Sunday, January 31, 2010


People can learn a lot from dogs. For one thing, dogs live in the present. No exceptions. They aren't planners. They don't dwell on their past mistakes. It's all moment to moment for them. Dogs are also very determined to get what they want IF they want it badly enough. For instance, I was just brushing my dog, Shelby, which always requires a muzzle since it is not her favorite thing. I chose to do this while my mom was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. My mother dropped a piece of broccoli on the floor. We have three dogs in our house. Delilah probably wouldn't have eaten it anyway. She tends to roll things around on her tongue and spits out whatever she doesn't like. Molly would eat it, but she isn't willing to fight for it. Shelby ran from the living room with her muzzle still on to get that broccoli. One of my greatest fears is that someone will be working with plastic, or something worse, in the kitchen and drop it, and Shelby will swallow it before she realizes it isn't actually food. Now, Molly could have taken Shelby with a muzzle, but she still sat and watched. My mom couldn't stop laughing. Shelby ate the broccoli with the muzzle on. It wasn't an easy task, but she broke it down until it fit through. As I said, she was determined.

About ten years ago, after my mom and stepdad adopted Molly they decided to get another dog to keep her company. One of the dogs they hoped might be a good fit, but wasn't, was named Lady. I believe she was a collie mix. However, I could be wrong about that; my memory is lacking in some ways. Lady taught my parents that dogs can be a lot like teenagers. For instance, if you take a really good kid and throw him in with a bunch of delinquents, in no time flat your really good kid has become a delinquent, rather than your really good kid turning the delinquents into a bunch of really good kids. It was kind of like that with Molly and Lady. Molly was housebroken; Lady was not. After a week with Lady both dogs were peeing and pooping in the house. It smelled a lot like Grand Central Station; for those of you who haven't been there, that isn't a good thing.

My mom is a big believer in praise and understands that punishment after the fact is useless because dogs live in the moment and don't understand what they are being punished for unless you catch them, literally, in the act. So she spent a lot of time outside with both dogs, hoping to catch Lady doing her business so that she could lavish her with praise. Her time was rewarded when Lady produced a huge pile of #2. All the while my mom is praising her like crazy, "What a good dog, Lady. What a good girl." Molly is very jealous of any other dog receiving any praise for any reason. She immediately bolts across the yard at 100mph to horn in on this action and steal Lady's thunder; her right front paw lands squarely in Lady's "business." Mom says that Molly picked up her right front paw, stared at it with something akin to horror or, perhaps, disbelief. It was like her own foot was something foreign and she desperately hoped it didn't belong to her. She tried wiping it on the grass and then took off like a dog possessed, vigorously shaking her right front paw.

People can learn a lot from dogs. Learn to pick your battles. When it's important, keep fighting even when the odds are against you. Don't eat something just because it's there. Keep up with your kids and pay attention to who their friends are. Hygiene is important. Interpersonal battles are won with praise not punishment. Jealousy will take you to places you will regret later. Be more careful with your crap because you don't want to spend all your time cleaning up your shoes. People can learn a lot from dogs.

Friday, January 29, 2010


During the two years that I worked in the publicity department for St. Martin's Press the calls that I hated taking the most were the ones from people desperate to speak to James Herriott, who was one of our authors. The stories were all fairly similar and terribly sad and horribly depressing because there was nothing I could do to help those people. I had to give them the standard line about all author mail being sent to us and it getting forwarded on, which in his case didn't happen because he didn't want his fan mail; it went into the trash, but that never got told because it would ruin his image. Each story was similar ~ always about a beloved pet who had been given a death sentence by their family vet, BUT if James Herriot were to work his magic on their animal, they knew he could save it. So, would I please facilitate this miracle for them, please? How do you tell someone whose dog/cat/horse is dying that not only is their miracle worker unwilling to take their phone call but wouldn't read their letter, so the chances of him tending to their animal is about the same as hitting the lottery? You don't. You hand out the line about standard policy blah blah blah and cry with them on the phone about their dying pet.

