked what a Flogging Molly was and he replied, "It's where your Irish music meets my Irish music in a happy, drunken place."

All of us for my dad's 88th birthday
"All right then," she said, but I know she likes that he can sing along to things like "Black Velvet Band" and "I'll Tell Me Ma."

Shortly before he died this year, we were listening to the Frank Sinatra channel on XM when my dad lamented how kids like my sons would never hear the great rhythms and melodies of the Big Bands.  So I played Reel Big Fish's "Don't Stop Skanking" for him and he smiled and felt like Pi would be OK with that crazy stuff he likes.

But music was always part of our household and continues to be.

My love of music, and my feeble attempts at playing, come from her.  So it seemed right and fitting that yesterday there were generations of us there to sing and play and rejoice.  I know we won't have her much longer.  Medical science has come a long way, but not so far as to grant immortality and eternal youth.  But it really was a lovely afternoon and the refrain of "Ain't She Sweet" is stuck in my head.  It swings back and forth from my brother's voice to Paul McCartney's to my dad's whistling, but what's important is it's there.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fight Fight

I've been saying for over a month that the Red Sox need a catalyst to pull together as a team.  That one moment that makes 25 men in the same uniform transform into a team.

I cited two things that pulled a team together: the 2004 glove wash Jason Varitek gave A-Rod that pulled together a bunch of idiots and last year's marathon bombing.

The Varitek/A-Rod incident were significant in that Tek was protecting his pitcher.  Bronson Arroyo had pegged A-Rod and rather than just take his base, he started it with Arroyo.  Arroyo, to his credit, made a crack about A-Rod's salary and an obscene gesture (not aired on TV) that had A-Rod move towards the mound.  That's when the Captain made it clear you don't mess with his teammates, his family.

Yesterday Jonny Gomes tied up the game at one point and when Escobar knocked in the Rays go-ahead run and mocked Gomes, well, let's just say don't be talking trash if you aren't willing to back it up.  The Sox are (to put it mildly) in a slump and on edge.  Kicking someone when they're down is always bad form but Escobar showed how classless he can truly be with his taunts.  When Gomes took him up on the offer, Escobar ran like the coward he truly is.  The "you and what army" guy until he realizes you do have an army behind you.

It may be the event that kicks the Sox into team mode, it may not.  One thing that was clear in yesterday's bench clearer is that no matter how poorly they may be playing, the Sox are becoming a team.  I remember the last to first 12 game winning streak back in '88.  I also remember Bucky freakin' Dent and the meatball served up to him by Mike Torres.  I'm used to it going either way.  It's part of being a Red Sox fan but I do know this much is, and always has been, true: don't pick on a member of the team and expect to get away with it.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Time to teach the poetry unit....

Today I began a poetry unit with a group of second graders.  I introduced the concept to them with the morning message: a quick drawing of a cat and an equally quick haiku to get them going.  Big, tough 7 and 8 year old boys who are used to talking about the Bruins and Red Sox with me weren't sure what to do.  As they groaned and the girls squealed (and a mental reminder that there is a reason we have stereotypes for a reason).  The quick preview ended with, "Does anyone here have a favorite song?"

All the hands shot up with voices eager to volunteer their favorites.  Instead I simply said, "Think about that song in your head.  Now take away the music and think of the words and you'll find it's a poem."  I paused, looked at some of the boys who opened their eyes wide in shock and finished with my death metal voice saying, "Mind blown."

When we got to the lesson at the end of the day, we wrote a haiku together:

Sitting on the rug
Second graders eagerly
Learning poetry

We discussed the difference between prose and poetry.  I read them "Teddy Bear" by A. A. Milne the same way I would read a picture book or long reading.  I stopped to talk about some of the more awkward words (ottoman, stout, adiposity) and asked what was going on at various points just like I would with any other story.  By the time we were done, the boys were applauding and a number of the girls were sitting with notebooks writing away.  To illustrate my "mind blown" point, I also read Shel Silverstein's "Hug O'War" and asked if anyone had ever heard the Unicorn Song.  A bunch of the kids had and I sang the chorus and pointed out that it was originally a Shel Silverstein poem called "The Unicorn."

Reminding kids that poetry is not some scary stuffy thing is always fun, I just wish more peopel would remember that.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ink Stained Fingers

Ink Stained Fingers is a project created by Larissa Jones over on Twitter.  The idea being, go back to traditional ways of writing - that is, pen to paper - over electronic forms of writing.

