Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Remembering Lisa Steinberg

I remember Lisa Steinberg, and so do many people. 1987 wasn't that long ago. My children were 6 and 4 years old when this NYC lawyer's abuse of his 6-year-old adopted daughter resulted in her death, propelling child abuse to the forefront of media attention. Who can forget the battered face of Steinberg's wife (a book editor)?

Now, after serving 16 years, he is being released. So, that's what the life of a child is worth now? Oh, you say things are better now; sentences are harsher for child killers? No, they aren't. Last week in Central Ohio, this article appeared:
Saturday, June 19, 2004
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCHA nurse's assistant who pleaded guilty yesterday to helping kill her adopted son wrote in her diary that she and her husband discussed getting rid of their two adopted children "like dogs in a pound.''

Amy Thompson wrote in her computer journal that just seeing the 2-year-old Russian boy and her 3-year-old adopted daughter, also from Russia, sickened her.

After locking her son alone in the basement for five days, barricading the door with furniture and boxes while his burned and injured body made its way toward death, this "mother" was sentenced to -- what do you think? Death? Life in prison? NO, 15 years! I'm not sure of her age, but I believe she's approximately 30. That means that she will be out of prison in her mid-forties and will likely live another 30 - 40 years free before the average age of women at death.

If she had killed a famous celebrity, a politician, a police officer, the sentence would have been different. Why does our society value the life of a child as being less than that of adults? What kind of a person can know their child is dying in their basement and do nothing to help? How did these people get the money and the access to adopting two children? I just do not understand.

Lisa Steinberg would have been 22 years old now, had she been adopted into a family who loved and cared for her. Lisa, we remember you.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Obituaries #3 and Dangerous Potatoes

O'Rea O. Block died Friday at age 106. She was the ninth of 15 children.

Amy Sue (Uber) Brackbill, age 36, passed away on Saturday. She will be missed by her husband and five children. FairHoPe Hospice is thanked.

Dorothy M. Phelps died at 90 yesterday. She is not a relative that I know of. Every week when I drive from Lancaster to Washington Court House (OH) I pass a rather decrepit-looking farmhouse on Rt. 22. An old, crooked sign is out front noting the "Wardell Party Home." I've always thought that was pretty comical. The yard had a lot of "stuff" in it and I couldn't imagine what kind of parties were held there or the history behind the sign. I wondered about it. Well, it seems Ms. Phelps not only had "a great concern for homeless animals" but she was the "operator of the Wardell Party Home for many years."

Robert E. Grimes, age 32 died Friday. William Scheckermann, age 24, died Thursday "at home." He attended Franlin University. Amy Grimm Hagen, age 45, died Saturday. She was a geologist. Nathan Michael Kleeh, age 13 months, died Saturday of cancer. "Baby Trumayne Armon Smith . . . went home with the angels Wednesday."

A potato-gun explosion killed 1 and injured 3 others in Ohio on Saturday night. Klyle R. Thompson, age 21, died at the scene. "Excessive gunpowder and possibly a stuck potato made the pipe explode" perhaps driving pieces of metal into his torso. With him at the time was his brother-in-law (31) who was "hosting the potato shooting" another man age 22, and Robert Kiser, age 48, who was injured. I don't know any 48-year-old men who spend Sat. night launching potatoes from pipes. I have a feeling this sort of thing will give Midwesterners a bad reputation.

The County Coroner said "he had never heard of a potato shooting before." Have you?

Conventional Blogging

The AP reports that "The Democrats are holding true to their 'party of inclusion' billing" and offering convention access to "a handful of bloggers."

"The Republicans say they've yet to decide what to do about them. . . . some analysts think the party is wary of bloggers, who tend to be less predictable than mainstream journalists."

"Frivolous Guests"

In today's Columbus Dispatch,Tim Feran, TV-radio critic notes the media blitz enjoyed this week by Bill Clinton. He has been on 60 Minutes (Dan Rather's discussion on Larry King about the Clinton interview was more interesting than the actual interview), Oprah Winfrey, Today (saw it), GMA, Larry King Live (saw it), Charlie Rose and Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I see he is going to be on NPR's Tavis Smiley this evening (like that show!).

Apparently, though, he is not going to be on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Feran says Stewart's show is booked with "frivolous guests such as Sen. John McCain and Ralph Nader." I don't consider McCain a frivolous guest and what Nader lacks in widespread appeal he makes up for in earnest tenancity, an good quality regardless of what one thinks of his being in the race.

I've seen Clinton on several programs and his book is being sold in the local grocery at 40% off and I sense the marketplace is getting enough. But, I think it might have been the one interview really worth watching.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

"My Experimental Phase"

Saturday, as I was driving along Rt. 22, enjoying the sight of freshly-cut fields of hay and rapidly-growing cornstocks, I listened to WCBE - NPR's "This American Life." The program this week was on "My Experimental Phase." It will be available via RealAudio online next week.

Anyway, the segment that caught my interest was on "The Life of an Underground Hasidic Gam Rock Star." Yikes! In this segment, Washington Post music critic David Segal talks with Billy, aka Vic Thrill and "Chaim" (last name kept secret) about Hym's brief foray into rock music as singer "Curly Oxide."

It was fascinating to hear how Billy is the kind of person who greets and knows his neighbors by name; all the neighbors, that is, except those in the closeknit Hasidic community. He's aware of this, so when neighbor Chaim ventures to a bar and for the first time encounters Vic Thrill's music they eventually become friends and a great "Experimental Phase" results.

Segal has Chaim describe how he learned about English and television and how coming to those cultural components "fresh" as it were, laid the groundwork for intriguing lyrics. Billy recalls Chaim's prolific lyric-writing, irritatingly left on Billy's answering machine, because that was the only way Chaim knew to get it down. When faced with the option of sending the irrepresible Chaim (who was spending 6 hours a day at Billy's watching TV) away, Billy agreed to give collaboration a try and the result was Curly Oxide, glam rock star. The snippet of the song "Welcome to the Millenium" sounded great.

Chaim's experimental phase came to an end. He left it up to God as to which would come first, a record contract or an arranged marriage. His mother found him a wife, he was married shortly thereafter and now lives the Hasidic life with his wife and two children. The only place you could hear his performance, Segal reports, was on a jukebox (was it at Joe's Pub in the East Village?) that no longer exists. Thanks NPR and Segal for an interesting show as I drove through the Ohio farmland and was transported to another place, another culture, another phase.

