Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Muse Wars -- A writing challenge, oh my

So I have a couple of days off from work because I have the good fortune to work for an agency that recognizes Jewish holidays. While my colleagues are passing over (or being passed over) I'm sitting around lazily haunting my favorite blogs. I came across this little writing challenge over on Lori's blog – Muse Wars. A picture was chosen by Menopausal Mumma and the challenge is to write a piece of flash fiction (less than 500 words) based on the photo. Since I'm so terribly un-busy today, I decided to bite.

Warning: I haven't written fiction in way too long (or perhaps not long enough—you be the judge). I wrote in college, published one short story and that was it. A few years later I submitted a piece of flash fiction to a magazine. They accepted it. As I was busily buffing my nails, wondering what was all this whiny fuss about the harrows of getting published, the magazine came and went without my story. I contacted them to ask about this. They wrote back and said: “Oh we're sorry, we sent you that acceptance by mistake.”

I haven't submitted anything since.

I dedicate this story to that magazine.




Nightfall


The man stared at the silhouette of the boat disappearing over the horizon.

“Well shit Timmy. I could have sworn they said to meet us here at 8:00 sharp.”

The warm water washed in over their ankles and out again, pulling at them. Timmy could feel his heels sinking into the sand, feel the sensation of moving backwards while standing still.

Well, no, not here specifically. This cove was too shallow. The ship docked further west. And dinner was at 8:00 sharp. The boat left at 6:30, everyone was supposed to be aboard by 6:00. Timmy had told all this to his father, several times, who of course didn't listen, never listened, which was only one of the reasons he was glad he saw him so infrequently. And now this.

“Look” said the man, “let's find us something to eat. Didn't we see some fruit earlier.” He laughed. “We'll be like, uh, who was it? Robinson Crusoe.” He laughed again. His breathing was shallow. Of all the places, for fuck's sake. An island full of lizards and bug-eyed monkeys. And not a bloody drink in sight.

“They'll do a headcount,” said Timmy. “At dinner. Or in the morning, when they stop at the next island.” Why didn't his father spring for a real cruise, where they spoke English and counted heads?

The man turned and headed back towards the trees. “Come on. It's getting dark. I'm hungry.”

Timmy didn't move. “It's dark already. Shouldn't we go back to the other beach? What if they come back? They'll look for us there.”

“Oh, this is rich.” The man turned around and threw his pack to the ground. “Perhaps I should have just brought your mother. I could have had contrary and caustic. Two for one. Look, are you coming or not?”

Timmy didn't move. He thought it through. If he kept to the beach he could see by the moonlight, could see enough to make his way there. It would take maybe two hours because he would have to move slowly, pick his way in the dark. From this distance he could barely make out the shape of his father against the trees, a dark form blending into the chaos of the jungle behind him.

“Well then, come on.”

And though the man could see him plainly, standing there on the beach, Timmy knew that if he waited a moment longer, until the light faded from the horizon behind him, he wouldn't be able to see his father at all.


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Monday, March 29, 2010

Naked thoughts running down the sidewalk of my mind

Today I pulled up CNN to see what was happening in the news o' the world and saw this. R & B singer Erykah Badu was videotaped shedding her clothes as she walked along a sidewalk in Dallas, Texas, near where President Kennedy was assassinated. And then she fell to the ground, dramatically. I'm pretty sure this was art, a statement of some sort. In fact, if I read a little further I see, yes, she was making a statement about “groupthink” as she later tweeted to her followers. I see it now.

Not everyone was amused with Badu's unveiling. There were plenty of people milling about, including children, when she exposed her grassy knoll to passers-by, prompting some to shout “put your clothes on, damn girl!”

One fan tweeted to Badu on Sunday: "thank you, because your being brave, i no longer feel afraid to say what i really feel."

I think it’s contagious. I too am suddenly feeling released from the shackles of groupthink. In fact, watch out, I feel an original thought coming on. Lots of thoughts. Stand back, here they come:
  • I love the way mangos look. Sometimes I just stand in the produce section and stare at them. If they’re ripe, I smell them too.
  • No, I’m not a lesbian.
  • With my first child I had an epidural. With my second I had a doula, no drugs and a natural birth. I muchly preferred the first. 
  • I don’t jog. I hate jogging. 
  • And yet, I have an irrational desire to run naked through a field of wheat. 
  • I have a feeling the reality of this would in no way live up to the fantasy.
  • Would, in fact, leave scars.
  • My kids aren’t allowed to eat on the couch, but I am. 
  • I think President Obama is immensely sexy because he has integrity and is always utterly composed. Too bad he doesn't have an Australian accent. 
  • I would like to take a long road trip through several states. 
  • Alone. 
  • Very soon. 
  • I'm sure this won't happen. 
  • I rarely read the news. I find it boring and depressing. Today was an exception. Of all the headlines on CNN the one I chose to click on was about a woman undressing in public. 
  • I imagine that if people knew this about me they would think I was irresponsible and typically American, which I don't like, but I still don't want to read the news.
  • I once visited a distant relative in a nursing home. She had been there for 7 years, much of that time in a semi-vegetative state. I didn't know what to say to her, so I told her it was okay to die.
  • Three days later she did. 
  • I also see dead people. 
  • No, not really.
  • Apologies to Lori
What about you? What's your nakedly original thought?
 
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pssst, kid, over here (an open letter to little people)

I was reading one of those stories in the news the other day that I would have glossed over in the past but now that I'm a parent take on a whole new meaning. You know the ones I'm talking about. A man or woman is killed in some freak accident and as you skim the story you find out he/she had young children at home. Shudder the thought.