I am pretty sure that my grandma read all of James Herriot's books and maybe my mom did, too. Because I worked at St. Martin's Press I could have any book they published. I still have this gift set of four of his books. I can't bring myself to throw them out so they have traveled through about six or seven moves, which is seven kinds of crazy ~ I know, but I can't bring myself to read them either.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


My mom and I were at my grandparents' house for Thanksgiving. It was 1995. I remember standing in the bathroom curling my hair when my grandpa started yelling at my mother. I don't remember putting down the curling iron or even making the conscious decision of leaving the bathroom, but I was done. I don't know where he was at in his tirade but I cut him off using the Roseanne tactic of whoever shouts loudest wins. I don't remember exactly how I started out but I know word for word how I finished. "Stop yelling at my mother. Do you think we want to see you? We don't want to see you. We tolerate you. We want to see Grandma. The only reason we see you is that you just happen to live in the same house!"

There were four grown women in that house and one old man that could barely get out of a chair. Two of those women were hiding in the kitchen (his wife and my aunt). My mother was unable to stand up for herself. Usually my grandpa saved it up for my grandma and we all sat and gnashed our teeth and just let him do it. I begged her on more than one occasion to allow me to step in and she forbade it because she had to live with him after I/we went home. This time he didn't go after grandma, who was off limits, he went after my mom and there were no rules saying I couldn't put him in his place and I took him to the mat. If you polled that house, I am not sure who was most surprised. I know he never forgave me for that day. That's okay. I can live with that.

Tick tock turn the clock. Eight years later I'm in a bad marriage that I am desperately trying to hold together for children that aren't mine (step children). My health is deteriorating accordingly and my mother says, in a desperate effort to get through to me, "Where's my gutsy girl?" Where indeed? I hung up the phone, walked into the bathroom, closed the door and examined the woman in the mirror, and started to cry. It was Grandma staring back at me. And my husband looked too much like Grandpa. He is now my ex-husband and to get back to myself I ended up saying some things that were mean but true. That's okay. I can live with that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


When I joined Facebook I started writing Real-Time Updates to catch all of my friends up on the events of my life from the last twenty years. Most of the updates covered a year-long period. I thought that if I could explain my thinking process my bad decisions would make more sense, I could find some redemption even in my failures, acknowledgement that not all of my choices were horrible ones, and find out if in writing it all down, I could figure out how to get back on track. What I didn't want to admit was that I had a pretty good life until I flushed it into the toilet and I am still trying to figure out how to get out of the sewer because that sounds terrible, mostly because it is terrible. If I've learned anything, if it sounds terrible, it is terrible. Or if he sounds terrible when you talk about him to your friends/parents, he is terrible. Not that I have a "he" right now, but every single woman needs to remember this at all times! Rose colored glasses are detrimental to your health; don't let anyone tell you differently! {I imagine the reverse of this is also true. Not ever having been a man, it is difficult to speak for them, but I shall go out on a limb and say that if/when you talk about her she sounds bad, it is probably not a relationship you should invest in.}

There is no way I can synposize twenty years of my life into two paragraphs and have it all make sense. I am still trying to figure it out and it's my life. However, the Real-Time updates are too long for most of you because it is too much life/reading and most people only have time for a couple of paragraphs a day. A friend of mine pointed out that I am way too prolific for him to keep up with, and since I know it was said with the best of intentions, I cannot be offended. So, I am not going to try to chronicle my life by year anymore. The important stuff, good and bad, will make its way here. Check in as you feel compelled, whether you have been tagged or not. If you do, and even one idea speaks to you, then it was meant. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Every Tuesday night my mom, step-dad, and I go out to eat at The Pizza Joint. A couple of weeks ago my mom mentioned my 11th grade English teacher, Miss Amy Fischer. I thought Miss Fischer was one of the coolest teachers ever and my mom knew it. She then told me that back in the day she worked with someone whose son was my age and apparently hated Miss Fischer, so his mom was always telling my mom what a terrible teacher Miss Fischer was. I was stunned that anyone with a working brain could think Miss Fischer was anything less than extraordinary. When she told me the source of the story I understood the problem: this student defintely was not a rocket scientist. But I still didn't get how he didn't find Miss Fischer fascinating.