Al Hirschfeld at the NYT

Last night I visited a great little gallery in New York without ever leaving my Ohio home. The New York Times is running a multi-media article on Al Hirschfeld, and just to show you how not-young I am, I still get excited to see video on my computer monitor. My favorite points in this show were a photo of Hirschfeld in his studio, reviewing in detail his wonderful use of line, learning he had tea brought in at 4 pm everyday (when I am famous and 99 years old, I will have that too) and seeing just how wonderfully he captured the essence of some of the 20th century's top performers. I liked it so much, I ordered a book . . . and THIS is why books will not be made extinct by the Internet. The Internet is like the hook. The book is the prize!

Parrot Aroma Reserach

Last week, I received an e-mail from an organization doing research on Parrot Aroma. I didn't realize until now how difficult it is to describe scent. Maximilian Pionus are known for their unique smell and now I was challenged to convey it with mere words!

Here's what I wrote:

"Maximilian Pionus: a wonderful smell. Like old roses and wood, not heavy, light, if wood was sweet and rubbed with rose oil and then warmed and set next to a lilac bush, that would be the closest I could think of!"

(Note: Painting is copyrighted. Click here for more information.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Soap, Mr. Cheney?

The Associated Press reported today that V. P. Dick Cheney "used an obscenity beginning with 'F' in an exchange [with Sen. Leahy] on the Senate floor where members had gathered for a group photo." Yuck.

I don't think I'm the only forty-something person who grew up in a household where swearing was nonexistent. I don't think I ever heard my father swear. I'm sure he must have, but I never heard it. By the time I ever heard the word "damn" come out of my wonderful mother's mouth (I think she'd stubbed her toe or something), I was already an adult myself. Though completely human nature when a person is suddenly afflicted with pain, her utterance shocked me.

I remember the first time as a teenager that I said the word "shit." It didn't feel as cool as I thought it would and I hardly ever use it even now. Last year I was struggling with a box that had been taped together by someone who must have worked for the military. There was no getting into it, and I didn't have a boxcutter handy. Tired and frustrated, I said the "F" word. Under my breath, but all the same it was immediately heard by my hearing impaired son whose face registered the expected my-mother-the-pedestal-what-happened? look. Later, I apologized to him for what I felt was a lack of self-control on my part. I didn't offer excuses. I said it was wrong and I felt badly about it. He said, "I never heard you say that before."

I'm not really a goody-two-shoes ... I just have always believed that swearing was the inclination of folks too lazy or stupid to really come up with just the right zinger to get their point across. Let's hear it for the person who can cut to the quick and shock with their insight rather than using words that can be taught to a parakeet.

I'm not against all use of foul language; after all I did go to art school, am a Democrat, and read quite a lot. Today, for instance, on "This American Life" on wosu FM, a girl was reading from her diary, written when she was 13. The "F" word was frequently uttered (though beeped out) and it was entirely appropriate and hilarious in the context.

I may be one of the few middle-aged women who took their son to see the movie 8-Mile and thought it was worthwhile and well-done. I don't have a problem with saucy language, per se, and if I did, well who gives a...

The thing is, I don't want the Vice Pres., be he (or she) Democrat or Republican bandying about obscentities like playground bullies. This is someone one successful assassination attempt from becoming president, with access to "the big red button." Shouldn't he have a bit more self control in the anger area? Doesn't a Vice President have some other way of making life difficult for his enemies?

A long time ago I had to deal with an individual prone to angry outbursts. To defuse the situation I did two things: imagined him a tiny cartoon baby in underpants and realized that the louder he yelled, the closer I might have been getting to the truth.

Sen. Leahy might find that technique helpful in his next photo op.

Obits Part Deux - Sat. June 26, Cols. Dispatch

Leonard Alexander, 35, died this past week. He was a senior network administrator with Net Jets. Darrick Angle, age 27, died on the same day, Wed., "riding the bike that he loved." "...many internet friends who know him as derklee" will miss him.

Elmer J. Carpenter, age 86, also died. He was preceded in death by 6 brothers and 4 sisters. He leaves behind one brother and two sisters. That was a big family.

Vicki Mentel also died this week. She worked for 21 years "in surgery offering compassion and care to her patients. ... She enjoyed Irish culture and was known for her knowledge of all things Irish." I have always wanted to go to Ireland...I wonder if she ever traveled there.

Ralston Steele, age 41, died in a nursing home. He is survived by his wife, three children and mother. His children's names are Tijuha, Talia, and Jacque. Neat names.

Thirty folks are listed in today's obituaries. Three "passed away peacefully."

"Loving father and grandpa" Danny Wayne Howard, age 53, passed away at home on Wednesday. Viet Nam Vet Robert Leroy Rhyan, age 57, also died on Wed.

Thomas Bernard Englehart died on Thursday. He was "preceded in death by his wife of 71 years." (That's seven-one. No typo.)

Donna L. Darst died on Thursday. She was retired from the State of Ohio Columbus Developmental Center. Developmental Centers care for the mentally and physically disabled; two of them are closing due to budget cuts. (This was not mentioned, however, in Ms. Dart's obituary, but it is important in the lives of many disabled here in Ohio. As they are moved from the only homes with which they are familiar.)

Finally, consider the life of Ronald Mauller, age 69, who was in the Columbus Public School System for 30 years. He was a Veteran of Foreign Wars and was preceded in death by his son Bradley. (I am preceded in death by my brother, Bradley.) I find it sad that at 69 Mr. Mauller was also preceded in death by two of his sons-in-law. His wife and two daughters are still living.

This month marks the fourteenth anniversary of my father's death. I hope the families of the people who died this week feel the ongoing presence of their loved one every day. And find strength in the family surrounding them.

Pets and Language

The media is all abuzz about new science findings regarding dogs who "are much smarter than scientists have thought." Thousands of dollars of research might have been saved, had they spent anytime at my home, or observing the lives of many of my friends who also have dogs. In the past thirteen years, I have been guardian to five dogs, three of whom died during the Dec 03 to Dec 04 period and two new pups now with me. Here's what I could have told scientists:

1) Dogs know when you are happy, sad, busy, angry, worried, ill, and in love.
2) They know when you mean it, don't mean it, aren't sure if you mean it, and are consulting dog behavior books to find out if you should mean it.
3) Dogs know that exercise is good for you.
4) Dogs know that high-protein diets make them happier.
5) They can find their way around the neighborhood and communicate with the neighbors.
6) They understand that mail comes six days a week and sometimes what's in the mail is worth yelling about it.
7) Dogs realize that fashion isn't important.
8) Dogs are comfortable with all their body parts and the body parts of those they love.
9) Dogs are not afraid of other dogs bigger than themselves. In fact, the smaller the dog, I've found, the more emphatic they are to express their bravery.
10) Dogs can tell who is naughty and who is nice.