It got me to think what would happen if I were to meet with unfortunate design and merge with eternity while my kids were still at a tender age. If one were to ask them years down the road what wisdom they had learned at my knee that helped shepherd them into adulthood, they probably would have to give it a hard think and then come up with such as this: “clean your nails, good god”, “lean over your plate so you don't get crumbs in your lap” and “brush now or else.”

It occurred to me that I almost never tell them anything of consequence. Not that kids learn by being told, of course. But in case they ever learn by reading, I thought I'd collect my collective wisdom and put it in once place so that I would have it all ready in the event of my untimely demise or (more likely) untimely institutionalization or (most likely) our children's ability to swiftly disable the parental controls on the computer and discover my blog. Ergo,

An Open Letter to Little People (mine, specifically)

From where you sit now life may seem fairly simple and straightforward and in many respects it is. But as you lean towards adulthood you'll no doubt try to complicate it, because that's what we all do.

For instance, as you grow up you will have many friends who will all have different ideas of what is required to be adored by others. Because you are human, you will for a time play the game of trying to morph yourself into these different ideals. It is my hope that sooner, rather than later, you will learn that the quality which others most respect and find attractive is authenticity, the irony being that once you discover this you will no longer care much what others think.

Many things will seem wildly important to you at different times in your life. But here's something that really is. Find the one thing in life that makes your heart sing and do it and never stop doing it, even if it makes your father and me weep into our pillows at night. We'll get over it.

A well-paying job is lovely. A home is lovely. But before you chase that kind of stability, get out and see the world. One cannot purchase the perspective of life as viewed from beneath a worn rucksack on a lost bit of track somewhere in the Peruvian Andes.

If you're unsure whether or not you should say it, and...
  • you're really angry
  • in a business meeting
  • have had a few too many
  • are talking to an attractive man/woman who's not your significant other
  • are in a chat room
  • are being evaluated for a raise
  • are about to hit reply to all
you probably shouldn't.

  
If you're unsure whether or not you should say it, and...
  • you're feeling hurt
  • are feeling centered
  • are in therapy
  • are only at the $5,000 level on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
  • are hooked up to a lie detector test
  • the man/woman of your dreams is about to walk out the door
you probably should.

Things that are a bad idea:
  •  Credit cards for college students
  •  Credit cards in general (unless you pay them off every month)
  •  Thinking, eh, you're okay to drive
  •  Unprotected sex with your boyfriend/girlfriend because my god you love him/her so much and besides, you know it's a safe time of the month
  •  Unprotected sex in general
  •  Drugs, legal or otherwise, prescription or street, your parents' or yours or anyone else's
  •  Owning a firearm (unless you live in the Yukon and need to take down a caribou for your dinner, what the hell are you thinking?)
  •  Tattoos that spell things out
  •  Martyrdom
  •  Whining
  •  Playing the victim
  •  You get the picture

 Things that are a good idea:
  • A degree in the liberal arts (if you really want to go into business get an MBA, but for undergrad go liberal arts; you'll be a better person for it and you will absolutely get a job)
  • Condoms (yes, harp harp)
  • Being the first to apologize -- contrary to popular belief, it takes a bigger person
  • Laughing at yourself
  • Turning off the TV and reading. Lots.
  • Speaking your truth
  • Over and over and over, even when it hurts
  • Accountability
  • Integrity
  • Love over gold
  • Anna, take your calcium

And always, always, you are loved.

That should do for now. 

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Can we all just take a deep breath?


Is it just me or has the world gone just a little mad lately?

We've been dealing with a string of minor dramas and emergencies at the office and I keep waiting for the end of the line. We're gearing up for our big holiday meal program in which we deliver a week's worth of kosher food to needy families for Passover. This year we have more families needing help than ever and have doubled our distribution efforts. However, a couple of last minute personal emergencies have ensured that the people coordinating the program are quite suddenly... gone. We sat in Management meeting today and discussed contingency plans and this was the best we came up with: reschedule Passover.

My friend Amy seems to be experiencing something similar. She posted a cryptic message on Facebook today saying that after the events of the last few days things seemed a little too dull at her office and they needed some excitement. I offered to run up and down the hallways covered in nothing but little adhesive arrow stickies yelling “sign here bitches!”

Surprisingly, after conferring with her office mates, they agreed to take me up on this. I told them to get their sharpies ready because they were going to have to sign on the fly.

Maybe we're all feeling the after effects of the country's seismic reaction to the passage, finally, of a comprehensive health care bill. The bill has stirred up the roiling political tensions that are always simmering just beneath our nation's surface. Some are hailing it as a watershed accomplishment, others as Armageddon, and the rest are scratching their heads wondering how its all really going to fall out in the end. I'm torn between camps one and three.


Those on the far right are terribly riled up. Some have made death threats on Obama. Racial epithets are being thrown. The stories that have been making the headlines are some of the more far out. At least, I hope that's the case. I hope these are the outliers.

There was this story which issues a rallying cry for conservatives to stop donating blood. The argument is that conservatives give more blood than liberals, seeing as they are more Christian, and if they stop giving blood they will really impact the healthcare system and liberals will have to relent and repeal the healthcare bill. Or something like that. I didn't quite follow the logic. Nor was I clear on the connection with Christian charity. But never mind.

Some are taking their aggressions out on the First Lady. Yesterday Teabaggers marched on the White House protesting Michelle Obama's campaign against obesity, carrying signs that read: “Hands Off Our Obesity!”

This is from the Borowitz Report: "Being obese is one of our American core values," said Carol Foyler, a Teabagger from Toledo, Ohio who showed up for the march. "It's guaranteed by the Constitution."

Ms. Foyler said that Mrs. Obama's campaign against obesity was yet another example of the White House interfering in ordinary people's lives: "They want us all to be skinny like they are in Europe."

The Teabagger said that she would fight the First Lady's obesity campaign "because you know what happens when you get too thin? Your husband runs off with a tattoo model."