This project resonates with me because I am constantly telling kids at school to carry a notebook or writer's journal with them.  I tell them about how I love my Moleskine.  I show them mine.  I show them the rough sketches, the lists of ideas, the bits of things I have written when I'm thinking.  They see the scratching out, the side notes and arrows pointing all over.  They see the beginnings of poems and the final drafts.  I don't let them look too closely - my writing is personal until I'm ready to publish it - but I do let them take a glance and see that things aren't always effortless as they may seem.  I think it's important for them to see that writing is a constant process.  It's jotting down an idea here or spending a few moments writing things out there.

My favorite gift for a kid is to take a regular marble composition books and turn it into a fake Moleskine.  I've written about that process in a few places, but most recently I wrote about it here about a year ago.  Amazing what a little duct tape or contact paper or pleather or whatever with some fancy paper and a ribbon can do to make a plain composition book feel special for a kid.  Add a special pen or pencil and you have someone who will want to write.

It takes me about a year to fill up a Moleskine.  I go through phases where that's where the bulk of my writing happens and phases where nothing happens.  That's how writing works too - there are times when you write and write and write and write and times when you don't.

But there is something magical about pouring yourself a cup of tea, sitting someplace peaceful and taking your pen to paper and just writing.  So go out and find yourself something fancy to write in (if you don't have something already) or, better yet, get yourself a composition book and visit a local craft store for some fancy paper and duct tape and make your own.

Then let your fingers get ink stained as you write.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Get Well Keytar Bear

This is Keytar Bear.  He's a musician who plays around Boston (mostly at South Station, Downtown Crossing and Harvard Square) in a bear suit on a keytar.  Kind of goofy but he's a good musician and I always smile whenever I see him around town.

Unfortunately some people are jerks and some jerk punched him in the face and broke his nose and broke his keytar which leaves me wondering, why would someone do that?  Seriously?  Why would anyone think it's OK to do something like that?


Here's the thing about musicians, most of them don't make a whole lot of money.  So to have to take time off because some moron broke your nose is also painful financially.  Enter the Boston community.  A bunch of folks who know and see Keytar Bear on a regular basis got pissed off and put the word out via social media.  As word leaked out today about what happened, two fund raisers immediately started up.  The first fundraiser is on line via Indie Go Go and the second is night at  The Workbar in Cambridge.  The idea is to not only show support for a local musician but to also make sure he's supported because... well, this is Boston and we don't take nicely to punks trying to ruin things around here.

Which brings me to my thought of the day: why are people mean?  This wasn't funny, it was a physical assault on someone making a living.  It may not be conventional but it makes people smile and in a world where we all need to smile just a little more, this act is doubly mean.  Maybe I've been working with kids a bit too long (or just long enough) to realize that we need to smile more, we need to find more joy and when someone is a jerk, you need to tell someone.

If you know the idiot who punched Keytar Bear, turn them in.  If for no other reason than assault and battery is a crime and the perpetrator needs to face his responsibility for that action.  But also turn them in because they tried to rob us all of some joy and that's not OK.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Walks of Shame

Do you know any of these people?  If so, please let them know they suck:

While back of the pack numbers are a time honored tradition in Boston (you used to buy them from the guy who ran the race dressed as Groucho Marx), they were never a real number and they were never a number stolen from a qualifier/registered runner.  There was always someone near the finish to shunt those guys through a side chute so they wouldn't get the perks of running Boston, like photos or medals, but could get any medical attention they might need.

I get it, people wanted to run Boston this year and the BAA was cracking down on bandits for security reasons. A number of other things that made Boston fun, like costumes and flags and props and things went away this year too; however, you don't take a real person's number like that.  Perhaps these folks were just clueless in that they were looking for a Boston number on Craig's List or something and didn't realize they were buying a real person's number that had been stolen.  I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If that is the case, they should come forward and talk to the BAA about how/where they got the number to make sure it doesn't happen again.  If any of them accepted a race medal, they should send it back because it really sucks to be a registered runner, struggle your way through the race and find out the one literal badge of honor are all gone because some idiot who didn't deserve it took yours.  (Talk to me about my Ras Na Heirrann medals some day and the year the kids gave them out to everyone asking for one because of the bottle opener on it so anyone finishing after the 40 minute mark didn't get one.  Paulie made good on it but it really wasn't fair to a bunch of folks behind me in their first 5k that didn't get the reward they deserved.)

Then came the incident at the Sox game last night:

Classy, just classy.  I post this here so you start getting a walk of shame as well.

Let me tell you first hand what it's like when a grown up like you steals a ball from a kid like that: you kill their trust in adults just a little bit faster.  It stings and it becomes a thorn in your side as you grow up.  In 2005, Jason Varitek tossed a ball to my son during batting practice and another jackass like you snagged the ball before he could catch it.  Tek yelled at the guy saying, "It was for the kid."  The guy, instead of giving it to my son handed it to the kid he was with saying, "Now you have 2 balls and you can sell one on eBay."

My son, who is now an adult, obviously never forgot that moment.  He never quite enjoyed batting practice the way he did before that moment.  In fact, on opening day he turned to me and said, "Remember when the guy stole Cap'n Tek's ball from me?"  You have now turned that child's memory of a Red Sox player tossing a kid a baseball forever into, "Remember the time that jackhole Red Sox fan stole a ball from me?"

Good going jerkface.

I don't care if the kid's a Yankees, Royals or even Blue Jays fan, the ball goes ALWAYS goes to the kid.  End of discussion.  

I hope that kid now does what my son used to do after that, he always carried an extra sharpie with him to batting practice so when kids who didn't have a pen or something for a player to sign their hat, ball, program, whatever in Canvas Alley, my son would hand them his extra pen so they wouldn't go home disappointed.

To give you an idea of why I adore Jason Varitek, he later took a moment from warming up the pitcher in the bull pen and signed my son's cap.  Tek is a hero in our home for that reason (and many others).  Because the other thing my son said to me on opening day this year as we were freezing our butts off in the right field grandstands?  

"Remember when Tek signed my hat that day...."

My son is no longer the kid that wants to get there early to get a player's autograph on his hat (which has Johnny Pesky, John Halama and many others along with Tek from years of asking politely), but he still remembers that asshat who stole his baseball from Tek.  Not only that, he also sincerely thanked players for signing his hat and he never asked when they weren't making an appearance.  We saw players out with their families having dinner, etc.  He never crossed that line because he knew he wouldn't like it if that was his dad and all their playing time was interrupted by strangers asking, "Hey, would you sign...."

So Boston, time to start remembering we're on the world's stage and stop acting like insensitive jerks.  If for no other reason than the one your mother probably used to give you: I'm watching.  Better yet, just start being nice to people.  The world has too many jerks and we don't need to be on that side of the equation.  We need to be on the solution side.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More than I ever wanted to know about black bears

I am developing a math/science game for 2nd-3rd graders about bears.

A month ago, when I received the assignment to develop a math game, it seemed like a great idea to combine some science (facts about black bears) and math (word problems at a 2nd/3rd grade level) because well black bears are just generally cool.

Right now I'm struggling with coming up with more and more and more word problems because what fun is a game if you know the answers already?

The real reason I'm thinking about taking this game beyond my graduate classroom has a lot to do with more and more reports of bears walking through suburban neighborhoods and the crossover between people and wild animals as a result of sprawl.  I want kids to understand some really important concepts: most wild animals don't seek out to attack humans.  A lot of times they will walk away.  In fact, bears are shy solitary omnivores that prefer a more vegetarian diet (berries and such), but are highly adaptable and will protect themselves and families at all costs.  So if that as more suburbs expand out into former farmlands and forests, there is less space for these beautiful creatures to attend to their basic needs of food and shelter.  Human garbage can be pretty tasty and that beautiful view you have backed up to conservation land... guess what, that's home to furry creatures that don't understand the concept of property lines the way we do.

So if kids have the option of learning a little math while learning some basic facts about bears, maybe they'll understand that we all need our space and need to find a way to make this work.  I don't have all the answers - no where near that reality; however, maybe one of the kids coming through a classroom of mine will and what will inspire them will be, "What?!  Bears are nearsighted but have an acute sense of hearing and smell to compensate for that?  What if we did this to keep them out of human back yards?"  Or maybe it will be that kid who looks at abandoned buildings in a city and figure out how to convert it into viable housing and commercial projects that include sustainable food growing options rather than spreading further out.