I don't think the problem is that they can't talk with us. Think about it, there are a gadzillion species of animals. Anyone with pet birds has learned the importance of body language and how tuned in a parrot can be just to the way you hold your shoulders. My hearing-impaired son has always had a sixth sense about the expressions, moods and body carriage of those around him. So, back to animals, if there are way more species of animals than the one species of humans, maybe we should be learning more about their language instead of studying whether or not they know ours.

I have to go dog is outside barking at the neighbor's garage sale visitors. He knows these are people who do not belong on our street, and he wants them to know this house is well-protected. Or, perhaps he has his eye on some of the merchandise.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Reading the Obituaries

I have now officially reached middle age: I read the obituaries of people I do not know. Perhaps there is a name for this condition... I find it helps me be thankful -- thankful my name's not there. And humble -- a lot of people who sound like really great folks I would like to have known, die. The following listings were just a small part of the notices on June 23rd in the Columbus Dispatch...

Jessie Elizabeth Rowlands, only 66 years old... Beautiful blonde hair and sunny smile, her photo shows. She attended Columbus College of Art and design. She was an amateur artist who sold floral paintings to boutiques in LA. She did koi paintings and was a "wonderful mother. Her humanity, energy, and wit will be sorely missed." I don't know her, but I feel sad.

Jesika Renee Smith, age 18, "landed in the arms of the angels" recently. We are told nothing about her. James David "JD" Mansfield, just two years older than my eldest son, died suddenly ... "as a result of an accident at home." He "loved sports, hunting and fishing, but most of all his 2-year-old daughter." It sounds like he had a big family and I imagine every holiday and hunting trip and fishing expedition... every time that family gets together, he will be very missed.

Steve R. O'Donnell, age 69, also "passed away suddenly as a result of an accident." He founded Goal Systems Computer Software Co.

Fred Rubeck lived at Walnut Grove Campground. He died last Monday due to an accident there.

I'm going to be much more careful around the house.

Lester Bosco Roberts died at age 97 after "a short illness." "Lester was a part of a research team that studied the extreme longevity of residents in the country Hunza in the 1950's." I didn't know about that. "He conducted research in areas as diverse as why rocking calms babies and keeping sterile environments in space travel." He had no children and lived on his own until six weeks before his death. It seems to me that Mr. Roberts knew a thing or two and I would have loved to have known him.

John A. Webb, age 31, died also. He is survived by his wife and his former wife and his children: Trinity, Katrina, John Jr., Jacob, Kassandra, Kara, Chad, Little John and Katie King. I really hope Mr. Webb carried sufficient life insurance. Nine children will miss him.

Cahi Lee Wong died at age 89. She was associated with the Tai Wan Restaurant in Columbus and along with the many surviving family members, her obituary lists "great-grand dogs, Bella, Romeo, Sidney and Shadow." I hope when my time comes, my family lists my pets in the obituary.

This ten minutes spent each day reading about the ending of strangers' lives might seem a little odd to some. But I think it gives me a good perspective. Life is short, temporary, unpredictable and death happens to everyone in ways and at times that don't make sense. It's a good thing to keep in mind when faced with the ups and downs of life here in Middle America.

Update on SBC

Well, perhaps all my problems with SBC were due to the strike situation. At least, the last three people I've talked with this week about various issues have been pleasant and helpful. Perhaps my SBC nightmare was just a branch of their nightmare. But, the automated phone services companies use... ugh! Does anyone have anything good to say about them?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

This Shopper is No Mystery

In my list of "interesting occupations I might like to do for a month or so, independent of how much they pay" I've got "Mystery Shopper." I will likely never be a Mystery Shopper, but I may be able to be the next best thing: a person who puts their complaints on the Internet for the entire world to read. Well, providing that they find my discourse.

Today, is the day my consumer-fury will rain down on the corporations that often for reasons that have nothing to do with personal choice, have wormed their way into my everyday life. Here is a synopsis (because I do care about your mental health and wouldn't wish the full, word-by-word account on anyone) of a recent "problem resolution." I will put these under the proper corporation heading, so you can scroll down to your personal favorite.

SBC Ameritech: Despite the fancy-dancy television commercials that constantly interrupt some of my favorite TV shows, this company almost (I've got to build some suspense) tops the list of "Corporations that Drive Me Crazy."

1) A few months ago, I call SBC Ameritech to remove "unlimited residential service" from a spare phone line used only occassionally to send faxes. This smart move is aimed at saving me less than ten dollars a month. The lady is nice and says she will set it all up. At the same time I order "unlimited long distance" for $30 a month on my phone line.

2) I receive a phone bill and the service was not reduced on my fax line. I also find that the "unlimited long distance" on my lines does not include faxes to England, which I previously received with my long distance carrier, ZoneLD, for about 6 cents a minute. I decide SBC's unlimited long distance is not a good idea for me, and choose to return to ZoneLD. I think this will be easy. I am an optimist.

3) I call SBC and reach a person who cannot understand anything to do with my order, cannot pull up the info on the computer screen, sounds like she's 10 years old, has a supervisor standing by that isn't helping, and finally puts me on hold for 15 minutes while she searches for a fax number, which I have requested in a desperate attempt to just submit my complaint in writing. I hang up and call another SBC customer service number. The same thing happens. Later that day, I learn that SBC workers are on strike and "this may affect customer service." I take a nice drive in the countryside and thank God I don't work for SBC.

4) A few days later, I call back. Everything in #3 is repeated. WHILE ON HOLD, I go online and submit the request there using their customer service form. I hope for the best.

5)I call SBC, again, to make sure they received my form. I review everything in #1, #2, and #3. Keep in mind that getting to the part where "I review everything..." requires entering into the key pad my phone number, ZIP code, and then verifying my address and declining participating in their stupid customer service survey. I repeat all this same information to the person who answers the phone. I am re-routed to another department, and, to a young man who takes my information and promises to call me back. He calls back and gets my voice mail. I call him back and get his voice mail. He calls me back and gets my voice mail. I call back and talk to someone else. Finally, it seems my fax line service is changed as I like and I am saving about $9 a month.

6) My unlimited long distance service is also removed. They will not, however, refund the one month of "unlimited residential service" on my fax line that I had asked a month earlier to be removed. They have no record of my removing it. They tell me I should have kept the e-mail. I point out to them that I didn't send an e-mail, I filled out their customer service form on their Website, and didn't have a copy of it. I asked them why they have that form there, if you can't submit information there pertaining to your account. They seem not to understand what is on their website.

7) I receive a letter from SBC verifying the reduction in charges for my fax line, yet there is a new charge for "Individual Message Residence: $2.21". I have no idea what this is. I call in, they explain it to me. Don't ask me what it is as I do not remember.

8) I sign up online to renew my long distance services with ZoneLD, but am unable to add in my fax line: "there is a problem with the line." I send two e-mails. I decide to call. Their phone number, as shown online ends with "ZoneLD." I look at my phone, there is no "Z" showing on the keypad. I am debating if the "9/WXY" would be the one to press or the "0." I decide to send an e-mail.

9) I receive an e-mail from ZoneLD confirming my e-mail to them. I receive no further e-mails resolving the problem. My fax will not dial long distance.

10) I call SBC Ameritech and they explain that as they have removed themselves as my LD carrier, there is no LD provider, but for $3 a month they will put their name back on as my LD provider. I decline.

11) I go to ZoneLD's site again, and this time am holding the cordless handset of a different phone in the house. Eureka! It has "Z" on the keypad, next to the "9/WXY". I now know what number to call. I call the number and get voice mail. But, hooray, they actually call me back and promise to resolve the problem and get my fax line signed up, but it will take a few days.

12) In the meantime, when I want to make faxes, I switch the phone cord between my voice phone and my fax line. Keeping up?

13) This morning, I received a call from SBC asking me if I would like to purchase their long distance plan for $30 a month. I said no.

ZoneLD: This is a nice company, their LD service is $0.039 per minute, and they seem to be easy to deal with...I have no complaints about them.

Sprint PCS: Oh my God! Where to start... They are my number one least favorite company. I haven't had to talk with them for ten months, but I am not yet over the trauma of dealing with this company. Let's just say, Nothing is free or clear. When my plan expires in September I am running from them like a bad case of shingles. Every person on earth I talk to has had the same negative experience. Again, their innovative marketing campaign has nothing to do with the reality of dealing with their customer service, which almost caused me to throw my cell phone out the window, or perhaps to my small dog to use as a chew toy. I've always felt it's not healthy to have hatred toward another person, but might I make an exception for a corporate identity?

infoseek: Beware the company that operates with automatic renewals. When a charge for $146 appeared on my bank statement, I discovered my marketing plan had automatically renewed, though I never sign up for that service and was not forewarned. I e-mailed the company, and a nice guy e-mailed me back, sent a fax and agreed to refund the entire amount. I submitted the proper paperwork. Nothing happened. I sent nice guy an e-mail, then another. Then another fax. And, hooray, days later, a refund. Since infoseek refunded my money with less than 10 e-mails, with no phone calls and in a matter of two weeks time, they are on my "okay to do business with" list.

Interview Magazine For some reason this magazine comes to my house every month. I don't read it. I don't have time. I look on it to see when the subscription expires. January 2005. I think "Ah ha! Someone has automatically renewed something and I'm going to catch them at it!" I call the magazine. They have nothing to do with the subscription, it is handled by another company. I call them. They tell me, yes, it's true, the subscription was renewed last December. "How much was charged to me for that?" I ask, ready to do battle.

"Well, it was free, there was no charge. A special promotion..."
"And there will be no automatic renewal?"
"No automatic renewal."

Ah well, I live to mystery shop another day....

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Spice, Life and All that Jazz

Ah, what a full day. The jazzy sounds of the local NPR station are a soothing ending to a day filled with variety. A day that started with finishing up a book on fishing, postponing a book on Afghanistan, and completing an earnest book by a ninety-year-old ex-foreign service person who now writes books to encourage peace. All this interspersed with talks with a client who has created the greatest childrens book, which is now in a prototype using a cool program called Flip Publisher.

We had a nice summer thunderstorm . . . the rain threw itself against the big evergreen sideways, while my Chihauhua sat on a cushion on the desk, a parrot perched near her on the stem of my clip-on bendable desk light, and Tyler, the Pekingese, stretched out on the floor dreaming of who knows what. Within half an hour the sun was shining again as if it had never left. And it hadn't . . . it was simply hard to see.

"Blackbird singing in the dead of night..."

What a great song.

"You were always waiting for this moment to arrive..."

Hmmm... What moments in our life are we waiting to arrive? Looking back, it wasn't really the big moments at all. Not the weddings, graduations, or births.

The moments were the feel of fresh air on my cheek as I rode my bike next to my eldest son, when he was only a small boy. Relaxing on the couch with my youngest son as we laughed at "Everybody Loves Raymond" and watched our dear old dog, Buster (who died last year -- he's the one in the photo with me), snore and move his paws in a dreamy prance.

Moments like sitting on the front porch with my mother as she comments on how beautiful the flowering shrubs are around my house, just like the ones around her grandmother's house. Moments like handing out candy to trick or treaters my first year in Lancaster. Families filled the streets, we had to make an emergency run to the grocery, and I felt like I'd moved to the most wonderful town in America. Nice neighbors even gave out treats to Buster!

Moments like sneaking a little Chihauhua in my handbag into the nursing home where my eldest son lives to surprise him at Christmas. A dozen moments sharing experiences with a sister closer than any best friend could be.

The second it took for my youngest son, visiting from Philadelphia this past Mother's Day, dropping a beautiful pair of silver earrings into my hand and wishing me a happy birthday. The moment it takes to hear "I love you."

Life: a collage of memorable moments -- images, scents, sounds, feelings. On a busy day like today, filled with "bus-i-ness" that I won't even remember next year (the frustrating on-hold recorded voice at a business, the unauthorized automatic withdrawal by an online company that is hard to reach, the scanner acting funky), it's good to recall the moments for which I was always waiting. They did. They do. Wow!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Weird Government Titles #1

Trivial pursuit of weird terms...

The Patriot Act is actually an anacronym for:
Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.

Who knew? I discovered this when browsing the "Best Seller" list of the NTIS (National Technical Information Service) website. My curiousity was piqued at the term "DEATH MASTER FILE." Wow! Is that ominous sounding or what?

"The SSA Death Master File is used by leading government, financial, investigative, credit reporting organization, medical research and other industries to verify identity as well as to prevent fraud and comply with the USA Patriot Act."

Mathematical Methods in Combating Terrorism. Otherwise known as "Einstein's revenge" "This document is a preliminary report on the role that mathematical and statistical methods might play in the defense against terrorist attacks. In no way does this replace the efforts of law enforcement agencies or intelligence activities." Good, glad to hear it!

Fred and the Voice of Food Safety. Yummy!

Not a gov't term, but what the heck... The term "gray literature" was found at this government news site. I was not familiar with this term, but found a good site explaining it (Librarians are so helpful!):
"Gray or grey literature has long been considered the proverbial needle in the haystack. It is commonly defined as any documentary material that is not commercially published and is typically composed of technical reports, working papers, business documents, and conference proceedings."

"...books no longer imprisoned for life..."

In "Book Business: Publishing Past Present and Future" Jason Epstein writes:
The best advertising for any book is word of mouth. For this the global village green offers limitless scope. . . . With books no longer imprisoned for life within fixed bindings the opportunities are endless for the creation of new, useful, and profitable products by Internet publishers.

"Among the many tyrannies to be overcome by the World Wide Web will be the turnover requirements of retail booksellers. . . .

"The obstacles imposed between readers and writers by traditional publishing practices . . . will wither away. The global village green will not be paradise. It will be undisciplined, polymorphous, and polyglot . . . The critical faculty that selects meaning from chaos is part of our instinctual equipment . . . Human beings have a genius for finding their way.

"... publishers' tasks can be reduced to an essential handful: editorial support, publicity, design, digitizing, and financing. For these functions, size confers no advantage and at a certain magnitude becomes a nuisance."

Epstein's book is must reading for anyone involved in the business of book publishing, even with some of its now out-dated statements (copyright 2001). But, if you want to appreciate where mainstream publishing has been and how an experienced mind evaluates the future of it, then spend a few hours listening to what this author has to say. Developing a strategic and polymorphic approach to writing and building an author's fan base using all up-to-date methods is crucial to success in publishing.

What I think we're seeing at this point is size (of a publishing house) conferring no advantage and even becoming a nuisance. A nuisance because most creativity undertaken by committee is fraught with complications. In fact, compared to the ease with which a blog, a website, or a print-on-demand book can be created today, it's somewhat amazing there have been so many books that survived the production process over the last few hundred years.

Let's look at the life cycle of an "Average Book" (circa 1900 - 2004, I'm not going to pretend to know anything about the 19th century). For our example, this will be a book you read once and like enough to give away but not enough to hold on to.

Step One:
Against all odds, the pressing obligations and superficial interests of life . . . the demands of lovers and guilt-trips of spouses and parents . . . the business of earning a living and sitting one's arse in a chair for a prolonged period of time ("shutting the door" as Stephen King advises) . . . against the intimidation of the classics, the skepticism of the less hard-working, the threat of addiction and a million other things that distract people from their goals (or give them excuses, depending on your level of sympathy with this process) A MANUSCRIPT IS WRITTEN!

Step Two:
Now, after three revisions and four go get 'ums by friends and family, research begins for an appropriate agent or publisher. Packages go out, packages come back. Go out. Come back. Go out. Come back. Go out. Come back. A few holidays pass and work begins in earnest on Book Two.

Step Three:
Saints be praised, Book One has been accepted for publication.

Step Four:
We'll skip the editorial meetings, sales meetings, proofs going back and forth and go right to the fun part -- printing. The book is printed and arrives on Author's doorstep. Champagne is opened. Mother is proud. Children (if there was time to bear them) are impressed. Life is good. Is it time to give notice at the place of employment yet?

Step Five:
The publisher receives faxed, phoned, or electronic orders for the book. Tons of orders come in. Tons of books are printed. The book costs $20. retail. The publisher sells the book for $10. It costs $3. to produce, plus $1 for marketing, plus $1 to finance all the books that the publisher currently publishes that don't sell at all and are financed by the more successful books (or that sell really well at such a discount they don't make any money, so their "success" is financed by less-popular but better margined titles). So, let's say there is $5 left over to make the publisher money. And, the author hopes to get a bit of that.

Step Six:
The books ship out in smart-looking trucks to their retail destinations. Mother looks for it on the shelf in Miami Beach and the Author's college roommate asks for it in San Diego. Meanwhile, new copies start showing up on Amazon for $4.

Step Seven:
The Author does a few book signings, appears on the radio, and waits for the first sales report. The bookstores leave the books on the shelf, spine out, next to the other 20,000 or so new titles published every year.

Step Eight:
The economy is going south, the bookstore has a slow month and now has an invoice for the books ordered for the holidays due to the wholesalers. It doesn't want to pay said bill, so it has bookstore staff comb the shelves (or pull up on the computer) all books that have been "sitting around" for, how could they?, three months. Our dear Author's book is in that category, so all copies at the chain get pulled from the shelf and back they go to the wholesaler, then the distributor, then the publisher.

Step Nine:
They are returned. They are resold. They are returned. They sit. The copyright date gets older. The bookstores will not order copyright dates older than two years. The publisher turns to the "next new thing." The Author's mother complains that none of her friends in Arizona can find the book in bookstores. The Author furiously finishes Book Two.

Step Ten:
Time passes. Book One may break even, or be a loss. It might even, yes it's true I've seen it happen, be a bestseller but make no profit for Author, Publisher or store owner.

This, dear reader, is why the face of publishing is eager to change, Insisting on change and ready for all the new opportunities technology can bring its way.

Stephen King, in "On Writing" states "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." He's right, of course, who am I to argue with Stephen King? But to be a successful publisher . . . well, that's a bit trickier!

Thank you Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee received the first Millennium Technology Prize reported AP's Mans Hulden, for "creating the World Wide Web." The recipient remains modest about his work, the article states, while the prize committee took special note of his decision to never commercialize or patent his contributions. Wow! Thank you Tim Berners-Lee!

A good article on Berners-Lee. Here are some highlights:

"He envisioned a global information space where information stored on computers everywhere was linked and available to anyone anywhere. There were two technologies already developed that would allow his vision to become reality."

"Initially, his proposal received no reply, but he began working on his idea anyway..."

"bureaucracy . . . was slow in acknowledging his efforts."

Secondhand piercing danger!

Kelly Carnahan of Delaware, Ohio, had her letter printed in today's Columbus (OH) Dispatch. "Government wants to think for smokers" is the headline, and Ms. Carnahan states she resents the government making smoke-free public places because after all we are "thinking human beings who are just plain old fed up with being told we are third-class citizens and not worthy of socializing in a public place just because we choose to smoke." She suggests "we also ban people with tattoos and piercings or just about any other differences that people have, because to me it's pretty much the same thing."

Dear Kelly: You are not demonstrating yourself as a "thinking human being" and tattoos and piercings are NOT the "same thing" . . . not even "pretty much" the same thing.

No one, to my knowledge has become ill or died due to their family member, co-worker, or customers (as in the case of waitstaff in restaurants) having tattoos or piercings. My eldest son has two tattoos and I am not, I repeat NOT, in any danger of the long list of illnesses associated with air heavy-laden with whatever it is contained in cigarette smoke. What an idiotic comparison. Would you take your six-month-old baby, Kelly Carnahan, and place her next to a chain-smoking nanny eight hours a day? Perhaps you already have. I'd put my baby next to the "tattooed lady" over the "smokestake lady" any day.

If adults want to smoke on their property and in private clubs, then go at it. Don't expect me to pay for your doctor bills ten years down the road. Don't expect me to be willing to have my offspring wait on you in a restaurant and don't expect me to sit next to you on an airplane.

My son-with-the-tattoos is disabled and lives in a nursing home. Beginning at 7 am and until 9 pm, every day, seven days a week, the residents, the majority of the residents, smoke. The nurse's aides hold the cigarettes to their lips, if they are unable to do so themselves. I heard the nursing home spends $3000 a month purchasing cigarettes.

The window in the common room where the smoking occurs only opens eight inches and the air filter that sits on the TV looks like the small one in my house that filters air to help my parrot stay healthy. In other words, it's not enough to clean the air of 10 to 20 men smoking 14 times a day. That's 140 to 280 cigarettes being smoked every day in the presence of my 23-year-old MRDD, hearing-impaired child whom I have spent decades telling "don't take up smoking, don't take drugs, eat your vegetables." I asked the state ombudsman to check it out and the nursing home, according to the investigator, is conforming to current law. The law stinks, literally.

Kelly Carnahan of Deleware, Ohio, may you live long enough to regret the "thinking" opinion you hold today.

UPDATE to this article: Today, June 29, 2004, Columbus, OH, passed into law a smoking ban at bars, restuarants and bowling alleys in Columbus. Might common areas of nursing homes be next?

Confederate Math: Part Two

The United Daughters of the Confederacy have recognized Maudie Celia Hopkins as a surviving Civil War soldier's widow . . . Her husband was 86 when he married the then-19-year-old in 1934. The UDC say "there might be others like her still alive." I just don't get it...

Monday, June 14, 2004

Wi-Fi, Hi-Fi, Bu-bye

Hang on . . . this may not make sense. In fact, if it does make sense you are way ahead of me!

Last night, I finally got around to reading Newsweek's June 7th issue on "Way Cool Phones." As a person who believes I should know the meaning of every word I read, or take time to find it out, I was immediately put off by "Wi-Fi." What has happened to me?

Last week, I was talking with my friend, David, about his album collection. His "albums" are CDs. My albums are, well albums. When I was a kid, we listened to our albums on "Hi-Fi's." When did Wi-Fi's come about? The article never did identify the term, but I was heartened to see in the Letters to the Editor section of the following week's Newsweek that arrived today, that many readers wrote in to ask "What's a Wi-Fi?" Whew! "Wireless-Fidelity" was the answer . . . okay . . .

Continuing on with this great article on all the things my cell phone will one day be able to do for me (or could now if I bought a new one) (TV shows, GPS, Internet, games, e-mail, video, etc. etc)... I quickly encountered more and more words (even phrases) with which I, an Editor!, was completely unfamiliar and could not decipher:

"...then some geeks came up with a new communications standard exploiting an unlicensed part of the spectrum (which the wonks at the FCC called "junk band," stuff designated for techno-flotsam like microwave ovens and cordless phones). It was called 802.11 and only later sexed up with the Wi-Fi moniker."


Here are some new terms:
"bandwidth liberator" "WiMax" "cyberaction"

How about this:
"Consider the MIT Media Lab project to install Wi-Fi base stations on intervillage buses in India: when the vehicles stop to pick up passengers, computer users within range can use the signal to download files or send e-mail."

I can hear it now... "Teacher, my term paper isn't done because the bus was not on schedule."

More terms in Newsweek:
"Bluetooth" "RFID" "Zig-Bee (a way to network appliances)" The author of this article defines photography (the traditional kind like I have in a shoebox) as "flat illustrative artifact[s]."

In the same issue, there is an article entitled "Making the Ultimate Map." Steven Levy states:
"...just over the azimuth [now there's a good word!] is the holy grail of mapping, where every imaginable form of location-based information is layered onto an aggregate construct that mirrors the whole world." [Yowzah!] "Eventually, between the databases, the parsing and the geo-hackers, millions of places will be digitally annotated, and the experience of traveling the world will be akin to visiting a museum with an exquisitely informed guide."

Yes, but will it be any easier to bring my dog along?

Just when I thought all was lost, as far as my keeping up, I received the June 21st issue of TIME Magazine. In "10 Questions for David Sedaris" (author of "Me Talk Pretty One Day") Sedaris is asked about his familiarity with the Internet:
"I've never seen the Internet. I don't have e-mail. I just enjoy lying on the couch and reading a magazine. When people say, 'You should visit my Web page,' I'm always perplexed by it. Why? What do you do there?"

I feel about a hundred and three years old. My 21-year-old knows more than I do. I think I'm "cyber-savy" because I can view my bank account online and create a business website. . . . All this high-faluting techno-babble drives me to the simple pleasures of a chocolate chip cookie, a glass of milk and the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. It costs fifty cents, doesn't require typing to navigate, and I can use it to line the bird cage. I'm sure one day it may be obsolete, but until then I'll shake the tech confusion from my brain every morning, grab a cup of coffee and stare at the front porch, looking for information delivered the old-fashioned way: by a kid on a bike.

Confederate Math

Now, I understand the Internet brings together people from a wide variety of locations, religions, backgrounds, political leanings and world views. And having lived in Florida for 17 years is probably not enough to put me on the good side of proud Southerners . . . so perhaps only Yankees will understand my befuddlement over the death of Alberta Martin making national news, in a week filled with the death of a president, a continuing war, Venus & the Sun, high school graduations, the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, the G8 summit, and the much anticipated premieres of summer movies.

As I was stumbling to do the math in my head (when did the Civil War end? what's the youngest a soldier could have been?), wondering how Alberta could even have still been alive... the anchor explained how Mrs. Martin was a mere 21 at her marriage in 1927, to the former Confederate soldier who was . . . ahem! . . . 81. Now I learn from Margaret Dickson that 10 months after the lucky Confederate and love-is-blind bride married, their child was born. Not one to take the conventional path, Alberta eventually married her husband's grandson and they, in time, celebrated a golden wedding anniversary. Wow, and all this before Viagra, Hugh Hefner, and The Sun tabloid.

Since we're celebrating the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, I wonder if the news will report something about a 21-year-old MAN marrying an 81-year-old World War II WASP, celebrating the nuptials, perhaps, on the grounds of the new memorial, before taking off in a small plane for a South Florida honeymoon. Now that would be newsworthy!

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The Desire to Publish

Since 1997, I have been involved with folks whose purpose in contacting me is to turn their manuscripts into books. They want to be not only writers, but Authors. Published authors and, dare they dream, self-supporting published authors.

Most of them want book tours, autographing parties, their book on a shelf at Barnes & Noble (preferrably an endcap with no competitors), their book in the "Literary Guild" catalog (or maybe Quality Paperback Book Club's...). They want to get e-mails from people whose lives were changed by reading what they wrote. I confess to a bit of that desire myself...

The desire to be published is a societal step-up from the desire to be heard. Writers just want to be heard by as many people as possible and for as many generations as possible. In some folks it is attached to the desire for wealth and fame, but not for as many as one might think.