Well. There you have it. Obesity = marital fidelity = constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of flabbiness. Or something like that.

About the only positive thing to come out of the mouths of conservatives lately was Rush Limbaugh's promise to move to Costa Rica if the health care bill passed.

Man up Costa Rica. You'll learn to live with the pain.  At least you have ready access to mind-numbing drugs.


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Monday, March 22, 2010

Um...can you not ask me that?

Today I’m going to direct you over to Sharnanigans. Sharni Montgomery is a journalist and an all around lovely person who used to live in Sydney but now lives somewhere (not sure where) in rural Australia with her partner and son. She is starting a Reader of the Week series and I’m her first interview, so clearly she’s a little hard up. Anyway, she plied me with virtual wine and got me to divulge embarrassing things.

Since its, yawn, Monday (yes, yes, Tuesday for over-achievers) and you’re probably looking for a distraction don’t forget to check out my readers I want to do list from yesterday.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Readers I want to do

I'm going to do something a little different today and boldly break a few rules. Brazen, I know. First off, I have some awards in my back pocket that some of my beautiful bloggy friends have been kind enough to bestow on me and I want to take a moment to thank them.

Instead of playing by the various rules of the various awards I'm going to do something completely different, because I reserve the right to be capricious (just ask Jim). Typically with awards you are supposed to write out a list of ten little known facts about yourself or some such thing. Instead, I'm going to direct you tomorrow to an interview with me that's being posted on another website (yes, someone cared enough to interview me, mind boggling isn't it?). It's more revealing than the flippancy I usually post here.

Second, instead of listing out awardees for each one, I'm going to sing a song of love to some of my most loyal readers and heavy commenters. Since it's Sunday (Monday for you over-achievers west of the date line) you're not exactly working hard anyway so just go and visit their blogs and enjoy yourselves.

First, the awards:

AV over at Life is Just Like That passed along an Arte da Li award. AV lives in Rio de Janiero and his Brazilian flag brightened up my flag counter back when I had few visitors and new flags were a novelty (who am I kidding, I'm still a flag hussy). We've since learned that we share a flag addiction and have confessed our powerlessness over pennant collection. I'm jealous as hell that he has a Mayotte.


Brenda at Mummytime gave me a Kreative Blogger award. Brenda is all kinds of bloggy awesomeness wrapped up in a heart of gold and served with a side of smart ass. But we'll get back to Brenda in a moment. Stay tuned.



Kristy at Pampers and Pinot was so kind as to pass me an Honest Scrap award. Kristy hails from Colorado Springs and like me is doing the mom/wife/work thing and then blogging on the side to stay sane. She has a fine appreciation for wine, which I also appreciate for its mighty fine qualities, and a lovely wit to boot.

Nic at Diary of a Domestically Challenged Housewife (or Domestically Challenged Ho as abbreviated by Google, thank you Google) also gave me an Honest Scrap Award just yesterday. You guys are killing me. Nic lives in Sydney with her fiance and their little boy and I've only recently discovered her, but I'm sure glad I did because she's loads of fun.



Christina at Angel Guided passed along a Lovely Blog award to me. I met Christina through Writers Rising and she is a gentle soul who is a writer, counselor and reiki practitioner and writes about her spiritual insights. She also recently started a blog to honor her mother who died from cancer. Christina grew up in Cyprus and now lives in the UK.



Marylin at Softthistle gave me a Kreative Blog award. Marylin lives in Crieff, Scotland with her partner and two sons. I'm hoping to see Marylin on my trip to the UK in June if we ever get around to actually settling on an itinerary and if I can figure out where the hell Crieff is (I hear tell the internet can help me with this, simply amazing).


Thanks to each of you for seeing fit to honor me with these awards. I hope my readers will honor them by paying a visit to their sites and giving them some bloggy love.

And now, without further ado, readers I want to do (in the literary sense, of course):

Veronica at Someday We Will Sleep: Veronica actually has three blogs so take your pick. Go here and you'll find links to her others. She lives in Tasmania with her partner and two underfootlings and does a splendid job of entertaining me with her most excellent writing and cooking and advocacy and whatever other hat she feels like wearing that day. She has throngs of admiring readers but give her more, as her mission is to take over the blogging world and I'm here to abet her.

Kim at Frog Ponds Rock also lives in Tasmania and happened to give birth to Veronica and makes beautiful things from clay and takes lovely photos that make me want to visit Tasmania and writes me hilarious and kind emails that make me want to visit Tasmania and raises pigs and ducks and rocks her purple hair. Because I am weak I'm secretly planning a return-to-Oz-via-Tasmania trip in 2011. Shhhh. Don't tell Jim. He doesn't yet know.

Barbara at Jobart has a photography blog and posts short daily bits, usually about her kids. I'm very excited because I'm going to meet Barbara in the flesh in three short months when we visit the UK and we will celebrate with wine and unbridled silliness. I love Barbara for many reasons but most of all because she is so.fucking.funny in a very wittily British kind of way and I may just kidnap her while I'm there.

Glen at Glen's Life also hails from London and writes about the joys and travails of parenthood and husbandhood and how much he adores Twitter and Facebook and embracing small nations. Barbara and I have tried to coax him into meeting up with us in London but so far he keeps making noises about being waylaid in Hungary or somewhere inconvenient for the entire month of June. We are thinking of inviting Badger instead.

Badger at Vienna for Dummies is an Australian expat held hostage in Vienna by two cats who have constructed a large and visually attractive netting device that allows him to roam the city but never actually leave. I know, I know, I'm sure if he were on Facebook he would be listed under it's complicated.

John White at My View with a Laugh is an Australian expat-repat held hostage by his wife in a Sydney suburb. His cat does not construct nets, can't be bloody bothered. Does not, in fact, even catch mice (yawn). John is on Facebook. If you friend him he may send you pictures of women wearing flags. He did me.

