Politics by Bumper Sticker

Driving on the highway the other day, I passed a car with a “Coexist” bumper sticker, the cheerful one with symbols from the world’s great religions. Warm feelings flooded through me.  I love these stickers. To me, they symbolize  open-mindedness, inclusiveness, and respectful appreciation of our differences. I gave the driver a friendly smile as I passed him. Then I stiffened as I got behind a truck with a prominent “Pro-Life” bumper sticker. Because I believed that the decision to terminate a pregnancy was a deeply personal one that should be left up to the individual, I figured this driver would think my car should be adorned with a “Pro-Death” bumper sticker.  The lines of this debate have been drawn so starkly that there is little room for someone like me who would much prefer alternatives to abortion but knows this is not my decision to make for someone else. As I drew closer to the truck in front of me, I noticed another sticker. This one proudly proclaimed, “0% liberal.” Really? There is not even one eensy “liberal” idea the driver could tolerate? Wow. How did our politics devolve into this zero-sum game? Even I, a liberal Democrat, am a fan of free trade, which used to be Republican orthodoxy. I want to be someone who engages in civil discourse, who respects the opinions of others, and who “seeks first to understand.” But truthfully, I’m having a hard time with that. After class one day during this past presidential [...]

By |2018-07-09T09:39:43-04:00July 9th, 2018|Politics|0 Comments

When You Change Someone Else’s Life, You Transform Your Own

We had a guest speaker yesterday at church. His name is David Benson, and he’s the founder of a Southern Indiana-based non-profit called "Dogs Helping Heroes.” As the product of a military family, he’d witnessed firsthand the physical, emotional and mental toll war takes on returning veterans. Many suffer from PTSD and a host of other difficulties that make re-adjustment to civilian life extraordinarily difficult.             Benson, a long-time dog trainer, discovered that training a service dog to be a constant companion for a wounded warrior or first responder, could transform that person’s life and help restore his or her connections to family, friends, and willingness even to venture outside or shop for groceries. After three people suggested to Benson that he start a non-profit to expand his work, he decided the universe was sending him a message, and he founded Dogs Helping Heroes. The operation is a volunteer effort. Rescue dogs are carefully trained, often initially by inmates as part of their rehabilitation, before being paired with their new owners.  Benson showed a video and brought along two veterans and their service dogs to illustrate how life-changing the program has been.             Benson spoke passionately about the program. He teared up when he told the story of being at a celebratory picnic for participants in which a little girl had come up to his father and said, “Your son gave me my daddy back.”             It was so clear that it wasn’t just the recipients of the service dogs [...]

By |2018-07-02T11:27:06-04:00July 2nd, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

My Favorite Part about Writer’s Conferences

  I just got back from an amazing writer’s conference, In Your Write Mind, at Seton Hill University. It happens every June, and is not only for alums of their MFA program but for any interested writer.  Not only was it chock full of great workshops, panels, opportunities to pitch to agents and an editor, but it was a lovely opportunity to reconnect with old classmates and fellow writers, and get to know new folks. I do have to put in a plug for my alma mater, Seton Hill. I have never encountered a more supportive writing community for popular fiction folks, and that wonderful sense of community continues way past graduation. For me, my favorite part of attending conferences is sharing stories and listening to the stories of other working writers. Writing can be a lonely business and almost every career has its ups and downs. It’s very encouraging to hear from folks who’ve recovered from down periods and gone on to solid publishing careers. This year’s guest of honor, for example, was award-winning horror writer Paul Tremblay. He was delightfully honest in sharing that his first two published novels weren’t well received, and he ended up splitting from his publisher. It was five years before he published his next novel and got his career back on track. I also loved that he was a husband, dad, and school teacher who’d taught for 23 years and was managing to keep writing, despite a very full life! His self-deprecating humor [...]