It is great to read a manuscript that needs little editing ... that takes on a life of its own and demands to be a book, earning that right simply by the arrangement of letters on a page. An arrangement that creates an alternate world with characters, scenery, and action. Magic!

Other manuscripts, like a sturdy house, need construction work. Sometimes things get messier before they get better. In all cases trust and patience are key. Hope helps too...

I once read an article by Erma Bombeck years ago on the natural optimism of dogs. Writers have that as well, I've found. They are optimistic about the chances of their work being published, being sold, being considered worthwhile. It is difficult when the truth is otherwise and one could never delight in being right in such a situation.

Technology has changed the way books are produced, the economics and business set-up of publishing and a host of other things. Technology can never change the magic of words well written.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Hopelessly Devoted: The Reagans

Amid the many pages of eulogy, analysis, commentary, and photographs . . . between the computer-generated graphic cutaway of the Capitol and the black-and-white photo of a young Reagan with his football buddies . . . beyond the words of Tim Russert, Larry King, Katie Couric, Peter Jennings, et. al . . . there is one photograph of Ronald and Nancy Reagan that I absolutely love. You may have seen it. Taken at the "Western White House" it shows the couple standing face to face, embracing and (of course) gazing and smiling into each other's eyes. Cowboy hats, jeans, a gingham shirt for her, and denim one for him, they are at the pond on their property, a canoe christened "TRULUV" nearby. What a great picture. Obviously, posed for the camera, but I am just sentimental enough to like it anyway.

I'm not a Reagan afficionado; I'm not even a Republican. When Reagan was president, I was a stay-at-home mom with two active pre-school children and a host of pressing worries. My memories of world news at that time are few: the assassination attempt on Reagan, the Challenger disintegrating before my eyes on the television screen as I ironed (every word in that phrase is important!), and "Ollie" North's testimony before Congress, well, just his swearing in part and a few highlights. So, I'll leave the analysis to the more knowledegable and the sophisticated.

But, as the song goes "I know something about love!" and every picture of this first couple is embedded with devotion, with links going back to a thousand public and private moments the public could never truly understand. Unless, perhaps, they were fortunate to share a similar coupling. (It's hard not to contrast that with the famous shot of President Clinton, Hillary, and Chelsea walking across the lawn after his on-air confession, or the often-noted habit of President Nixon to treat his wife as if she did not exist.)

Seeing photos of the Reagans reminds me of the myth of popular sentiments, phrases I have heard and (forgive me) even used a few times in my 30 years of adult life. Here they are, not in any particular order:

* It's not true that "men cannot communicate." Reagan's letters to his wife clearly demonstrated that he knew how to share his deepest feelings. Any person would be blessed to have such a partner.

* It's not true that "second marriages don't work out." Theirs did.

* It's not true that "nice guys finish last." By all accounts it seems that Reagan was a kind person, with an ability to hold a strong opinion but allow that others might understandably differ. He was able to be decisive yet agreeable, a helpful quality in life and a good time to use the adjective "disarming." His manner and charisma were dis-arming. Worth thinking about at this time in history . . .

*It's not true that "love doesn't last." Love does last. It lasts between parents, friends, partners, and children and their parents. It lasts beyond death, beyond war, beyond politics, beyond poverty, and sometimes, beyond wealth, power and success.

"TRULUV" is not Brittany Spears, J. Lo, or applicable to any other celebrity in PEOPLE magazine under the age of 35, as far as I'm concerned. Judgmental? Yes. I happen to believe it is okay to make judgments. People use the word judgmental when they don't agree with your opinions. I've fought being wishy-washy my whole life and now embrace being older, wearing purple and being willing to create discomfort.

TRULUV is Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Christopher and Dana Reeves, and Greg and Lauren Manning. It's the couple together for fifty-plus years, or 20 for that matter. It's commitment, romance, sparks, and shared secrets. Sex and family and work and illness. War and peace and presents and beauty. Death cannot take it away. When they see it, others want it, too. It's something worth having.

I guess the surprising thing is the amount of attention being given to the Reagans love affair. As if it were so rare. Not so! All across the world, in towns and cities and farmland and desert and rainforest and island ... there are people who love each other, who gaze into each other's eyes, who mourn the loss of each other. But we don't hear about them much.

Today, while others commemorate President Reagan's life, I'm going to remember my parents, married for 49 years when Dad died; my mother and Joe (in their eighties and in love for almost a decade now) and the other kinds of love as well that weaves its gentle and comforting way through my life.

Take heart. There is love "out there." It's worth hoping for and worth having. Nancy and Ronald Reagan remind us of that.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

It's Summer

It's summer... I live in Ohio now, but until 1999, I was in Florida for 17 years. Summer there was nothing to write about, as far as I was concerned. Oppressive heat, water restrictions, fire ants, sunburn, and humidity that wrecked havoc with hairstyles and makeup. My main impression of Florida in the summer was getting that first shock -- God it's hot! -- when exiting an over-air-conditioned movie theater. But, now summer means something different...

In Ohio now summer is not a thing to fear. Yes, there are some hot days, but the end is always in sight and my big front porch offers enough relief. There's just enough heat to make summer worthwhile but not discouraging.

School's out now. I know this not because I have children at home. That circle game of educational calendars ended in 2001. No, the elementary age children next store sit in the backyard and sing group songs, clapping their hands in time. The junior high kids on the opposite side of the street spent a good portion of today imitating squeaking tires to the consternation of folks pulling out of the four-way stop. This continued for quite a while and drove my dog crazy as this human boy-child made the sound of a dog suffering serious injury.

On the third side of my house is the garage band teenagers who played dodgeball at midnight. They don't have jobs for the summer, and while at first I felt badly for them, I've decided they ought to enjoy freetime while they have it, life will change for them soon enough.

Summer's here and I haven't yet learned how to make mint juleps, or even tasted one. But, yesterday we had a whopper of a thunderstorm and it was great fun. I took the little dogs with me onto the wicker chair on the front porch and we watched as rain pelted (yes, that's exactly what it did) the roof, shook up all the trees, put my hanging plants at a 45 degree angle, and caused a young woman to laugh with excitement as she hurried to roll up the window of her rusty car, but not quite all the way -- she didn't have air conditioning.

The thunder was so loud I could feel it through the red planks of the porch floor. I watched the 100-or-so-year-old tree sway 10 feet from me and hoped that it would hold out. It was a great storm!

Summer's here... plants completely forgotten have propelled themselves out of the ground as if to say, "I told you I'd come back!" And, like every year I stare at the new growth trying to remember what is best defined as perennial and what as weed... what I lack in knowledge, I make up for in enthusiasm.

