White Hot and Passionate

WhiteHot&PassionateI’m one of the lucky ones.

Today, as it often happens when the semester begins, and as I was lecturing about feature writing and discussing the introductory chapter of our textbook, the reality of what I do for a living hit me. It often hits me over the head as a big, huge reminder of how lucky I am to have found my niche, my passion, and a sense of happiness that one doesn’t always feel from a job:

I have a career I love.

Helping students become better writers, more appreciative readers, and better analyzers of the written word makes me happy. As I presented the list of award-winning feature articles we will read this semester, admittedly, I got a little giddy. They don’t know it yet, but some of these articles are going to stay with them for a very long time, maybe even for the rest of their lives.

The fact that I get to share this experience with them, and watch them grow as writers and help them further develop their craft, is worthwhile to me. For years I wondered what my “end career” would be when my children were in school all day. What would I do with myself? How would I spend my time?

What was I passionate about?

Over and over again, it was teaching. In terms of career, and besides writing, it made me tick.

As Roald Dahl says, white hot and passionate is the only thing to be.

Someone get a fire extinguisher.

It’s Your Birthday. You’re only mildly old. Can you read the bottom line?

MeThe morning went something like this.

You got up early to be at the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA)  by 8:30 a.m. to have your license, which expires tomorrow (on your birthday) renewed. You waited until the last minute to get it done. There were too many other things to do this week, like drive your kid to golf many times and take your daughter to the movies. You’ve been writing all week–not Baseball Girl–but the textbook you’re working on with your brilliant colleagues. Nevertheless, you left it to the last minute, as you usually do, and thus suffered the consequences of waiting for almost an hour and a half until your number, B29, was called.

After filling out the necessary paperwork and having your photograph snapped for your new license (which, by the way, is not as flattering a photo as you had taken six years ago, but oh well, you’re never carded and the cops haven’t exactly needed to see it for any reason), the processor begins the line of questioning.

“Ok, Stephanie, now if you could press your forehead to the paper and tell me lines you can read.”

Of course, you could see the top line, the second line, the third line, but the fourth line, well, let’s just say you may have needed a magnifying glass. The one Barney would use.

“You want me to read the fourth line?” you said.

“Yes, if you can,” he said.

“Wow. A real challenge at this hour and it has nothing to do with kick-boxing or running.”

“Can you read the line?”

“Um…”

“Just give it a try.”

You must have done okay, because after you attempted to read it, he said, “Not too bad.”

But then, the worst scenario presented itself. He changed the slide, and now there were three columns in front of you. You could clearly read the first column, you could clearly read the second column, but…

“Can you please read what’s in the third column?” he asked.

“Are you telling me there are letters in the third column?”

“Yes,” he said. “All the way down.”

Your eyes couldn’t see it. There was nothing in the third column. It just looked blank. It was clearly a moment to think, but not say out loud, WTF? Seriously?

“Come on,” he said, trying not to run out of patience. “Give it your best shot.”

You squinted one eye to see if you could see any text at all in the third column. Faintly, something appeared. You gave it your best shot.

He waited.

“Okay, well,” he began. “You wear bifocals, right? And you always wear your contacts when you’re driving right?”

“Of course!” you said. It was the truth. You would never drive a vehicle without your contacts or your glasses. Which now, unfortunately, are bi-focal progressive lenses. Raise your eyes up when wearing the glasses for distance; lower your eyes for reading.

For a moment, you feared he wouldn’t grant you a new license on account of the vacant third column.

But he smiled.

“I put a restriction on there, but you’re good to go. Have a nice day,” he said smiling.

As if that weren’t enough…to be concerned that you couldn’t see…your son had to make two memorable comments.

“So, are you looking forward to your birthday tomorrow?” he asked.

“No. Not at all,” you said. “I’m old.”

“Aw, Mom, you’re not old. You’re only mildly old.”

Ouch. Mildly old. Good Lord. Has it come to that already? But I’m still young!!!!

Not really. You can feel young, but numbers don’t lie.

Then, as he kissed you goodnight, he blessed you with another zinger.

“Goodnight, Mom. Do you realize in six years you can live in GG & Pop-Pop’s community?”

Your mouth went agape. It’s an over-55 community, and the realization hit.