You never know.  But it has to start somewhere and right now it means writing about 50 more questions about bears so I can turn this board game in tonight for a grade.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Winding down, gearing up

 The Boston Marathon is full of inspiration.  Not just in people who run 26.2 miles on their day off for fun, but in their stories.  Back in 1972, when I was a young girl in a changing world being told "girls don't," I had heroes like Katherine Switzer who responded, "Says who?"

Switzer entered the Boston Marathon as K. V. Switzer because it was a men's only race.  When the race director, Jock Semple, realized there was a woman running, he tried to push her off the course and out of the race but her boyfriend and other runners came to her defense and she finished the race.  Not that much longer, she was able to join the field legally as one of the first women runners.

People overcome so much to add the title "Boston Runner" to their lives, it's hard to explain to people who are stuck on, "Why would you run 26 miles?  I can't even run one...."  But it's like anything in life, you run one mile at a time.  Sometimes you fall, sometime you push away the haters but no matter what, you push yourself to your limits and beyond to finish the race.  Don't let people tell you what you can't do, that's your call and no one else's.

There will be lots of "we reclaimed the finish line" talk, but mostly I look at the photo from yesterday that summed up the Boston Marathon I have known my whole life: a runner falling near the finish line in Copley Square and 4 runners around him picking him up to carry him over the finish line.  That is Boston, that is how we roll here.  It's the reason why at 4:30 in the afternoon when the course was being shut down, people were still along the road cheering on the stragglers who were determined to finish.

Yesterday I cheered on my older sister running her first Boston and my oldest brother running his 32nd (and possibly) last Boston.  They lined up in Hopkinton and finished in Copley Square.  It wasn't easy for either of them, even though they have been training and training and training some more since January.  They both finished and are stronger people for it and truly an inspiration for me.

I may never run Boston.  I'm training for my first half marathon (the inaugural Heartbreak Hill Half in June) and starting to feel a bit less scared about things after watching the parade of runners yesterday.  Today I will be able to buckle down to finish the last of my work due tomorrow night.  I will enjoy the couple of weeks off between semesters as I ramp up running and think about writing.

I'm not talking about the whole "Life's a marathon, not a sprint...." metaphor.  I'm talking about a reminder that happens every 3rd Monday in April here in Boston: people are tougher and more resilient than you may think and you only need to look at all those folks running in your neighborhood to remind yourself of that truth.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

Today approximately 36,000 runners will take to the streets to run the Boston Marathon.  From Hopkinton to Boston, there will around 15,000 volunteers to make it all work.

Think about that for a minute, around 15k strangers giving up their day to hand out water and gatorade, rake cups and GU packs and such out of the road, provide medical services, link up runners with their families, and a million other chores to make sure those runners are able to go the distance.

Not to mention the folks that have been behind the scenes all year long leading up to this past weekend and today.  So many eyes will be on Boston today, that those strangers will be more than the kind helpers making it just a bit easier for the runners, they will be ambassadors representing the best of who we are as Bostonians (and beyond).  As you go forward today, please honor these runners and strangers by performing an act of kindness.  It can be as simple as holding the door for someone or buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line or something as important as giving a pint of blood for some stranger in need.

Then carry that feeling forward.  This world runs on the kindness of strangers and, as Eek the Cat always used to say, it never hurts to help.

Friday, April 18, 2014

I Hate You Asthma

Ask someone to describe what they think it feels like to not be able to breath and they will most likely think of hands wrapped around their throats.

Not me, I think of a cage around my lungs, not allow them to expand.

This morning I was reminded, once again, why asthma sucks.

I was excited to run.  I have new running shoes that I'm itching to break in, I had the day off from work - extending April Vacation for a day and just knew this would be a good morning to hit the hills of Brookline with November Project and kick off Boston Marathon weekend on a strong note.

I was lacing up my shoes when it happened.  The stiffening of my chest, the filling of my sinuses, the struggle for air.  Rescue inhaler at hand, I took a few puffs and waited the moments until my chest could move freely again.  But going for a run?  I can do that so long as my inhaler in my pocket but then the weather report came on and it was 30* out, below freezing.

Had it been in the 40's or higher, yeah I could do that but below freezing... not gonna happen.

I looked at the shoes on my feet and sighed.  They would have to wait until tomorrow to touch the pavement and begin to find their purpose in this universe and so would I.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Have you ever had so much stuff to do at once that you get paralyzed?

