Saturday, December 10, 2011


The New York Post published an article that began with these words: “Even the Grinch wouldn’t be this mean,” and goes on to call a 2nd grade teacher a “sourpuss” because she “ruined Christmas” for her class by divulging that Santa Claus isn’t real.

It all started when, during a geography lesson on the North Pole, one of the students said, “That’s where Santa Claus lives.” At which point the teacher told the class that parents were the ones who left presents under the tree, not St. Nick.  

But what surprises me as much as the story itself is the journalism. Maybe it’s just me, but I was under the impression that reporting news should be unbiased and objective… However, I must be as naïve as the 2nd grade students.

Is this what they call yellow journalism, or not?  Help me out folks.

“The evil educator even told the youngsters…

“The stunning Scrooge-like behavior has caused a blizzard of outrage in the quiet George W. Miller Elementary School in Nanuet, where angry parents would like to see the teacher roasted like a chestnut over an open fire.”  {Italics mine}

Really?  This is journalism?

Now there’s a national poll asking, “Should the teacher who told her 2nd grade students there is no Santa be fired?” 

What do you think?  Should this teacher be fired?  Why or why not? 

Monday, November 28, 2011


I recently read an interesting article on how creating an imaginary friend can make you a better writer.  Kelly Kautz claims that one top advertising agency even gave its imaginary friends their own office space.  For real! 

Without peeking at the answer, how do you suppose imaginary friends
can help us to become better writers and artists? 

Their presence can either make or break us, depending on how far we’re willing to go to hang out with them. It may be wise to spend quality time together, but I wouldn’t recommend paying a visit to their homes… 

My old imaginary friend, Monique, was much more exciting than my ordinary, colorless classmates. She’d moved to the U.S. from Paris, France.   

I spoke often of her to my parents and even picked out a house in which I thought she might live. It was a fuchsia, shingled house on the edge of town with haystacks in the front yard. Quite picturesque to a child’s eyes, and most unique.

As my family was riding down that stretch of road one day I pointed out the place and said, “That’s where Monique lives.” My dad corrected me. “Can’t be. That’s Sam Hinnant’s house.”

Sam was an old man who helped my daddy on the farm, and who spent a chunk of his pay on booze. “Oh, well then maybe they moved,” I said.

While my creative energies were at their peak, I decided I might as well go all out and paint as farfetched a scene as possible, so I chose the career of an astronaut for Monique’s father. 

They moved from the fuchsia, shingled house bordering the city limits into the heart of town. Her family had now taken up residence in an old, two-story bungalow complete with a forever-bright green lawn. 

One Saturday I announced that Monique had invited me over to play that afternoon. And so my dad dropped me off at the house I’d chosen for my imaginary friend.

I walked up to the porch, then turned and waved him off, and pretended to go inside. As soon as the sky-blue Ford turned the corner and was out of sight I headed aimlessly down the street.

That afternoon I walked all over town, hoping to see someone I knew. Someone real.  I ventured into Mr. Elijah’s TV store and noticed that several stations were on simultaneously, but not one show was interesting enough to capture my attention.

It was, after all, Saturday afternoon and no programming was geared toward kids that time of day – it was all about the adults. Sports programming, fishing, cooking, and wildlife shows... nothing worth anyone’s time of day as far as I was concerned.

 I meandered out of the shop and down the street again, then headed back to the stranger’s house that supposedly belonged to Monique and waited for my daddy to come and pick me up.

It was almost dark when he arrived, that gloaming time of day when streetlights magically appear out of nowhere to illuminate sidewalks and cast long shadows. My mother was sitting in the passenger seat, apparently on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

As soon as I climbed into the back seat I knew I was in the deepest water ever. Mary Lou Cuddington from church had called my mother earlier and reported that she had seen me from out of the picture window in her living room, wandering around their neighborhood like some vagrant.

How could I have possibly known that Mary Lou Cuddington lived right across the street from Monique?

So, who was your imaginary friend?    

How can imaginary friends can help us creatively?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Driving down Old Black Creek Road under a cold gray sky mottled with rain clouds, I pass a defunct warehouse, then the infamous Midtown Lounge by the railroad tracks… Grateful there’s no endless passing train in this neighborhood on this shady edge of town.
I pass these unsightly scenes en route to my mother’s country home (roughly fifteen miles down the road) for the noonday Thanksgiving meal.  My plan is to get there early enough to help her out in the kitchen, and so I take the shortcut through the wrong side of the tracks…only to learn that haste does indeed make waste. 