This conversation took place more than two weeks ago and it is still simmering on the backburner of my brain, so there must be something unresolved here for me. Miss Fischer dropped out of high school because it bored her. She got a GED and went on to college. There were days that we didn't discuss anything concerning literature or grammar or anything related to "English" at all. I do remember a discussion of what you would do if you found out that this was your last day to live. There was also an entire period devoted to proving that God was real. Miss Fischer wanted us to think for ourselves and not spit up a rehash of what our parents thought because their parents thought it before them and so on. Things sometimes got rocky in her class. And I imagine that all those people who liked everything to be "comfortable" were very uncomfortable when Miss Fischer stood on her desk or swung from the ceiling beams to get unruly students' attention. She also brought in her record player and played things like Alice's Restaurant and Simon & Garfunkel so that we could have a better sense of what the 60s felt like.

Last, but certainly not least, the summer before my junior year, Miss Fischer donated her summer to a program called Outward Bound. Outward Bound is for teenagers who are facing jailtime. They can do the time or do Outward Bound. So the first day of school was a recap of this trip spent on a boat catching your meals, dropping your pants and doing your business over the side of a boat (the worst of horrors to a 15-year-old girl), then being dropped on an island for four days to survive with a partner at the end. I kept saying I'd pick jail when I retold the story, but I secretly admired Miss Fischer enormously for doing this. What I understand now is she was telling us right from go how much she cared without telling us how much she cared.

There are teachers and then there are teachers. Most of them are not Miss Fischers. Most of them are not interested in challenging your personal beliefs or your thinking process. Most of them don't think about the fact that they can impact the person you will be after you leave the institution known as high school. Most of them don't care like she did. Most of them don't see those 45 minutes a day as teaching moments every day. Most of them don't make you better people when you leave their classroom as opposed to just smarter. I have toyed with the idea of teaching off and on since graduating college. It would mean going back to school for education classes, but that isn't why I don't do it. I would only want to do it if I could teach like Miss Fischer. I'm not convinced that in today's society of rules and regulations that Miss Fischer can teach like Miss Fischer.

Monday, January 25, 2010


If you read Robert Fulghum's second book, IT WAS ON FIRE WHEN I LAY DOWN ON IT, he was so blown over by a tabloid newspaper article about a man rescued from a burning bed that he named his book after it. The disconcerting part was in the answer the man gave to "'How did this happen?'" He replied, "''I don't know. It was on fire when I lay down on it.'" Robert Fulghum spent some time doing some mental head scratching over that one, so much so that he named his own book after it. I read said book in 1990 and still find myself thinking about it twenty years later. It was on fire when I lay down it??? Seriously?

My paternal grandmother, nanny, as all her grandchildren called her was a free spirit in her youth. And she said and did pretty much whatever she felt like later in life, too. I imagine she got a lot of that confidence from her mother. Now, her mother (my great grandmother) was divorced five times. She didn't let anyone tell her what she could and couldn't do. I didn't really know her but I think she was probably formidable. I know her family disowned her. You just didn't do that back then. She did.

One of the last conversations that nanny and I had before nanny's mind started to go was on her front porch when she confided that my grandfather (who died long before I was born) was the only man she ever truly loved. I didn't say anything because all of my questions would have seemed insensitive and I didn't doubt her sincerity. She'd had a lot of time to think about it. After all, he'd been dead longer than I'd been alive so there was no chance of them reuniting. Nothing she said to me would change the outcome for her. So we sat and rocked and I think we both felt melancholy for damaged relationships.

Unfortunately, my nanny's divorce from my grandfather fell under the sordid heading and details were never all that forthcoming (it wasn't a story told at Christmas around the dinner table) so the details, to this day, are somewhat unclear for me. But there was cheating (possibly on both sides/probably on both sides) that led to marriage on his side to another woman that was true love. I think that was the real sticking point for nanny and maybe the cause for her cheating. She may have employed the cheating to make you jealous device and it backfired. Who knows? Not me, because no one talks about it. More to the point, maybe nanny didn't know. She saw her husband falling in love with someone else and she just started doing crazy things. Her choices don't make sense. Had there been a camera crew and a reporter standing by asking questions, her answer would have made just about as much sense as this... It was on fire when I lay down on it. She knows she burned her house down and she paid the price. She lived out the rest of her life loving a man who loved someone else and then loving a man who was gone. It was on fire when I lay down on it. Seriously.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


The newest facebook trend is changing your profile picture to reflect the fictional character with whom you most identify. It would have been easier had they said "admire," but that wasn't the case, it was identify. With admire an entire slew of fictional characters would have been vying for the honor. I would have been hard pressed to choose between a literary, TV, or character from the silver screen. Who wouldn't want to be Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Wonder Woman, Elektra, Veronica Mars, Lois Lane, or either one of The Gilmore Girls ? But did I really identify with any of them? Nope.