It's summer... green, lush, wet, hot, loud ... like a woman who loves life and loves herself, summer runs laughing to those eager to take off their shoes.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

A Year with Gracie

One year ago, the most marvelous creature flew into my life ... Gracie, beautiful Maximilian's Parrot, a Pionus with an aerodynamically-designed body covered with vibrant green feathers that bring to mind one word -- resplendent! Her small head is decorated with gray feathers, the ends of which are tipped in green. Her breast is a dusty lavendar, but her real glory lies in the vermillion feathers underneath her tail. Few man-made objects look as striking as the red feathers on her bottom against the green feathers of her tail, the green feathers also tinged with the most beautiful royal blue.

As a painter, I am delighted every morning to find this happy-go-lucky sprite sharing her beauty with me so freely. She puts her head down to be petted and my awkward fingers enjoy the softest down as she coos like a tiny winged baby.

At age five, Gracie left a home with many other birds, a mom and dad and two children... the only family she had known since hatching in an incubator ... and traveled hundreds of miles in a shakey old truck to dwell with a single, middle-aged woman with dogs. She left the country to live "in town" and being a quiet parrot, my neighbors still speak to me.

Gracie's most-happy-it-must-be-my-birthday! moment occurs anytime she sits on her PVC-pipe perch in the shower and, bottom up, head down, wings spread, eyes closed she enters her "rain forest" and calls back, somehow, to the bird-parents of inherited memory. Eventually, feathers heavy with droplets, she sits straight up, shakes her head, and allows her favorite transportation system, me, to take her to her "home." There, she perches and preens the hot summer afternoon away, nibbling on vegetables and playing with the newspaper, like a health-conscious female at the local spa. She emerges at suppertime ready to sit at the kitchen window and chirp to the sparrows who congregate at the bird bath and feeder there. When they look up to the window and see this beautiful creature, five times their size, with lavendar-brown-grey eyes surrounded by pure white circles that meet the green feathers of her head ... I wonder if they think she is a goddess. Perhaps they have created birdy-lore about the "mysterious one in the window who joins our song each morning and evening."

An early bird, the sound of Peter Jennings at 6:30 is her signal that bedtime approaches. A little cooing in my ear and sitting with me on the couch, and then it's off to sleep under a brown sheet on a perch that is supposed to feel like a tree branch under her reptilian toes. A four-lb. Chihauhua sleeping closeby, ready to alert at any cat that might dare to step on the far side of our kitchen door ... Gracie sleeps in safety, peace and comfort ... one leg up, one leg down.

She will be 6 on July 4th this year. Happy Birthday, Gracie!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Columbus Arts Festival

Wow! What a great time I had on Saturday at the Columbus (OH) Arts Festival along the beautiful Scioto River. Six hundred thousand people attended (luckily not all on Saturday morning)... the weather was perfect the work on display so inspiring.

Favorites: Karen Eyara Naylor: Glass Sculpture. Also High Fidelity Photo and Belleau Art Glass .

Confession #1

Yes, I'll admit it... I buy Reader's Digest Condensed books (fiction and nonfiction) at secondhand sales and read them in the dark of night... I know, I know... I'm an editor, a publisher... a writer for heaven's sake... how can I stand to have the author's work condensed just so I can find the time to read it?

But, that's the thing... last night the young folks who live next door (well, they don't really live there, they are using the house for their garage band, which is really playing in the basement while someone's father remodels the house), anyway, as they played dodgeball in the street next to my new car at midnight, mohawks waving back and forth like the crest of a purple cockatoo... the chains on their jeans jangling and my Chihauhau--all four pounds of her--barking incessantly... well, it's a summer night like that when it's just the thing to pick up a condensed book. There's even the hope I can finish it in one setting without altering my sleep pattern too significantly.

Last night I read Lesley Stahl's biography. Sorry Lesley, not only do I not remember whether it's "--ley" or "--lie" I don't remember the title. This is what happens when there is no discernible book cover.

More importantly though, it was a "great read" as they say. And, lo and behold, I was reading the chapters on her time as a White House Correspondent for CBS during the Reagan years, just after watching the first of a week of services for Ronald Reagan. I particularly liked Stahl's paragraph about a convention held for mayors. Reagan went up to one gentleman (his housing secretary it turned out) and asked "Mr. Mayor, what city do you represent?" or something similar. Hmmmm....

Stahl shares the story of her covering a political convention in 1974, the first female to do so for the network. She was a bit nervous, and her boss walked her to the place where the chairs for the network's anchors were arranged in a semi-circle... "Cronkite" was written on one chair; "Mudd" on another; "Rather" on another... on Lesley's: "female." Her boss had the good sense to blush...

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Books: The Initial Spark

There is nothing more powerful than the words we use as individuals and as a society . . . words to challenge, inform, motivate, subdue, intimidate, entertain, threaten, instruct, sell, change, or comfort. When our words are put on paper and bound between covers they become a fixed entity that, in a way, takes on a life of its own. Our thoughts become words and our words become books.

Until age thirteen I lived a very physical life: dance lessons, hiking in the woods near our home, and skating on a nearby pond. But I was set back with a prolonged illness at the start of high school, and it was then I began to discover the magic of books. The library in the small Ohio town where I lived with my parents was a pleasant summer’s walk away, holding ideas and stories that took me beyond the limitations of an insecure adolescence. I checked out as many books as I could carry the mile or so back home. I didn’t learn about other ideas, religions, governments, and centuries at my local school. School was the place I had to go to before I could go to the library. When I was able to work in the school library, well, that helped quite a bit.

I remember one afternoon when my father came to pick me up outside a secondhand book sale and was astonished to find me standing on the sidewalk with three large cardboard boxes full of books. My mother kindly made room in the hall closet for the complete set of twenty or so antique, embossed, oversize hardcover books on classical music and voice training. One treasured find was a book that opened to reveal fold-out newspaper articles written as if at the time of the Old Testament: “Moses Parts the Red Sea, Enemy Dies by the 1000s!” “ ‘I Respect My Father’s Judgment,’ Isaac States, as He Returns from Mountain Trip.” “ ‘I Never Looked Back,’ Lot Assured this Reporter.”

One of my clearest memories is the arrival of several boxes to the home of my high school English teacher who lived in the same apartment complex as my family. I don’t remember her name, but I remember her encouragement of my interest in books and art, and it was my good luck that she put me on the team publishing our school’s first literary magazine.

When the boxes of printed and bound magazines arrived, it was quite an occasion. I remember vividly how they smelled of ink and how the paper felt. That sense of delight hasn’t diminished for me: decades and hundreds of books on a wide variety of subjects later, I still feel happy anticipation cutting through the packing tape, and pulling out the first printed copy of a new book.