The ominous sky and bleak landscape are portents of a darker sight to come.  As I now drive along the deserted stretch of road bordered by deep woods, a specter jumps out of nowhere… a white shirt flapping in the bitter wind, flung over a girl standing by the roadside, frantic arms waving in effort to flag me down. 

Did I just see what I thought I saw, or is the Twilight Zone?

Alarmed by the sudden spectacle, I keep driving. Surely this scene is my imagination working overtime. But when I glance in the rearview mirror, the girl in white is chasing my car in a frenzied state, screaming like a banshee.  My gut tells me to step on it and flee that neck of the woods ASAP.  Then conscience kicks in and I’m reminded of The Good Samaritan.   

That’s when I throw my station wagon in reverse and back up toward the apparition that is starting to seem more real by the minute.  Before I can even come to a complete stop she jumps into the passenger side and yells, “Quick, get me out of here, he tried to rape me!  Hurry before he sees me in your car, hurry!”

The total stranger sits beside me, panic-stricken, shaking like a squirrel, gasping for breath…  stark naked except for a man’s white shirt she’s managed to slip into before escaping. The story she tells is that she was cleaning his house when he assaulted her.  I’m thinking, yeah right.  She’s probably more like a hooker.   

I don’t dare speak, but reach over and touch her shoulder, a mild consoling gesture.  When she catches her breath she begs me to speed up, get her out of these woods before he sees her. “Just take me home please,” she begs.  Then she directs me toward the absolute worst part of town, and in my state of shock, I acquiesce.  

We end up on a Godforsaken street in the heart of the slums.  No sooner have I pulled up in front of the shanty she calls “home” than a gang of hoodlums surrounds my car, all giving me the evil eye.  What would Madea do?
Then an inexplicable courage rises within me, and I hear myself speaking with authority to the unsavory characters staring me down.  I crack the window just enough to shout this command, “Go in the house right now and get her a coat!” 

As soon as one of them returns with a jacket, the girl puts it on and gets out of my car.  That’s when I step on the gas and flee like a bandit to the end of that street…only to find myself at a dead end.  I reverse the car, spin around, and pass them all yet again.  And when at last I reach the highway, I floor it!     

When have you put yourself at risk to rescue someone else?

Would you ever place yourself in jeopardy
for the sake of another in danger?

Monday, November 7, 2011


We sit in Monticello café, a quiet, quaint place where diners need not yell over loud music to be heard, and wait for Kyle, the waiter, to deliver our grilled chicken subs.    

Girls’ night out for dinner with my friend Sharon, who is as far from the chit-chat variety as you can get.  She is one who guards her words as a dog his bone, and speaks sparingly.  But when she does talk, she inspires.

Tonight, the conversation centers on self-control.  Sharon says that the word “moderation” eludes her.  Like in that old Lays Potato Chip commercial, “Bet you can’t eat just one,”   it’s the whole bag or nothing.

She has always been a faster.  For her, cold turkey is the only way.  Sometimes it’s food she forfeits.  And now it’s the news.

Everyone who knows her is aware that she totally immerses herself in politics and current events.  Like Chicken Little, she will be the first to let you know when the sky is falling.

What a difference a single decision can make in our lives!  Her choice to fast all the bad news makes me think…

Maybe I should adopt better habits myself.  Something has to give, I know that much.  How good for me is one episode after another of Criminal Minds

But I love that show, and rationalize that it’s “educational” because you learn how to profile psychopathic minds… not to mention outsmarting the bad guys! 

Being engrossed in TV tends to induce the munchies.  I don’t know why it works that way, but it does.  Commercials flash all-you-can-eat shrimp ads in your face and before you know it, the brain is telling the stomach that it needs a snack.  So will I have to go cold turkey too?

After dinner, Sharon and I go to our separate cars and leave.  I head straight over to Food Lion and make a bee-line for the frozen foods.  Dessert is on my mind.  I can almost taste those Nutty Buddies on sale.  Two boxes for five bucks…

Those sundaes with chocolate/nut coating over vanilla ice cream, packed in a crunchy waffle cone.  My cart turns to go there by itself on automatic, straight to the frozen section, when I suddenly spin it around and head in the opposite direction: the produce aisle…

You know, with all the delicious nectarines, grapes, oranges, apples… I grab a variety of fruits and leave the store, pleased with myself for having made a wise decision for a change.  And I could have sworn I heard God say, “You can’t go wrong with these; I made ‘em myself.”