I already knew that the contest was going to come down to Ally McBeal and Meredith Grey. I also knew who would win. Ally and I went through our late 20s/early 30s together. Even though we didn't share the same career (I wasn't a lawyer), we shared a belief that women could have it all. Ally was an optimist in the face of pretty lousy odds. Single women don't have it easy. And it only gets worse the older you get. I think that I identified a little too much with Ally, to tell the truth. Every time she went down in flames (and I am talking the really serious hits to the heart) a little piece of me went with her. It was so bad that when Robert Downey, Jr. left the show (and Ally) because he was jailed for his drug problem I was more than a little angry with him. Ally never recovered from that relationship and neither did I. And the show took the hit, too. It was like being on the Titanic, figuratively.

Ally gave up on men and left Boston after flirting a bit with Bon Jovi. I gave up on men and got married, flirting with disaster. It was like being on the Titanic, literally.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I have always envied those people who inherently knew what they were supposed to do with their life in terms of their career. It wasn't even a question for them. They knew. Career information was implanted into their DNA code right alongside their eye color and shoe size. The rest of us bump along hoping for signs along the way and are likely to change career paths every ten years or so because we outgrew the old one.

I was certain after watching Smoky and the Bandit and then Convoy that I was destined to drive a big rig. It looked very exciting. And all that CB talk with its intricate code and anti-establishment rebellion was intoxicating to a young girl. I shared this revelation of my newly discovered career path with my neighbor and she enlightened me with some reality. What I saw was the movies. In real life, truckers sleep in their rig for a week or more at a time so they're smelly, and they're pot-bellied, more often than not, from a lot of beer drinking, and they are often minus a good many of their teeth. Eeeks. That wasn't what I had in mind at all. I wanted Kris Kristofferson or Burt Reynolds riding shotgun. Apparently I was going to have to rethink this line of work.

Over the years, I have fallen in and out of love with careers through the silver screen and my television screen. For instance, I love Grey's Anatomy but feel queasy just thinking about having my blood drawn. I couldn't do anything in the medical profession. However, one of the things I love most about the show is the commitment that each one of those doctors have. They all want to be "the best" very badly. I cannot imagine it for myself. I didn't get that bit of DNA. What I like to think is that mine is lying dormant, but it is going to kick in any minute and my lightbulb is going to come on and then I will join that elite club of people who just know.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Since moving back to Georgia, I have made a practice of having Corey and Haley spend the night once a month for some one-on-one time. Corey spent the night on New Year's Eve and we had a really good time. He found a box of my books in the guest room and on top was Robert Fulghum's ALL I REALLY NEEDED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN. His curiousity was piqued so I read him a story and he loved it. My heart soared with joy. I had worked for years to give him and his sister the best parts of my childhood and many a time they didn't think much of it. This time I didn't even try and I reaped success.

I still remember vividly the books and movies that changed the way that I saw the world and I wonder if it will be the same for Corey and Haley? Will S.E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS change the way that they see their fellow students? Will SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, PRETTY IN PINK, or SAY ANYTHING speak to them in any way about teenage relationships? Will THE BREAKFAST CLUB completely rock their world so that they will never see anything or anyone the same way again? Will they read Richard Bach's ILLUSIONS front to back repeatedly and get more from it each time? If they listen to LOVE SONG by The Cure will it be hauntingly beautiful or just old rock music? Some things are classic because they speak to the soul of every man and some things are just old. I think Corey found a classic on New Year's Eve and I consider all of the above to be classics, too, and if/when Corey or his sister tell me that they're old, dated, and/or boring it will surely break my heart.