Brenda at Mummytime. I know I mentioned Brenda above because she bestowed an award on me, but I love her so much I have to mention her again. Brenda is the best kind of bloggy friend a blogger can have and she is just an all around excellent person: kind, generous, earthy, witty and full of integrity. I get to meet Brenda too on my theoretical 2011 trip and since she lives near the Sydney airport I'm expecting to see her gorgeous mug first thing when I'm released from customs after being strip-searched by brawny Australian border protection agents (dammit, dammit, why do I always forget that I shouldn't strap live rabbits to my body before flying into Sydney?). Oh, and her blog...most excellent.

Katie at No Missed Opportunities. I've only met Katie recently but she is so good at plying me with compliments that I really want to do her (literarely). Katie lives in a cold and frozen hinterland somewhere north of here (think Michigan) and is currently mourning the passing of winter so needs some serious cheering up. Go send her some virtual snowflake kisses.

I know I've missed scores of most wonderful, loyal, generous readers and if you feel slighted you should come back daily and post lots and lots of comments to let me know. Honestly, I get a thrill anytime anyone visits my blog. You have to know that is the ultimate compliment for any writer, of drivel or consequence, so thank you for taking the time to read what I have to say. In fact, because I love ALL of my readers I invite each of you to take the award of your choice from above. Visit the website it came from for the associated rules (if'n you want to play by the rules). So come on, In Real Life, Adorabibble, So Now What, Susan, Sandbox Gems, Lori, Warsaw Mommy, Anne Marie, Sharni, Freefalling, Marla, Marci, Matthew and anyone else who wants one. Go on, grab one!

And, pssst, as long as your busily clicking links, look, I now have a Facebook page for Wanderlust. There's a badge on my sidebar. Become a fan and I will do a happy dance (you'll just have to trust me on that, no streaming video--yet).


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Friday, March 19, 2010

Flog your blog Friday

The beautiful and brilliant Brenda over at Mummytime is hosting Flog Your Blog Friday, which is an opportunity to discover new blogs and share some follow love (i.e. shameless blog promotion).  And since it's still Friday for some of us under-achievers in on this side of the date line I'm just now getting around to posting this.  So if you're just now getting around to visiting, welcome!  There are tabs at the top to orient you to the blog (About Me, Best of, etc) and follow buttons to the right.  If you would like to join you can add your blog below.  Full instructions can be found at Brenda's site (just follow the link above).

Cheers!


MckLinky Blog Hop



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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Let’s make some history, ya’ll

Did you hear the news? Texas is rewriting history. Literally.

The heavily republican Texas State Board of Education has voted to alter history textbooks to downplay the separation of church and state and dramatize the infiltration of communism during the Cold War. Our founding fathers have suddenly become less secular and more Christian. And why not? If you can’t change something as arbitrary as history with a simple majority of votes, why that’s just downright undemocratic.

In fact, I think we could all benefit from a little revisionist history. For instance, I’m a writer and you’re a reader of my blog. Which account of my day which you rather read?

Version 1:

6:45 a.m. Alarm goes off for fifth time, I stumble out of bed, wake kids, pour them bowls of sugar-coated-vitamin-injected chocolate cereal, shower and dress while deftly avoiding bathroom scale, perform morning drop and kiss, blare Divinyls as weave through traffic, undergo caffeine consumption ritual (repeat), commence workslave routine, etc., etc., yawn.

Or...

Version 2:

7:45 a.m. Kiss children goodbye as whole-foods-certified nanny whisks them off to school, shower, step onto scale and (gasp!) have reclaimed my high school weight? In fact, can slip into flags I haven't worn in 15 years! Head out the door to work and...wait, back up, let's revise that. I don't have to go to work because I remember that money now grows on trees in my backyard. Problem solved. In fact, ring, ring, that's my agent on the phone, seems like the publishers are fighting over my book (just like the last one, silly publishers).

Wave to throngs of adoring fans as I wrestle into the car the four-foot tall Hello Kitty cake which I've made entirely out of fondant and which I will drop off in Anna's classroom to enrapture/mortify her before reminding the nanny to have the Polar Express pick Danny up from school.

Stop off at local coffee shop for caffeine consumption ritual. Open New York Times to discover that congress has ordered revision of all school texts to correct minor factual errors in an effort to present an accurate account of historical events; for instance the U.S. did not actually win the Mexican-American War in 1848 but fought to a draw, kept California, and chose to cede Texas to Mexico. Also read that the U.S. has pledged a large amount of foreign aid to Mexico, which is experiencing serious economic crisis as a result of a tremendous national deficit run up by a self-seeking and witless leader who led the country into an ill-advised war and siphoned the nation's wealth off to his cronies, one Presidente Jorge. Tsk, tsk, Mexico.

Thanks to the long string of non-republican leadership in the U.S. and corresponding heavy investment in the sciences we have at our disposal such gems as this (whipping out my ImpendoMeter, which enables me to accurately read my future without the aid of astrology). Peering into it I see that I can expect continued: heavy book sales, international adulation, breast firmness and eventual splendid death by Australian men.

Yes, bravo Texas! Revisionist history for all.


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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

He says, she says

When my son was a toddler he rarely talked. For about six months a speech therapist came to our house once a week and tried to draw out his words. Eventually he started to speak but still, he remained a boy of action and few words. Until this past year, that is. It's as if he discovered the joy of articulation overnight and now assaults us with non-stop verbal artillery. Take this salvo, thrown at me as I was pulling into the Target parking lot the other day:

“I just burped without making a sound. I wish my bones were superglued together. Mommy, when I opened my juice it 'sploded. In you van. Are you mad? I smell french fries.”