By |2018-06-26T14:06:45-04:00June 26th, 2018|The Writing Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Celebrating Great Dads

Ed with his son Milo Joel with his son Cameron               Someone once told me, “A lousy childhood needn’t sentence you to a miserable life.”  As a corollary, I’d say that having a less than an optimal relationship with your father doesn’t mean you can’t be a great father for your own kids.              My older son’s dad had a father who adored his children, but he was deeply involved in running the family business and was in his forties by the time Mark arrived on the scene.  And in those days, fatherhood was defined more in terms of being a good provider than spending quality time with your kids. Still, I remember Mark saying, “I kept wishing I had a dad who’d play catch with me.”  In contrast, Mark made a point of spending lots of play time with our son and the two children he had with his second wife. He has always been a devoted and wonderful dad.             Likewise, my younger son’s father, my husband Alan, was determined to be a different kind of dad than his own had been. While Alan’s father loved his children, he was impatient, judgmental, and controlling. He considered Alan to be a disappointment because he preferred music to engineering. With both children, Alan was determined to be different. He made a point of offering unconditional love, acceptance, and encouragement for following their own dreams, as well as providing lots of play time and laughter.             [...]

By |2018-06-18T10:50:14-04:00June 18th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Reflections on My College Experience and Beyond

With a big college reunion coming up, we alums were asked to write an essay reflecting on our lives and college experience-- really made me think about who I was as a college student and the directions my life took. Here's what I wrote: Other than my summers teaching at Interlochen, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more inspiring dance space than the Boathouse studio overlooking Paradise Pond! In fact, whenever I’ve returned to Smith, I’ve been struck by the incredible beauty as well as intellectual richness of the campus. And I’ve wished I could have attended at a later time in my life when I might have been less filled with coming-of-age angst and better able to truly appreciate the experience. In all honesty, Smith was more my father’s choice than my own. I had unsuccessfully petitioned to attend a school with a dance major, which Smith did not have at the time (although I wrote a proposal for one in my senior year). But my dad was determined that his daughters attend Seven Sister colleges, so off we went to Wellesley, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith. Looking back, I had no idea how privileged I was to get a first class education and not have to work and go into deep debt to get an education, as is the case for so many of my college students. At Smith, I discovered a major, sociology, which I genuinely loved, and had professors who took my work and ideas [...]

By |2018-06-11T11:27:55-04:00June 11th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Antidotes to Making Yourself Miserable as a Writer

  Last week, I wrote about ways to make yourself miserable as a writer and received some excellent additions to my list from two author friends, Katie Kenyhercz and Patti Kurtz. I’m including their suggestions on my updated list: Spend hours each day lurking on social media and reading about the sweet publishing deals your writer friends have gotten while you count your rejection slips. Visit Goodreads often and re-read the awful reviews on your last book; ignore the good ones. Obsess over those writers you secretly don’t think are very good but whose careers are going way better than yours. Make a list of authors whose work is so good you know you’ll never measure up. If you don’t have an agent, lament that you’ll never get one; if you do have an agent, convince yourself that you’re about to be dumped when he doesn’t immediately respond to your last email. Katie: “The way I most often beat myself up is to wallow in how slowly I write and the gaps in my publications that seem to get longer and longer when I have a ton of writer friends who keep nose to the grindstone pumping out book after book. I feel like a bad writer and that I’m letting my readers down/risking losing them.” Patti: “How about, read your fellow writers’ posts about how they wrote 10,000 words in one day while you can barely manage 500 words in the same time period? Or even: read about author [...]

By |2018-06-03T10:16:10-04:00June 3rd, 2018|The Writing Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Six Surefire Ways to Make Yourself Miserable as a Writer

In honor of one of my all-time favorite books, Dan Greenburg’s How to Make Yourself Miserable, I offer these six surefire ways to torture yourself as a writer and insure continuous misery: Spend hours each day lurking on social media and reading about the sweet publishing deals your writer friends have gotten while you count your rejection slips. Visit Goodreads often and re-read the awful reviews on your last book; ignore the good ones. Obsess over those writers you secretly don’t think are very good but whose careers are going way better than yours. Make a list of authors whose work is so good you know you’ll never measure up. If you don’t have an agent, lament that you’ll never get one; if you do have an agent, convince yourself that you’re about to be dumped when he doesn’t immediately respond to your last email. To insure continued misery, repeat all of the above as needed.   So there you have it. If you are determined to be miserable, these are amazingly effective strategies. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear from you. What strategies have you found work well? All additions to my list are welcome! And if you’re not a writer, I’m eager to hear about the strategies you use either at school or in your field to insure misery. Of course, there is a limit to how much misery I can wallow in, so next week, I’ll talk about the antidotes to making yourself miserable.   [...]