This semester I felt like I have been in quicksand all semester long.  I started behind the eight ball spending the first two weeks of the semester sitting with my dad as he died and then the funeral.  I have been spending the past four months trying to process everything, work, go to school, finish all the work I have to do and I feel like I'm drowning in quicksand.  The more I try to do to get out of it, the deeper I sink.  And each time I feel like I'm almost even, I realize that maybe I'm just not flailing in quicksand for a bit so it feels like I'm doing well but I'm really just stuck in place.

Over the weekend, I was watching one of my favorite movies, "The Replacements," and remembered one of my favorite scenes:

I have another week left in this semester, even if I wish I could have one beyond that just to get things done.  I wish I had at least one more day to work on school work vs going to work, but that's not how it works unfortunately.

I look forward to the summer when "all" I'm doing is taking grad classes and pulling together my comic "Data the Number Cat" as I prep for my student teaching.  Maybe I'll get a chance to breathe then.... finally.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Sun Never Shines on Closed Doors

I went for a run this morning.  I promised myself I would run from Mile 18 to Mile 19 for all those that ran 25.2 last year.

I ran that mile for personal reasons - mile 18 water stop was my station the last 5 marathons.  I like 18 because from mile 17-19 are pretty sparse when it comes to cheering crowds.  Sure there are folks there, but not like the thundering throngs of folks at the fire station, Newton City Hall or BC.  It's a lonely stretch and I took my job of taking care of the runners intensely seriously.

My job: rake up the cups before the Comm Ave turns into a slippery paper maiche carpet.

So running from 18 to 19 was important to me.  It's where I would walk runners to the med tents who were hurting.  It's where I would walk along with people to keep their spirits up as they faced the worst of the hills coming up over the next couple of miles.  I thought of all the people I walked through there last year and wanted to run strong for them.

Stupid, but there it is.

I listened to Flogging Molly this morning as I did my run and the selection along Comm Ave was interesting.  As I came up on 18, "The Sun Never Shines (on Closed Doors)" came on.  I looked at the daffodils starting to bloom at that point and smiled.  I remember this road during hurricane force winds, it was nasty but Boston runs no matter what - hurricane? Pshaw! These folks were training in blizzards six weeks earlier.  We're Bostonians.

It was followed by "May the Living Be Dead (in Our Wake)."  Wow, that was  little close to home today.  We are left in the wake of those that went to watch a marathon, the triumph of human spirit.  They weren't even watching the Kenyans, they were watching the normal folks that were out in the snow and rain and Boston weather for the past four months.  There were no special trainers, no prize money, just people who raised money for others and those that took up the gauntlet to show they could.  It's up to us to show why we deserved to be left in the wake of those smiling faces that are now just memories.

As I came up on Newton City Hall, "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" came on.  I flashed on Sean Collyer, a kid who showed up to do his job and lost his life.  I know MIT and Harvard cops are sworn Cambridge Police Officers (did you know that?), but I don't think even he would have expected to leave this world that way.

Finally I stood and turned off my music to look at the statue of Johnny Kelley.  The daffodils planted last fall are blooming, the ray of sunshine in the gloomy morning.  The old standard "Rare Old Times" came on as I ran back up Comm Ave.  The line "Dublin keeps on changing, nothing stays the same," struck me.  I've heard that song countless times, but it's true.  Boston has changed, it can't say the same, nor should it.

So moving forward, I think I will try to honor Adrianne Haslet-Davis's request: stop talking about the bombers and talk about the heroes.  Talk about the people who pulled together to make the phrase "Boston Strong" more than a couple of words scratched into the cleats of a member of the Red Sox.  Maybe if we talk about the heroes, when someone wants to be on the news it will be for doing something good, something worth reporting and not something that rips us apart.

So let's start being heroes.  Today, commit a random act of kindness.  Do it tomorrow to and, if you have it in you, the day after as well and keep doing it as long as you can.  Maybe one day, when you need the most, someone will do that for you.  Maybe not.  Heroes don't do it for the payback, they do it because that's what we should do.  Maybe, just maybe, if we keep lighting the light of kindness, we can hold back the darkness evil needs to thrive.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Moving (right?) Along

I'm sitting here watching the local news waiting for weather and to see if there's anything important to know when I get the relentless "Tuesday is the anniversary...." In case you've  been living in a hole, a year ago a couple of kids blew up the Boston Marathon and I think I can finally say, "I'm not OK."  More than that, I don't need a whole day of coverage It is punctuated with stories of people who didn't finish last year's race and how they're coming back this year to remind me of how much I'm still hurting over everything.