‎"Success is making one right decision after another.”   ~ Don Nori

When did you feel proud of yourself after having made a wise decision?
Go ahead, you can brag here! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Take Your Pick

We’ve never had a shortage of cats.  Our place isn’t quite the Caboodle Ranch, but we’ve fed our share of felines through the years…

Thanks to Emmy, who shows up on our steps one fine day.  Tell me this:  who can resist such a darling wee one, fuzzy and gray with green eyes wide as saucers staring back at you? 

Her first litter of kittens is born in my daughter Abi’s lap while she’s watching cartoons on a Saturday morning.  Others make their debut in the upstairs bathtub in the dead of winter. 

When people ask why we don’t get her “fixed,” I tell them Emmy is Catholic – as are all our cats.  And they don’t say another word.   She was born to be fruitful and multiply.         

We’ve always been lucky enough to find good homes for each and every litter (except for the ones we’ve kept).   Don’t ask how many we’ve kept.  I’ve lost count. 

Trick or Treat!

On a Halloween night my daughter and I go out to a carnival.  We dress up as dancers; Hannah is a princess ballerina and I’m a sassy flapper. 

Dad stays home to mind the treat-or-treaters and hand out candy.  He sits on the dark front porch by the glowing jack-o-lantern, kittens purring at his feet.  Then a bright idea strikes him. 

He remembers a birthday party from whence his daughter came home, bearing a strange kitten.  Her friend Erin had distributed these little critters for party favors.   Hey, not a bad idea after all…

Tonight he will delight a few trick-or-treaters with a prize kitten and a bag of Tender Vittles dropped in their pumpkin totes: a little something to get them started. 

When we come home from the carnival and ask where the kittens might be, he looks just like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary. 

Now it’s your turn to share a Halloween memory of your own.   What did you wear?   Who were you with?   Where did you go?   I look forward to seeing you in costume.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011


They’ve always known they were different.  Rare birds.

They want to make the world a better place and the people in it happier.

Polite folks just say they “march to the beat of a different drummer.”  Others call them “peculiar” because, for whatever reason, they aren’t apt to play the reindeer games. 

What do they have in common?  They are all creative and love, most of all, coloring outside the lines.  And while everyone else’s reindeer looks “normal,” theirs has to have a glowing red nose. 

Do you know about this famous doctor named Patch Adams from West Virginia?  

He wears a shiny red nose to make sick children snicker.  Because laughter is sometimes the best medicine of all.  Patch doesn’t just treat disease like most doctors.  He treats people.  

What else do these rare birds have in common besides coloring outside the lines?  They twirl with abandon and jump in puddles just for fun.  And sing high-pitched songs to backyard cats regardless of what the neighbors think. 

Sometimes they create things that make the world say, “You’re just weird.”  But Picasso and Stravinsky didn’t care; they liked their art, regardless. 

Emily Dickinson secreted over 1700 poems in trunks and pouches, and wore only white dresses after her father died.  The “Belle of Amherst” was one of a kind.  No carbon copies to be found.    

Besides creativity, another common trait in eccentrics is collecting (and sometimes hoarding). The strangest case I know is the man who was evicted from his house for adopting too many strays.  And so he bought land and built a village for his homeless cats, Caboodle Ranch

Then there are those who wear whatever strikes their fancy.  They’ve invented a style of their own, and have no desire to “fit in” fashion wise.   

You might be an eccentric if you have any of these traits:

A creative nature…

Childlike spontaneity…

A spiritual penchant…

Idealism (a desire to make the world a better place and the people in it happier)…

An obsession with one or more hobbies…

A propensity to think outside the box…

If you are “one of them,” please elaborate in the comments.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Season of Reflection

“Listen” said the White Spirit.  “Once you were a child.  Once you knew what inquiry was for.  There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you found them.  Become that child again; even now.”

~ C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce)

 “No one has ever, or will ever, come into this world with the exact same mission as yours.   The light you are meant to shine into the world is yours alone, as individual as your fingerprint, as personal as your voiceprint.” 

~ Sara Yoheved Rigler

We don't ask "What is the meaning of life?" but "What is the meaning of my life?"

 ~   Gregg Levoy (Callings)

Last week, in contemplating the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, I made a few discoveries.  Far more than just a New Year - with resolutions (not often kept) - it’s a time of deeper reflection and evaluation…and a time to identify our life’s mission. 

Rabbi Nivin suggests that we ask ourselves (and write down): What were the five or ten most pleasurable moments of my life?   Be more specific than “Seeing Niagara Falls.”  No universal, transcendent moments such as enjoying nature or music.  Think callings.    