His words are like buckshot, tiny pellets of minutiae scattered to the wind. He'll throw a hundred words at me and maybe six or eight will stick.

My 7-year-old daughter on the other hand, chooses her words thoughtfully. Hers is the silver bullet tucked with care in her pocket, withheld until absolutely necessary, never wasted. They have the power to melt hearts and wound them.

Tonight she was harping on about something that was unfair so I sent her upstairs for a cooling off period, which only served to further stir her ire and as she made her way down the hall to her room she yelled the following at me: “I hate you and I will never apologize! And if I do apologize I won't mean it!”

While I should have been wounded by this, I've been hated by her enough times to know that it only lasts the duration of her time out and besides, I was too tickled by her addendum to be hurt. As predicted, once she was allowed back downstairs we made fast with a hug and a game of trash, in which she beat me soundly.  Fortunately, both my children are fluent in the language of forgiveness, as are all children, in their wisdom.

I'm a bit apprehensive, however, for her teenage years, when her tongue may grow sharper and her cooling off period longer. At least I'll have my son to talk at me while I'm waiting her out. Unless, of course, they go changing on my again, as kids are wont to do.


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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hey, it's Pi Day

Today is March 14th and I'm sure you're all celebrating pi day in your own special way, perhaps baking grandma's coveted apple pie recipe or carrying ratios out to an infinite number of decimals. I celebrated it by not acclimating to the time change or daylight savings and sleeping in until 11:00 a.m. I got back from California last night after being away for a week. It was good to be home again and love on the kids.

Both the kids had big new to share.  Anna: she lost another tooth!  Daniel: he threw up all over the kitchen floor!

When trying to think of an appropriate post for pi day it occurred to me that I should probably just let my last post stand. So I'll say little more and just point you to that.

If you've just arrived from Sleepless Nights, welcome. There are tabs at the top to help orient you to my blog (About Me, Best of, etc.).and an RSS feed thingie and follow buttons to the right if you decide you'd like to come back.

So thanks Veronica for making me a winner. Love you! And I say we should all celebrate an irrational number by doing something irrational today. So go on, it's almost spring (fall), kiss your dog, tickle your kids, book a trip you can't afford, write something dangerous and hit publish, roll naked in the mud, send an anonymous love letter, eat pie for breakfast, live baby.


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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Let's talk about my vagina, Mr. Chairman

Let me begin by saying that there are a number of obvious reasons not to hire someone into a leadership position that has little or no qualification. There may be a couple of good reasons, but one of them is not this: because you're organization has just received a sharp funding cut and has little money to pay and he is the only person you can find willing to work for so little. While this may seem to solve some immediate problems on the front end, especially if you're a small and struggling agency, imagine the problems it can create down the road.

When I inherited such a boss several months back I was more than a little apprehensive. And let me begin by saying no, this is not my full-time job I'm referring to, this is one of several bit contract positions I've held onto from back when I used to do consulting. And unless you know me fairly well you won't have any idea what organization I'm talking about (which is fortunate for them, as you'll see by the end of this post).

I won't mention any names and so for the purposes of this post we'll just call him F.W. You can imagine these are his initials or that they stand for Fellow Workslave or perhaps Fuckwit.

I could tell this man was probably a little insecure when the staff started receiving long-winded and excessively formal emails that droned on and on about how he, as executive director, took his mantle of leadership seriously and sought to fulfill the office of executive director with all seriousness and to seriously address the grievous mistakes inherited from past leadership, etc, etc, yawn, yawn, signed F.W., B.A., Executive Director. And I would read these missives and turn to my friend and say, I'm sorry, I'm a little confused, who's the executive director?

This sort of thing in and of itself, while annoying, was just eye roll fodder until one day I came back from lunch to find I had several text and voicemail messages from him, all marked urgent. When I called he told me he wanted me to hold one woman's paycheck as he was investigating her because he thought she was scamming the agency. I was perplexed as I knew the woman to a sincere and dedicated employee. He told me, and he sounded a little rabid here, that he had been calling all around the community and talking with people as part of this “investigation” and had determined that she had never actually visited a number of sites, the names of which he reeled off, as part of her monthly rounds. He said he was going to call and demand that she give him an accounting of every place she visited along with dates and times. He said she earned more than anyone else did and this was not right.

I sat in shock. First off, it was not this woman's job to visit any of the places he had called, but he wouldn't know that because he hadn't bothered to talk to her or her previous supervisor about what she actually did. Secondly, she did turn in a detailed account of her activities every month, which I offered to forward to him. Thirdly, she earned more than anyone else because she worked more hours. Fourth, it was illegal to withhold someones paycheck. And finally, it's not surprising he didn't know any of this because it was only his third week on the job.

He reiterated to me that I shouldn't pay her until he said so as “he was the executive director and the buck stopped with him.” I hung up the phone and sat for a minute thinking what to do. Finally, I called the Chairman of the Board, whom I knew as a friendly acquaintance, and told him of the conversation, of my discomfort with the situation and that I was making the choice to disregard his directive and send the check, as I knew withholding it to be illegal. I thought it was important he know this for several reasons, one of which was that I knew that F.W. was under a two-month temporary contract. It might be helpful for the board to know this when it came time for them to decide whether or not they wanted to make a permanent offer. The board chair agreed with my decision to send the check and told me he would talk with F.W. and try to settle him down.

From that point on I tried to limit my contact with F.W. as much as possible. I dropped by the office occasionally to pick up mail and he was invariably there, regardless of the day or hour. While he backed down from publicly denigrating this one woman and eventually began fawning over her in a way I found equally distasteful, he suddenly turned and began making accusations about another colleague, again for reasons that completely escaped me, blaming this person for the most ridiculous of things (generally mistakes he made and sought to cover up). Again, these accusations were public and damning and completely false. He would lean in close and tell me, in conspiratorial tones, about some imagined transgression and I would lean back and notice the late hour and get the fuck out of there. After any interaction with him I just felt sullied and disgusted and wanted to run home and shower/shampoo/floss/douche.