It’s your last year in your forties. Better make it a good one. Better be wild and forty-something-fantastic and do things before you turn 50 and people say you’ve lost your marbles.

Or maybe you’ll slip on the marbles because you simply can’t see them.

In Summer, The Song Sings Itself

SummerIn a little over a week, I’ll be back on campus teaching my fall college courses. Some people may dread the thought of work, but not me. I always look forward to the fall and going back to school, to using my brain, to being in the classroom, and to seeing young, eager minds ready to work.

BUT I’VE HAD A WONDERFUL SUMMER.

Yes. I have had one of the best summers of my life. I have enjoyed every tick-toc moment of it. Even as I’m writing this, I am sitting on my new back porch working from home, and taking a quick break from researching and writing a textbook to write this post. My kids are happy and we are all about to head to the pool for movie night. We have great friends and neighbors, live in an active neighborhood, my parents are a short trip down the road, and we are closer to my in-laws. We’ve had two great vacations, and we really have no complaints at all.

Summer, you have been good to us. We are thankful.

One of the most wonderful perks of being a professor is the time it allows me to be home in the summers with my children. I love spending time with them and watching them grow; I enjoy spending time with them and their friends as we will do shortly at the pool; and I love having those “nothing” days as we had on Tuesday when it rained and flooded our neighborhood.

Captured this moment at Fenway Park...my son with his arm around his sister during batting practice.
Captured this moment at Fenway Park…my son with his arm around his sister during batting practice.

And although I do work a lot from home and spend a great deal of time writing, I make the time for them—always.

Fall is about to move in, life is going to go back to being more hectic, and school is about to start. But, we’ve got a few days until then, and I’m going to enjoy every last minute of this beautiful summer.

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Atop of the Highland Lighthouse in Cape Cod.

I Wonder How A Man Would Feel, A Poem

This poem, written by YOURS TRULY (me), is for all the women out there who hate to cook every night…who hate to figure out “what’s for dinner”…who didn’t expect this to be such a large part of their life with their family. If I ever calculated how much time I spend thinking about dinner, planning dinner, shopping for dinner, and making dinner, I’m sure I would be appalled. It takes an inordinate amount of our time, and I can get quite angry about it. I work for a living. I pick up kids. I attend my kids’ events. I bring work home with me. The last thing I want to do is make dinner. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Therefore, this poem is dedicated to all moms out there whose (other) job it is to make dinner. If you despise it like I do, I have two words for you: I’m sorry.

Men, please don’t take offense to this poem. I know there are some incredible men out there who cook, organize, and prepare meals. To those of you who actually do spend time creating menus and making meals, please forgive this poem.

Also, please enjoy. It’s meant to poke a little fun.

 

I Wonder How A Man Would Feel, A Poem

I wonder how a man would feel

If he had to make us every meal

If he had known without a doubt

That we wanted a salad topped with sprouts

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If he had to cut and chop and peel

Onions, celery, chicken and pork

And then serve it to us with knife and fork

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If he baked us corn bread with cornmeal

And served us chili on a plate

Only to learn it’s something we hate

 

I further wonder if a man would care

To plan a week’s meals without fail

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you see

Must make it all from a full pantry

 

Stock up on items he would need

Enough for many mouths to feed

Make the dinner, good and healthy

Elaborate meals aren’t just for the wealthy

 

A vegetable, a starch, some vitamins too

It’s important we get enough to renew

Make sure he gets the recipe right

He shouldn’t disappoint, just delight

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If he had to touch a banana peel

That was aged and spotted and kind of oozy—

The only one left to go into the smoothie

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If the menu choice was just plain eel

Because that’s what’s prepared—he’s stuck with it

I’m pretty sure he’d have a fit

 

I wonder how a man would feel

If his chicken soup began to congeal

And became a leftover for far too long

The hours spent making it now long gone

 

I further wonder if a man would change

Night after night making food on the range

Would it make him appreciate the hours it took?

Apparently not, and I hate to cook.

Scenes from Boston & The Freedom Trail

DSC_0095It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, people. I’m sorry about that. I’ve been spending a little bit of time…living. That’s right. I’ve powered down here and there, spent time with family and friends, attended my kids’ sports events, edited my novel, and have enjoyed every single day of my summer break.