By |2018-05-26T15:17:45-04:00May 26th, 2018|The Writing Life|3 Comments

Ask an Author! Inquiring Minds Want to Know

One of the things I hadn’t fully anticipated about becoming a novelist is the frequency with which folks ask me questions—not only about the work itself, but about where I get my ideas, what my writing process is like, and what a typical writing day is like. This past week, I learned I would be included in the next edition of Contemporary Authors, published by Gale Cengage. The editor asked me to respond to several thought-provoking questions. Here’s what I wrote: What first got you interested in writing? Like so many writers, I started out as a voracious reader. The joy I derived from books and libraries inspired me to want to write, as well as the encouragement of some early teachers. In seventh grade, for example, a wonderful teacher named Mr. Menna assigned our class to do a report on an author. I wrote to John Tunis, whose baseball-themed books I adored. I was thrilled to get a personal reply, and even more excited when Mr. Menna wrote on my report: “The only thing this paper lacks is publication.” I loved to write, and even as a twelve year old, his vote of confidence in my work meant a lot to me. My early career, however, was in my other passion, dance, which I combined with freelance magazine and newspaper feature writing. I delved into fiction writing when I retired from dance. Who or what particularly influences your work? I’ve read YA fiction all my life and my first [...]

By |2018-05-19T15:48:40-04:00May 19th, 2018|The Writing Life|0 Comments

Feeling Thankful

I’ve been having one of those weeks where I felt like yelling out, “Bah, Humbug!” every five minutes. I’d broken out in some horrible itchy rash that hadn’t responded to the steroid meds the doctor assured me would kick in immediately. Not only do I look like crap, but I feel like total crap! Meantime, I’m off to visit my family for a week. I adore my family, but visiting my 96 year old mom doesn’t qualify as much of a pick-me-up. Deep into progressive dementia, she hung up on me yesterday because I was not in Boston and therefore was “of no use to her” in escaping from her aide whom she believed was imprisoning her.   Sometimes, though, a meaningful gesture of thanks can totally turn things around. This morning, I got the loveliest email from a student I’ve been blessed to have for two semesters. A brilliant young man who’s shooting for a career in medicine, he confessed to me that the flirtation with drugs he’d alluded to in a memoir he wrote last year was much more serious. In fact, his addiction had gone on for two years. When he went into recovery, he moved away from his old friends and said he felt terrible about himself and had lost his self-confidence. He told me that my positive energy was a big morale boost for him. He thanked me for the care I give to students and  said: “Choosing you as a professor really helped change [...]

By |2018-05-09T16:51:18-04:00May 9th, 2018|The Teaching Life|0 Comments

Our Cat Lucy: A Member of the Family

Our Cat Lucy Years ago when I was in grad school in sociology, I remember an article appeared in The Journal of Marriage and Family which pointed out that researchers were ignoring a major role player in family dynamics if they didn’t consider the family pet. At the time, that struck me as funny. But I also knew it was true. As kids, my sisters and I had been terribly attached to our Scottish terrier, Spoofy, and were heartbroken when our dad moved us into an apartment and insisted we had to give him away. I know Spoofy has long since gone to dog heaven, but I still think about him and the days we spent roaming the woods near our old house. When I met my husband, I had a calico cat, Cleo, a gift from my brother-in-law. She was a love bug and lived to be twenty-two. A few years after Cleo, we adopted two new cats from the Humane Society and somehow ended up with four cats, when two others arrived who really needed homes. Unfortunately, they detested each other and nearly drove us mad. When they finally all passed away, we swore we were done with having cats. But a few years later, we decided one cat would work. So we adopted Lucy, a tuxedo cat, from the Humane Society. She isn’t terribly friendly to visitors, but she adores us, particularly my husband, and the feeling is mutual. She spends great amounts of time [...]

By |2018-05-03T09:34:58-04:00May 3rd, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments