Monday, October 31, 2011

These are a few of my scariest things - OR - "Ma'am those calls are coming from inside the house."

Happy Halloween! I enjoy this day, through the eyes of my kids.  Dressing up, carving pumpkins, mug of hot cocoa (with a splash of peppermint schnapps) to keep me warm as I stroll the neighborhood with my trick-or-treaters.  But, I'll admit.  I'm not much for the truly scary stuff.  Here are a few things that have scared me so terribly that I'll never read or watch them again.  In fact, typing them here is giving me a chill...

Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” (the book). 
Amityville Horror (“get out – get out!”) 
Silence of the Lambs 
The Shining ("Heeeeeere’s Johnny!”)
The Exorcist (truly terrifying)

Those are the ones that had me hiding under covers, looking over my shoulder, and sleeping with the lights on.

But, I'll be honest.  In my daily life, what scares me more is not doing everything well.  Raising my kids, my career, my writing... I am a fairly confident person, but there are times when I question my own capabilities.

What makes me think I know what I'm doing?  Am I just fooling everyone? Do I really know how to (fill in the blank) better than someone else?  Do I really think I can raise these kids and pay these bills, and write these articles, and present to these clients, and manage these national projects, and handle this volunteer project?

It's daunting.  Overwhelming even.  I am my own worst critic.  But maybe, what's scarier still is letting that fear - that worry, that little voice inside my head - get in the way of my own success.

Remember that movie where the girl calls the phone company to trace the "crank" calls she's been getting, and the phone company tells her "Ma'am the calls are coming from inside the house."  UGH.  That's me.  The fear and doubt are coming from inside my own head.  Enough already.  I'm disconnecting the line.

But I digress, have a safe and Happy Halloween!  And may all that scares you today (and every day) be Hollywood movies and Stephen King titles.

By the way, what's your scariest movie and/or book?  And what scares you most?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Am So Proud

My son's high school held a "Mother Son Mass and Brunch" today.  During mass, the priest spoke about how the first two commandments are God's greatest commandments to us.  The first being to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul," and the second being to "love your neighbor as yourself."  It's hard to imagine a love so deep, so powerful, so unconditional.

Not for moms.  We know the power of that love from the moment our children are born, and in many cases from the moment we know we are carrying our child.

The priest spoke then about how at the very core of this love is letting go.  From the moment we become parents we are faced with having to let go.  Day by day, little by little, as they grow into independent, capable adults.  If you are a parent, regardless of whether you're religious, spiritual or neither of these, you can probably agree with this.  The letting go is the hardest, most painful part of love.  But it's also the most important.

I can apply this to more than just my kids.  Maybe you can, too.  Letting go, in many forms is painful.  But when done with love, it's the greatest gift of all.  But I digress...

Later, we all had brunch together.  Four of the seniors each gave a short speech on why their moms mean so much to them.  It was very touching.  There were hundreds of boys in attendance with their moms.  And each one, from the seniors down to the youngest freshmen were polite, kind, and gracious.  I am so very glad that I am able to provide this education for my son.  More than just academics, he's part of a brotherhood that leads by example, with respect.  I am so proud of the young man he is, the considerate, intelligent, respectful man he is becoming right before my eyes.

On another note, I met with my second son, Jack's, teachers on Friday.  They told me how incredible my son is with an autistic boy in his classroom.  On more than one occasion, Jack has picked up his tray at lunch to go sit with this boy when he was alone at a table.  He offers a kind word and help with school work.  With no prompting, Jack has become this boy's unspoken protector.  I am so very proud.  

My daughter is learning to read.  Everywhere we go, she calls out to me, "mama, what does (insert letters here) spell?"  She's beginning to recognize simple words, and is both surprised and proud when she recognizes a word ("Hey, that spells STOP!").  I am so proud.

I write this with all three of my kids tucked into their respective beds.  And I feel truly blessed.  Blessed to have them all home, safe and sound.  Blessed to have three kids whom I truly like as people.  Each so different, all so incredible.


Friday, October 21, 2011

A Day in the Life of Matilda OR Um, you've got a thing there...

This is a little story about a friend of mine.  Let's call her Matilda.  Yea, Matilda.  That's her name.

Now Matilda has a full life.  Lately, maybe it's a little too full.  She working full time, she's got a little freelance gig on the side filling in some extra hours, and she's rarely seen sitting down, what with all the kids running around, and that shoe she lives in to keep clean.  How does a busy mom, do it?

Anyway, she's somehow figured out how to keep it all together.  So she wakes up one morning during this crazy week, and checks her calendar.  A meeting at a client's office, followed by two phone interviews and a face-to-face (she's looking to hire some help at the full time job).  She's also volunteered to head up an auction at one child's school and needs to make some related calls, work on a client project, and finish up a company blog post.

A busy day.  But first...what to wear?  Matilda feels good when she looks good - don't we all?  So she goes through the morning routine and chooses a great outfit.  Great skirt, white tailored blouse, tall boots and tops it off with a great new shawl she bought a few weeks ago but hasn't worn yet.

But I digress.  Matilda gets all those kids out the shoe and to their respective schools, and heads to the client's office.  Arrives five minutes early (great start!) and hops out of her car, grabs her briefcase and struts, heels clicking importantly, towards the front door.  She catches a glimpse of herself in the mirrored walls of the building and smiles (not bad!), before throwing the door wide and heading inside.  She's greeted warmly by the receptionist and notices two gentlemen in the lobby, who glance her way.  One of them does a double take, his eyes lingering.  Matilda ignores this, of course, signs in at the front desk and turns to take a seat.
"Excuse me," the man with the eyes says to her.
She stops and turns, smiling.
He gestures with his right hand behind his neck, "you've got a, ah, a thing..." he trails off.
A thing?
"Oh?" she says, unsure.
"Um, a price tag," he explains, tapping his neck again, "um, it's hanging out."

Now, Matilda's self-importance comes to a screeching halt as she reaches behind her neck and feels the tag, with the sale sticker, hanging proudly in full view.
The receptionist smiles and offers scissors.

As it turns out, these two gentlemen are there for the same meeting.  Matilda can't quite remember what she said to them once the tag was removed, but it was, of course, very clever.

As it turns out, this was one of the best moments of this very busy, sometimes difficult, oftentimes stressful week.  For Matilda, that is.

Ever had a moment like Matilda's?  Go ahead...share it, it'll make me, um, I mean her, feel better.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Velva Jean: A Book Review

Let me begin by saying I love to read.  I could list all those reasons you’ve heard before, but I will boil it down to this: I read for that one book.  That book that holds my attention, sparks my imagination, makes me feel.  I read for that one protagonist I fall madly in love with, the one I can see parts of myself in, and other parts that I wish I could see in myself. 

I have a short list of these protagonists: Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, Sara Gruen’s Jacob Jankowski.  And without a doubt, Jennifer Niven’s Velva Jean.

Jennifer Niven reminds me why I write.  In the hopes that one day I might be able to develop a character so real that my readers nod “yes, that’s it exactly.”  In the hopes that my words – just my words - might move someone to tears.

I devoured Velva Jean Learns to Fly a few weeks ago.  To the detriment of my children who had no clean clothes for the piles of dirty laundry, and no real dinner, because I quite simply could not put it down.

Velva Jean is an old friend of mine.  Before she learned to fly, she learned to drive, and I was along for that ride last year.  Before I happened upon Velva Jean Learns to Drive in the bookstore, I'd never heard of Jennifer Niven.  But I liked the title (yes, sometimes I do judge a book by its first).  In the simplest of terms, this is the story of a young girl coming of age and finding her way.  If you've ever felt that there was something inside of you yet to be discovered, you can relate to Velva Jean.  It is a story that weaves its way into your soul.  A story worth reading.

But I digress, this is not about Velva Jean learning to's about her learning to fly. It's about a young woman who leaves everything she knows and loves to make a way for herself, despite being unsure and alone.  It's about a young woman who chooses to follow her dreams, even when those dreams at first can't be realized.  

Singing at the Opry is Velva Jean's life's dream.  The story opens as she sets out in her old yellow truck towards Nashville - towards her future – on a dream and a promise: to “earn her leaving home.”

Velva Jean may come from extremely modest beginnings, but she is grounded in her convictions and not afraid to take chances. And as she begins to experience the world "out there" she realizes singing might not be her only dream.  The setting is 1940s America.  As news of Pearl Harbor spreads throughout the country, and young men are signing up in droves to fight, Velva Jean decides her new dream is to join the Air Force.   

We sit shotgun with Velva Jean on her journey, and all the while she lets us in to her innermost thoughts, and floors us with her simple, profound observations.

To wit: Growing up, her older brother Beach was always wandering off, leaving messages carved into tree trunks wherever he went. When he joins the war, he becomes a hero, risking his life to save countless others.  Velva Jean reads the newspaper articles about him and muses:  “I thought this was just another way of carving his messages.”

When she is faced with a task she is dreading, she tells herself that this is just “one of those things that couldn’t be helped but that you wished you could get out of – like … telling your mama good-bye forever.”

Velva Jean uses her own experiences as insight into other people.  She sees another couple while at dinner with her husband and wonders, “If they were as happy as they seemed or if maybe one of them didn’t like the other all the time and wanted to get in a truck and drive away and never look back.”

We see her determination when she fills out the divorce form, and seeing that there is no space on the form for “Wife’s job” she fills it in herself… “Pilot.”

In just one line from a secondary character, we understand what an incredibly talented singer she is: “Behind me I heard Janie say, ‘Good grief, Velva Jean.  Sally wasn’t lying.’”

Secondary characters take on important roles for us readers.  They give us insight into Velva Jean that even she cannot divulge. Velva Jean tells her friend, Butch Dawkins, that she doesn’t think she can write music any more.  She admits that all she can think about is airplanes.  Butch replies, “Maybe you’re still learning to fly.”  It’s a powerful statement, and one that allows us to see something in Velva Jean that she doesn’t yet see in herself.

With little formal education, Velva Jean relies on her gut instincts to get her through.  And not only does she survive, she thrives.  Her real world analogies prove to be far more insightful than even she realizes:

The more things that happened to me, the more I thought it was like carrying a suitcase – you kept adding things to it like your mama dying or your daddy going away, heartbreak…you just started adding these things to your suitcase until the case got heavier.  You still had to carry it around wherever you went.”

Velva Jean shows us that most life lessons aren’t learned in a classroom.  Her inquisitive, kind nature endears us.  Her strength and determination inspire us.  We grieve with her losses, and cheer with each small victory. Velva Jean is wise beyond her years, beyond her education.  She excels at everything she puts her mind to, whether that’s singing, writing lyrics or flying.  She’s modest, but also proud.  Maybe that’s why we love her. 

Jennifer Niven takes the reader deep inside the heart and soul of Velva Jean.  It’s what makes us feel so tied to her.  We feel as though we know her on a deeply intimate level.  We see pieces of ourselves in her.  And if not, we wish we did.  We root for her, cry with her, laugh with her and hold our collective breaths while she takes on the world, one dream at a time.

Velva Jean set out in that old yellow truck on a single dream and a promise.  I could tell you what happens to her, if she realizes her dream, if she “earns her leaving home.”  But then you wouldn’t have the distinct pleasure of reading the book.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In Memory of Steve Jobs

I remember getting my first mac as a young professional, back in 1996.  I had moved from the corporate side of marketing, to the agency side as an Account Coordinator.  And my new, plush cubicle came equipped with a Macintosh.  I was hooked from the first time I turned it on and saw that little square smiley face.

I had never been a huge computer wiz.  My older brother, Eric, on the other hand, lived for computers.  He got his first Commodore 64 at 14 and began programming almost immediately.  I could never figure the damn things out.  But I "got" the Mac.  And it "got" me.  It was easy to use, it could do things I dreamed up in my head - layouts, designs, fonts, graphics, that were visually appealing.  It made me feel so much more computer literate.  Of course, back in the mid 90s, telling people you worked on a Mac did not make you appear computer-literate.  In fact, back then, the standard response was "oh, you must work in advertising or something."  I heard a lot of "you have to work on a Mac, huh?"

Eric teased me constantly about it, and we'd have wars during family gatherings.  Each of us setting up camp on our respective sides of the computer world.  My father in the middle, keeping the peace.  "Right," he'd say to my brother, "if you want the latest software and games, ya gotta go with a PC." I'd roll my eyes, and just as quickly he'd add, turning to me, "but Apple has done a brilliant job marketing themselves.  They're pretty cool computers."

Eric was a computer programmer by trade.  A die-hard PC user.  Until one day about two years ago.  My dad called me and broke the news: "Did you hear? Your brother just bought a MacBook Air."
Huh?  I called him immediately.  Are you kidding me?  Mister PC?  With a Mac?  I never thought I'd see the day.  I promptly checked the skies for flying pigs, perked my ears to hear the fat lady singing.

But I digress. If Steve Jobs could convert my brother, well then, he could change the world.  And change it he did.  He changed the way we work, the way we listen to music, communicate, organize and function.  He changed the way we live.

I write this on my latest MacBook Pro, looking at notes I jotted on my iPhone 3Gs.  Suffice it to say, I am still a huge fan of Apple.

I was so sad to hear the news of his passing last night.  He was a true visionary, and he will be sorely missed.

Have a Mac/Apple/Steve Jobs memory of your own?  I'd love to hear it...