Oh, and the two colleagues he went after had a few things in common. They both were intelligent, they both out-earned him and they both shared a particular anatomical trait. Any guesses what that might be? Here's a hint:



I could draw this out with long and cringe-worthy stories of bald-faced lies and questionable financial transactions, many of which he was kind enough to document in email, and I could tell you about the countless emails sent to “gentlemen of the board” which were notable only in that they were tedious, self-serving and omitted the 50% of females on the board, but I'm going to cut to the chase.

The long and short of it is that I gave my notice because I cannot work with someone like this. Even though I really wanted to just be gone, I offered to stay on for three months so that I could take care of the IRS filings and some other complex reporting that was on the horizon. I was disappointed that the board had not acted on any of my concerns (many of which I had shared with the chair). Then a couple of things happened. I began to put some things together for one. It dawned on me that the board hadn't done anything most likely because they probably had no idea what was going on. I suspected that my concerns had never made it past the chair.

Then, when I gave my notice, not only did F.W. not even acknowledge my resignation, he demanded from me a detailed accounting of every single recent financial transaction. Which led me to believe his fine investigative skills were now trained on me. I sent this accounting to him right away, of course. But that's not all I sent.

I also sat down and wrote a long letter detailing every professional and ethical and legal transgression of F.W.'s I had witnessed and I sent it to the entire Board of Directors. Because I believe in total transparency.

The letter described the conversations I'd had with F.W. in which he had denigrated staff and board members, lied about financial transactions, lied about non-financial transactions. I wrote the letter in a fit of anger then thought it best to sleep on it. In the morning I edited it to remove all profanity and mention of genitalia and Axis II diagnoses. It's a shame really, but in the button-down world of management, sometimes one must sacrifice art in the name of political expediency. Nevertheless, I pulled no punches. It was honest and sharp and damning and it arrived in email boxes the day before F.W. was to meet with the board for their quarterly meeting.

Had I been there to deliver it in person and had I been a smoker, at the conclusion of the diatribe I would have exhaled a long train of smoke in F.W.'s face and then extinguished my cigarette on his very small penis.

I don't know what happened at the meeting because I didn't go. But I do know that one of the board members walked out of the meeting. This same boardmember was in the midst of organizing a large fundraiser for the agency and the following week decided to pull the fundraiser and resign from the board, apparently angry at the board chair's lack of action.  A second board member later contacted me asking for any detailed documentation I had. Something these two board member had in common?



I have no idea what will come of the situation. Needless to say, I also withdrew my offer to stay on for three months and do their IRS filings. I'm done and gone.

I will say this. We can't always know what someone is going to be like from a first impression, though I would hazard to say we can know a hell of a lot more than some people would think. Still, it happens that people end up in leadership positions who are dishonest, who lack accountability and integrity and, dare I say it, are misogynists.  Happens all the time. However, to allow someone who has demonstrated such qualities to remain in such a position, in my opinion, is a dereliction of duties on the part of a board of directors.

Sometimes I wonder if I should have just walked away and done nothing.  Let them figure out in their own good time what was going on.  Let him take the place down in six or twelve months or however long it would take given their already precarious funding situation.  But there is something in me that just can't do that.  It's not spite.  I was angry, sure, but it wasn't personal.  I already have a good job and didn't really need or even want this one.  He had no power over me, nothing to take from me.  In the end it was simply a matter of principle.

It's a sad sight when someone who feels powerless finds a bit of power in the world and seeks to make it their throne. It's even sadder to sit idly by and let it happen.


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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Total transparency

My friend Celeste works in HR and talks about something called Appreciative Inquiry, which as far as I can tell has to do with pinpointing and encouraging an employee's strengths by finding their driving passions and maybe glossing over their weaknesses, I don't know. This is supposed to be useful for supervisors as they can use this knowledge to help coach their employees. She loves this stuff. I listen to her describe it and she gets a little misty in the eyes. It's all about positivity and solutions-oriented outcomes. But the mistier she gets the further I sink into my chair and start grinding my teeth. I don't want to pinpoint anyone's driving passions—not at work anyway. The only inquiry I want to make of an employee is whether they have fulfilled the responsibilities in their job description and if they have I will show my appreciation by paying them whatever agreed-upon wage is in their employment contract. I know, you all want to work with me, don't you?

That said, when she asks me what it is that drives me I immediately know the answer: organizational integrity.

Organizational integrity means that when you take a ball out of your pocket and set it on a slanted board, that ball will roll cleanly down the board to the other end without falling through any holes or hitting any obstacles that will knock it radically off course. And that ball can be anything from a new program to a corporate checking account to an organization's mission.

I don't want to work with clients. I don't want to coach anyone. I don't want to motivate, comfort, sell, cajole, fundraise, lead or follow. I want to come in and look at an organization's infrastructure and find all the cracks in the framework that are keeping it from functioning with integrity and I want to shore up those cracks. And those cracks, people, are almost always people.

Any financial officer worth her salt knows that the key to a system with integrity is total transparency. Secrets never have a chance to flourish because they have nowhere to hide. Processes are out in the open. The right hand knows what the left hand is doing at all times.

Everywhere I go I seem to play the role of the person who comes along and busts open the door on the secret poker game going on in the backroom. Some people love me for this (usually bosses and board members). Others hate me (usually embezzlers and porn-surfers). I've escorted employees out to the parking lot. I've had the police into my office to take reports. I've turned over boxes of files to the state. I've sat in court rooms prepared to present evidence. I've done this enough times in enough agencies that we've had to have trip lights installed on the outside of our house, just as a precaution.