I tell people I chose not to volunteer because I know people need to do something and let them jump in this year and I'll come back next year.  The truth, I don't know if I can stand there the way I always have without crying early and often.  I didn't go to the photo shoot yesterday because, even after 5 years of supporting runners at the mile 18 water stop, I don't feel like I belong in that photo shoot.  Leave it for the real runners, like my brother who will run his 32nd Boston this year.  It's a decision I made, in spite of being a Boston runner, and I'm good with that call.  I know not all people gave it that much thought or came to the same conclusions I did, and I'm good with that as well.  We have to do what works for each of us.

Last year I went to the gathering at Newton City Hall to acknowledge what happened and ran into an old student.  She hugged me and said she was worried about me because she thought I might have been running instead of working the marathon.  (Me?  Run a marathon?  Not likely.)  I was nervous wearing my jacket on rainy days because I didn't want to upset kids.  Recently I realized how much everything hit me because I just can't wear the 2013 jacket comfortably, so I've fallen back to my 2012 jacket as my default and the other previous years when that one's in the laundry.

More stories about increased numbers of police, check points and increased surveillance doesn't make me feel safer.  It makes me afraid.

So what would it take to move forward for real?  Normal would make me feel a lot better.  Not these acts of sadonecroequinebeastiality (beating a dead horse) to tell us we're "Boston Strong."  We're not, we're still Boston under siege.  Boston Strong is giving the middle finger to those that would harm us and celebrating our bandits in costume and other characters who are crazy enough to lace up their sneakers and run 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston on the third Monday in April.  It's not clamping down on the weirdness, it's celebrating it and embracing it as something that makes us who we are.

That siege mentality has crept in around us and we're wrapped up in it without realizing it and people like me keep feeling hobbled by it all.  So Tuesday, I will acknowledge my feelings.  Like far too many people, I will head into Copley Square to leave something that marks the end of my mourning.  After Tuesday I will be able to comfortably live again without fear and remind myself that Boston Strong isn't just words written on a ballplayer's cleat that triggered a slogan that carried us through the darkness, but it's now time to step back into the light.

I hope others follow me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Clean Body, Clean Mind... Take Your Pick

This morning is the second week I got up to walk up and down the flights of stairs at Harvard Stadium with the November Project folks.

This is normally a summer activity; however, I recently altered my work schedule so I would have time to get back into things before July.  In fact, my goal is to reach a full tour (all 37 sections) by the time in July I'm normally getting started again.  But I'm about 30 sections away from that goal right now.  Last week I was content to do five sections and stop just as I got jelly legged.  As a result, I was sore the next couple of days, but I wasn't a hurting pup like I usually am when I start up.  I am trying to be realistic in terms of my approach at the stadium in that when I get jelly legged, no more than one section beyond where I am and stop.

This morning I made it 7 sections in.

Not bad, not good but not bad.

So why is this here instead of over on my working out with Tek blog?  What does it have to do with writing.

People always ask about why do I join up with Nanowrimo each year if I'm not going to publish what I write?  For the same reason I haul my rather large posterior up and down the stairs at Harvard: because sometimes you need to make yourself get back in the habit of doing something that might be painful at times but good for you in the end.

I'm 16k into Camp Nano - over halfway to my goal and about 5 days ahead of myself and a funny thing happened, a story began to emerge.  It's not the one I loosely planned.  It's not the style I've been focusing on at any level.  It is; however, a story that wants to be told and may be the base for a decent YA fantasy novel.  It started its life as something else but quickly wanted to be more.

I know it's a YA novel because it's not particularly clean enough for middle grade fiction - which is my comfort zone.

Is it because I hauled my but up a bunch of flights of stairs while rocking out to Balkan Beat Box (who are sampled in a current Hip Hop song... so weird to hear a favorite of mine, "Hermetico," in the middle of the song "Talk Dirty" - and I recommend people look up the original by BBB)?  Perhaps.

Perhaps that's what's clearing my head for the story to jump up and down yelling, "I'm over here!  Time for you to write me down!  You're cleaning up your body, so it's time for me to muck up your mind until I'm out of your head!"

It happens.  Maybe by the beginning of July, I'll not only be able to do a full tour of Harvard Stadium but maybe Ailish and Aidan will have fulfilled their destiny in the deserted town on Achill Island in Sliabh Mór, County Mayo in Ireland.  You never know.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

1400 Down 28600 To Go

I started off my morning writing.  The story unfolded itself between 5:30 and 6:30 am and I realized where it was going to go.