Some time ago at a spiritual retreat, speaker Keith Miller asked us the question, “What do you want to do for the rest of your life?”   We were then told to spend the afternoon writing down all the things we loved doing enough to make them our life’s purpose. 

Of course I naturally named “writing” - among other things.  But it’s amazing how all of my dreams – unspoken until that retreat – have been achieved.  From that pivotal moment, I can vouch for the need to list our desires of the heart, to name them one by one…  

Because, most likely, they were God-given from the get-go.  
They just need to be awakened in order to bear fruit. 

Alexander Seinfeld asks 20 questions designed to move us forward toward our life’s purpose.   He suggests that we spend 5 meditative minutes on each question.    

Meanwhile… I’ll ask you that seemingly simple question that Keith Miller asked at the retreat:

“What do you want to do for the rest of your life?”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First the Forest Then the Trees

The Girl Who loved Tom Gordon, a modern fairy tale by Stephen King, is also a good parable for writers.  It tells the story of nine-year-old Trisha McFarland straying from a hiking path and getting lost in the woods. 

She is tormented by insects, tested by the elements, trailed by a mysterious beast, and learns that “the world has teeth.”   An archetypal survival tale if ever there was one.          

So what does being lost in the woods have to do with writing?  Everything.  The protagonist finds herself in the vast unknown, “a place where the rules she was used to no longer applied.”    There was no outline for plotting a course out of the woods.  No instruction manual on survival.

In writing, do you always come full circle and end up where you started?   Or do you get lost among the trees in the forest, chasing one rabbit trail after another…

Until you lose sight of where you are, as I did when writing a novel once – which I finally managed to finish after five years of hunting jackrabbits.       
Of course writing the novel was never about fame or fortune – thank God - but about proving to myself that it could be done – and done well.  It was about surviving the wilderness without a compass.  About finding my way through the woods and coming out on the other side alive.   
Then comes the time for pitching to an agent and/or publisher.  I sent the first fifty pages to the former, the entire 350 page manuscript to the latter.  Long story short: rejection from both.  But it never deterred me from continuing to navigate my way through forests dark and deep.              

The Right/Left Brain Fusion

I’ve recently been studying right/left brain characteristics.  Right brainers see the forest first, then the trees.  The big picture, then the details.  They are masters at creating, but losers at innovation.

They finish books, then hide them in manuscript boxes in closets and move on to the next artistic project without having sold their finished products…   

Because when it comes to taking care of business and coming up with a selling strategy, their left brain seems to be in a coma.   What to do, what to do?   Remain a starving artist forever?    

Some folks are apparently adept at exiting the forest alive and getting their survival story out there.   Those most likely to find success with their creative ventures are switch hitters… 

You might be a switch hitter if you know how to shift gears from the right-brain creation mode to a left-brain innovation focus when you reach that juncture… Like a gifted baseball player who can hit the ball with his right or left hand, depending on the pitcher’s angle.             

Are you left brain dominant or right brain dominant?
Or have you succeeded in becoming a switch hitter?

If you aren’t sure, and would like to take the quiz before answering, go ahead, I’ll wait.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Train Ride

The things which the child loves remain
In the domain of the heart until old age.

The most beautiful thing in life is that our souls linger
Over the places where we once enjoyed ourselves.

~ Kahlil Gibran

What childhood place of joy still remains in the domain of your heart?

I will never outgrow the miniature train at the park, and I still enjoy my choo-choo rides as much today as I did way back when.  Come travel with me around the track.            


Train Ride

Weekends, the conductor stands at the gate
in his striped cap, cigarette perched between
his lips, collecting fare from kids and a few
adults along for the ride.  When I hand him
my buck fifty, he knows I’m in for the long haul.
Ten rounds of breeze in my face, the same
gray canal reflecting trees and sky,
and in the midst of all this,
pasture-green grass.

A momentary tunnel we pass before

seeing the light, the dark so fleeting we
hardly notice it’s there except for the screams,
fierce but brief.  The whistle blows as
we pass the gate yet again
where parents wait, smiling
and waving back at their children.
Forgetting to be an adult, I wave
as well, relish the thrill of being in motion
while they stand still.

Like a homecoming queen, I wave with my
elbow to passing cars on Raleigh Road.
Who knows where the conductor will be
tomorrow when the train is closed.  If he’s
like me he’ll go back to his Monday routine,
traveling in circles with the globe.

What youthful fun do you still enjoy with playful abandon?

“Train Ride” was first published in the literary anthology, Traveling Time.
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