Last week, after suffering the effects of Hurricane Arthur in early July and having to leave our vacation early, we took a second vacation to Cape Cod and Boston. It was absolutely delightful. We took the kids to Williamsburg in the spring which they loved, and so we decided to incorporate some time “learning” into this trip as we hiked the Freedom Trail. (Don’t worry…it wasn’t too much learning in the summer…just enough. We spent time on the beach on the Cape, ate like kings, and enjoyed some time at Fenway Park as the Red Sox took on the Yankees and we got to see Derek Jeter on his farewell tour in person).

But the Freedom Trail is worth doing. We started our trek at 11 a.m. and hit EVERY stop; we finished at 6 p.m. on the USS Constitution. It’s truly a walk through history, and as someone who has grown to love history (yes, I was one of those kids who didn’t love it when I was younger, but now, it’s a totally different story), it gave me chills to think back on how we gained our independence and how brilliant our Founding Fathers really were. They were forward thinking innovators, and their forethought is overwhelming at times.

I won’t dwell too much on the history or words in this post. I will (hopefully) let my scenic photographs speak for themselves. And for those of you who recommended the Nikon to me a couple of years ago, I absolutely LOVE this camera and am enjoying photography as a hobby.

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And time for just a little bit of baseball for this Baseball Girl…

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The Right Perspective

“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.” ~ Truman Capote

* * *

I think I’ve been heeding this advice subconsciously for years. When a reviewer tells me, as an independent writer, to “take something out,” I always consider it. I’m actually pretty open to suggestions where my writing is concerned.

However, when one thinks of creative writing as an “art,” which it falls under when considering academic Masters of Fine Arts programs, it makes me wonder about artists like painters and sculptors and graphic artists. Do they take a line out, re-sculpt an object, or alter their craft because someone tells them it’s not working for him?

The thing about perspective is simple: everyone’s perspective is different. We come at words and art from different backgrounds and experiences. What is wonderful and fabulous to one person may not resonate the same way for another. This is true whether it’s a book, a film, art on a canvas, or other types of artistic work.

Being able to dissect these perspectives requires a serious backbone. You can’t get rattled as a writer if someone doesn’t like your work or deems it “unpublishable.” Ultimately, the work is yours, and you have to feel good about it. If you do, then you’ve achieved the right (write) perspective.

On Creative Leadership, Creativity, and Nonsense

I like Nonsense

* * *

For the last couple of years, I’ve become very interested in researching what it takes to be a creative leader. Malcolm Knowles wrote a book entitled, “The Adult Learner, A Neglected Species.” From that book I’ve conducted research on creative leadership and what it takes to be a creative leader, both in business and in our own creative lives. I’ve presented this research at a couple of conferences, and I look forward to further pursing the ideals of creative leaders. Folks such as Steve Jobs, Sandy Lerner, Richard Branson, and JK Rowling have all served as inspiration for these presentations I make.

When looking at the commonalities among creative leaders, there is one thing that they all have in common: they all do not fear failure. They understand the need to be innovative, and why one cannot be afraid to be innovative.

Writers are creative by our own right. We create settings, worlds, characters, and stories for readers to become lost in and swept away in between the pages of what we write. We rely on our creativity, and when we have written our stories, we must not be afraid to say the following:  “It is what it is–it is my work, my creativity at hand, and I stand by it,” and then let it go and do its thing.

That's me...editing some nonsense. :-)
That’s me…editing some nonsense. :-)

As I approach the final stages of editing “Baseball Girl,” and begin to prep it for Amazon, I can only echo the words of Dr. Seuss. I like creating nonsense. It’s my nonsense, and there’s really only one person I have to please in the end, and that’s myself. Making it the best piece of creative work I can, and not being afraid to fail is all the nonsense I am responsible for. What happens after that, we shall see.

When JK Rowling first wrote “Harry Potter,” she said this:

“I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It’s totally for myself. I never in my wildest dreams expected this popularity.”

That is how I feel as well. If we try to write for other people and what they want, we will end up with a messy-mess of writing. Write what pleases you. Write the book you want to read.

That is the creative responsibility we are accountable for, and the only nonsense that makes sense.

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When Jenny was trying to take my photo for “Beneath the Mimosa Tree,” I gave her some nonsense.