I know, you all want to work with me, don't you?

I don't actually seek out subversive situations. I think they exist everywhere, in fact. It's just that when I catch their scent, and I always seem to, I can't stand to let them be. However there is something in me that is oddly drawn to the potentially illicit like a moth to the flame. And always, my response is the same.

Repeat after me: total transparency.

I'm not the nine-to-five gestapo. I don't patrol the halls with an HR slip in hand, peeking in cubicles looking for the slightest indiscretion. None of us in the nonprofit world have time for that kind of ridiculousness. Besides, even the best employees will find it necessary from time to time to stimulate their creative juices by doing a little blog hopping or Facebook status-updating at work. Fine by me. Even the best employees will mistakenly use the corporate credit card to buy beer and donuts at Walmart. Whoops. I'm not talking about people who are accidentally human. Love them. I'm talking about those who surreptitiously and consistently work to chip away at the very foundation others are working to build. And then lie about it. And smile while they are lying about it. Them.

What does this have to do with anything? Not much, except that my next post will make a lot more sense if you know this about me.


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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Whoa horsie, nice horsie

Monday morning we left Bodega Bay and headed south down Highway 1, following it as it winds along the coast, teetering near the edges of cliffs, dipping into valleys of mustard and poppy and then disappearing into a thick grove of eucalyptus. Soon we passed a sign that said horseback riding, three miles, this way, and Theresa looked at me and said horseback riding? And I said horseback riding! So we drove three miles and turned that way and came upon a stable of horses down in a valley of thick evergreens. We made our way down the path making jokes with each other about mounting steeds in the way that only forty-something women coming off a two-day bacchanal will think is funny, paid some dollars to the nice Swedish man who ran the outfit and before we could talk ourselves out of it were heading off down a trail on horseback led by a small quiet man named Jose.

Thereasa's fine steed, for all her talk, was not much to write home about as he was lazy as all get out and couldn't be arsed to keep up with me or our guide, who kept turning around and hissing at the horse, which seemed to give him only momentary momentum. My mare was more game and seemed eager to take every hill and dale and break into a trot at the least inclination, though she was a bit nippy and pissy about her personal space and some reading this may be noting, how apt.

We would walk and sometimes trot but much to my chagrin never broke into anything faster. I used to ride when I was younger, much younger. I never owned a horse, but for years as a child I took lessons and while I remember trotting was never a joy, breaking into a canter or even a gallop could be electrifying. Jose kept turning around and saying trot yes, you want to trot? And regardless of how unenthusiastically we answered yes or no or even remained silent, off he would go at a trot and our horses would follow. Ours was a two-hour ride and since it was unplanned it hadn't occurred to me to wear a jog bra that day or butt cushions for that matter, and towards the end of the ride I thought if we did any more happy fucking trotting I was going to have to pull out a gun and shoot Jose or my horse or myself in the ass.

The scenery was gorgeous however and almost made me forget how much my ass and thighs and ankles hurt. The trail wound through towering redwoods covered in green moss and the forest floor was blanketed with ferns. We could see the ocean when we climbed to the top of the trail, glittering brilliant blue in the distance.

We had to go down a steep incline for perhaps half a mile or so towards the end of the ride and the horses had to carefully pick their way down the muddy trail and I spent about twenty minutes slipping forward in the saddle which was not particularly comfortable and I thought that when I got home, in addition to ordering a new head from Amazon I might want to order a new vulva as well.

When we were in the home stretch it started to rain and I held out my hand and realized it wasn't raining at all, it was hailing. And then it started to hail harder. While I would expect this in Kansas I was surprised to encounter it on the California coast. While horseback riding. Jose determined that we'd best start trotting again, god dammit, to get back to the stables forthwith.

When we got back and dismounted we limped and hobbled back to the car and realized that we were hungry and that it had been hours since we'd had anything sculpted or artisanal or dipped in truffle oil so we headed off to Stinson Beach to remedy that.




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Sunday, March 7, 2010

More wine please wine please wine please wine please

My flight touched down at Oakland airport a little before noon on Saturday and I picked up my bags and stood at the curb waiting for Thereasa, my friend whom I've known since high school, grade school actually, forever actually, and she picked me up and we headed north towards Napa. The weather was sunny and warm and perfect as it always is in California and I looked out the window at the sea of wild mustard and row upon row of grape vines stretching into infinity.

We stopped at a winery to do some tasting and were presented with a menu and the gentlemen behind the counter suggested we start of with a riesling and I said how about we just get right to the reds? And he said well of course and we did. Pinot noir and merlot and a cabernet decanted in a large glass cylinder and more pinot and a dessert wine of some sort.

Next we headed to St. Helena where Thereasa had made reservations at a restaurant called the Martini House and we sat down and she ordered a bottle of some kind of Spanish wine because it was only fitting, seeing as how we're going to Italy and Spain in September. We toasted our upcoming trip and enduring friendship and soon we were met by Thereasa's friend Neil and he toasted with us. More wine was brought, an Australian shiraz, and food began to appear. Marinated olives and a mushroom mousse piped onto pastry and something called a lobster slider. They were delicious and I toasted each one. My eyes swam over the menu and I ordered a hanger steak and the waitress asked how I wanted it and I said medium please and she said no, that wouldn't do, the chef only prepared it medium-rare, so I said medium-rare please and she walked off and I was left wondering why she'd asked in the first place, but no matter. But then it arrived and it melted in my mouth and there was more wine with this, I have no idea what kind of wine, but Thereasa was ordering different wines with each course.