It is also what happens when you fall asleep on the couch with the news on.

Had you asked me a couple of days ago about what my story was going to be about, I would have told you about the dream that woke me up at 3 am and I wrote down before it could leave.  This morning, fingers to the keyboard, it became something entirely different because yesterday there was a local car jacking that spanned several communities and a variety of cars.  It was coupled with "Why I am running the Boston Marathon" this year stories and a set of stories about two firefighters who died in Boston last week - one of whom was someone my son knew.  A bit of discussion in there recently about Amanda Palmer's views on the bombing with a pinch of a viewing of "Frozen" yesterday and... well, ding fries are done.

Somehow all those things swirled together in my sleeping brain and came up with the story of a young girl who deliberately puts herself in the line of fire and how that changes the lives of the community around her and how she comes to see exactly who she is as a person.  I'm not sure of the ending yet.  I think I know what it will be, but I know it will be unexpected.

Either way, 1400 words this morning (400 over goal) and counting.  I may write more if I finish up my last paper and lesson plan drafts - we'll see.  However, I'm off to a good start and now my day is calling me.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Have I not been writing?

I have been writing, it's just been a tough writing season for me overall.

About a week ago I said to someone that I lost my dad in January.  It didn't fully register with them and they asked, "Where?"

"Um, it's not like I turned around in Sears and he was under a clothing rack saying, 'Pick me!' to freak out shoppers.  He died suddenly."

Let the awkwardness commence in 3, 2, 1....

See my dad was on peritoneal dialysis for almost 8 years.  No matter how careful you are with these things, there is always a risk of infection and a high density, quickly moving staph infection in his catheter gave him two choices: hemodialysis or death.  He swore up and down several times in the past he would never, ever, ever go on hemodialysis again.  We all figured he'd change his tune when he saw the other choice.

We were wrong.

While his last 4 days on this planet were surrounded by family and deeply moving for all of us, it is still a tough one for me to process.  I don't know if I fully will process losing him, but I"m grateful for those last days both on his behalf and for me.

Add a tough semester of grad school requiring far more "small" writing (3 page paper here, a lesson plan there), well, writing hasn't been so much on my radar this time through.  Then the other day I subbed for a fourth grade teacher and had to teach a lesson on opinion writing.  Like most kids, they were trapped in "The first reason I feel..." "The second reason...." "and a final reason...." without understanding that opinion writing - like any writing - is telling a story.

Watching their frustration at knowing what they were doing wasn't what they wanted it to be, I read them an old piece of mine called "Why Baseball." (Because they are kids and I was reading, I substituted "cold beer" for "cold drink.")  I then asked if someone could tell me the reasons I liked baseball and they should too.  They could list them.  I then asked what made my piece different and one kid said, "It was really persuasive, but it was like a story."

I called, "Bingo!"  I then told them that their piece, using the proper transition words and "So What" wrap up for why the evidence supported their reason should read like a story as well.  It doesn't happen overnight, it takes time but they can do it and they should stop seeing adding a quote or dialogue to support their opinion as something dry but as something that enhances it.  When I'm done reading about why gymnastics is important, I should be convinced that the camaraderie of teammates is something all of us need in our lives or that when my fish bumped his head against the fish bowl as an invitation to play, it was not only something that would brighten my day but remind me I'm loved in unexpected ways and everyone should have a Beta fish to make them feel that way.  Sell me without letting me know you're selling me.

It was then I knew I was ready to write again.

I signed on to Camp NaNoWriMo (yeah, the national novel writer people) to jump start myself.  It couldn't come in a worse month.  April is the wrap up of the semester, Passover and a million and one other things.  On top of all that, last winter I signed up for a half marathon in June because, you know, when anyone's stressed out they do stupid things. So why do this?

Because life has to go back to normal.  I have to write or I'm miserable trying to face everyday as more than a chore.  I reduced my word count and set myself up to write short stories - flash writing - so I can just be as random as I need to be.  Perhaps I'll focus on my dad one day and running another.  I don't know.  I don't so much as have a plan as I have a big, blurry picture... and that's OK.

But one thing is sure, I need to start writing more than 3-5 page papers about Piaget's theory of disequilibrium as a method of processing learning and teaching place value to elementary school kids.  I need to tell real stories again.