I know enough of wines to look at a menu and ask for the house merlot and if I'm feeling cheeky I'll detect a hint of oak, but we had wines to compliment the salad and the steak and even the dessert, which was a hazelnut pot de crème, good god, and by the end of the meal the wine was complimenting my hair and my shoes and my breasts and then they brought coffee and a pitcher of cream and the cream had been heated and frothed and if I could have had sex with the coffee I would have. There were cubes of raw sugar which I stirred into the coffee and which made lovely swirly patterns in the coffee and I watched these converge one into the next and someone that wasn't me paid for the meal and finally they set a tray of three chocolates on the table.  Neil ate one and said we needed to try it and we said no in the way that one who is so completely, irrevocably sated says no and he said no really, you need to try it, so we did. We each took a chocolate and put it in our mouth and bit into it and then paused and our eyes opened wide and we looked at one another and we each had a petite mort by chocolate right there in the Martini House.

Next we drove to Bodega Bay, we not being me, winding over verdant green hills until we pulled into our lodge. I sat back in the car and closed my eyes while Thereasa got out to check us in. I could hear the surf and smell the ocean smells and feel the breeze on my face. When I opened my eyes Thereasa was handing me two glasses of wine through the car window because apparently when you check into a hotel in Sonoma County they give you glasses of wine.

We went to our suite where I built a roaring fire (lit a presto log) and we sat and talked about all the things friends talk about when they haven't seen each other in too long. We ordered room service and they brought us a plate of artisanal cheeses and fresh fruit and I sipped more wine and bit into an almond drizzled with honey and every cell in my body buzzed with pleasure and I said hey let's go to the beach she said yes let's, and we stripped off our clothes and donned our clitter and ran naked through the surf and I said, baby I feel so alive.  No not really. We were tired and it was late so I crawled into bed and sunk into six thousand feet of down and slept for days, weeks, eight hours at least. When I awoke I stumbled to the window and opened the shutters and this is what I saw.




Behind me I heard Thereasa say they have eggs benedict made with dungeness crab you know. I said really? And she said really. And it all started over again like some glorious, Tom Hanksless groundhog day.

Ah, California.













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Friday, March 5, 2010

You want to glue what to my what?!

As if the world isn’t full enough of things I don’t know jack about I have to feed my sense of naïveté by making a daily visit to the wild and wacky realm that is Badger’s blog. On any given day his visitors will be subjected to a thoroughly enjoyable read about how the Viennese have evolved to breathe smoke in lieu of air, the latest political buffoonery, why he waxes his cat or how the world is generally going to hell in a hand basket.

Today I was enlightened on the existence of moose knuckles (don’t ask, use the link) and vagazzling. The latter involves applying glittery bits to one’s girly bits and probably everyone but me is on top of this new trend.

While I understand and appreciate the art of adornment, to an extent, the appeal of this particular bedazzlefest escapes me. I honestly can’t imagine a scenario in which any male with a fully extended Y chromosome would look at a woman’s cootch and say “hey girl, why don’t you glue some rhinestones on that?”

Am I missing something here?

I’ve never worked up the courage to go brazilian much less allow someone to apply glitterture to my sacred zone. Thanks, but I think I’ll sit this one out.

So click on over and pay Badger a visit. But before you go leave me a comment and let me know, ladies, would you vagazzle? And men, seriously, how do you like your ice cream, plain or with sprinkles?


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Thursday, March 4, 2010

A little something off my chest

To the cheerful young man behind the espresso counter at Dean & Deluca this morning. When I order an almond croissant and I drive to the office anticipating the taste of an almond croissant and I get to my desk and open my bag, I expect to find inside an almond croissant, not an odd looking pastry filled with apples and cream cheese. I don't like pastries filled with apples and cream cheese.

To whomever compiles the YMCA newsletter that comes home with my daughter, when you were looking for a recipe to put in your Healthy Hints column, was it in all seriousness that you chose Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball?

To the person who flamed my blog yesterday (yes I turned off comment moderation, I can't be arsed). Three things:

1)How daring of you to post comments anonymously.
2)Why do you people always pick on my commenters? I'm much more offensive, truly.
3)The rest of you cover your ears while I yell the following: Do you not get understatment you literal-minded simpleton!
4)Thanks for the Canadian flag.

That last one was a freebie. I'm feeling generous tonight.

To my exceptionally tolerant boss. Firstly, thank you for your sense of humor. You'll never know how much I appreciate working with people who can make me aspirate popcorn. However, while I understand how very much you would like me to have the books closed before I leave town Saturday morning for this stimulating database training, and while I realize you understand that we were all a little busy last week seeing as we had 28 grants due at the end of the week (all of which required a budget from me), I'm not sure I'm fully on board with your suggestion that I use my found time on the airplane to work on the books. You see, four hours of time alone is like a gift from heaven for me and I have this new book in which I'm dying to lose myself. Finally, thank you for never reading my blog.

To the wineries in Napa and the suite at the Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa with the fireplace and the balcony overlooking the ocean, I am all yours from Saturday noon until database hell training begins Tuesday morning. You lovely, lovely beasts.


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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I wish I smoked

If I smoked I would have something to do with my hands while I was sitting in a restaurant or bar. And when there was a lull in the conversation and people turned and looked at me and I was at a total loss for something clever to say, I could just slowly inhale on my cigarette. And if someone said something boneheaded, and someone always does, I could turn away and exhale a slow plume of smoke, dismissively.

Sometimes when I'm driving in the car and the music is turned up and the wind is in my hair I just want something to put in my mouth. A diet coke is okay, for awhile, but only so satisfying.*

When I was younger I used to take my friend's cigarettes and put them in my mouth and check myself out in the mirror. I never looked sultry. Just ludicrous. Alas, I don't have a smoking face.

That's probably just as well. Because if I smoked it would rot my lungs and make my clothes stink and when I stood outside hunkered under eaves in the rain I would have to put up with dismissive looks from people like me.


*No, not that either, don't be ridiculous.


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