Every day, I encounter a new challenge to the idea that things can and should be open and real.

Be it social, political, or personal, serious or trivial -- every time, I ponder the implications.

I hope you'll join me in the conversation!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Meeting Needs, Sustaining Shadows

Last week there was a bit of drama in the blogosphere about some ugly stereotyping of West Virginia. You can find all the details on one of my favorite blogs, A Better West Virginia:

(Though it was a negative event, it also led me to this blog, which is also becoming a favorite: Girl of Words, http://www.girlofwords.com/?p=3001.)

It all got me thinking about the phenomenon of people needing something badly enough to invent it, or at the very least to sustain it long past the point of its hey day. Why exactly does the general public need West Virginia to be a wasteland of ignorant hillbillies?

Who knows? My guess is it's just the same dynamic that drives this kind of thing for all stereotypes -- it creates the illusion of simplicity in a complex world, and makes it "easier" to navigate relationships and situations by discounting the uniqueness of every person and every place. It also feeds a desire to reinforce the idea that "the other" is inferior, and "we" are superior.

Frankly, this illusion means we don't have to work as hard at anything as we would if we were negotiating unique realities on a regular basis. Most of the time, I think we let this stuff go. No one has the energy to fight stereotypes all the time, it's just too exhausting. We roll our eyes, or actually laugh in the recognition of some truth at the foundation of each type, or we get angry but usually we just move on. Not so this time. There is such a thing as going too far, and Christopher Needham went too far.

I'm proud of the bloggers and others who took him to task for his hateful and untrue rant. I'm also interested in watching how we West Virginians who are focused on the future here will learn to balance keeping our nose to the grindstone with being distracted by ignorant morons who want to nail us to the past.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Best Blogs You're Not Reading Yet

A few weeks ago I received the honor of the "You're Blog is Over the Top" award from TRConnie over at http://wvfurandroot.wordpress.com/ and I've been remiss in my duty to pay it forward.

I'll start by giving it back to TRConnie, because her blog WV Fur and Root is a real treat. I've come to believe her personal hideway is a corner of my own mind, a room where I can really go from time to time to both escape my own realities as well as find comfort in our shared human experiences.

Here are a few more of my faves. Never enough time to read them all as often as I would like, but all have tremendous value in their own unique ways. Check them out:

Health Care Law Blog: http://healthcarebloglaw.blogspot.com/ Bob Coffield is a dynamo at bringing social media, health care policy, and the law together in interesting and relevant ways for even a lay person. You may be surprised to realize how much you want and need to know about this intersection.

The Rainmaking Blog: http://rainmakingblog.blogspot.com/ Pat Kelly, dynamo deux, has a credential-encrusted resume a mile long, and yet hits the sweet spot with practical advice on business success for a range of professionals; from name tag placement to social media to who's looking at your shoes and why, he brings a wealth of value to all of us, regardless of your field or level in it.

Learning and Technology - A Blog for Reflection: http://leekraus.blogspot.com/ You know all those cool new things about applying technology to the learning process that you wish you were wonky enough to keep up with? Lee Kraus will do it for you! I love his "about me" -- "I'm interested in technology, education, and family." That's Dr. Kraus. Also a helluva great guy.

Bad Leader: http://www.badleader.net/ This is my latest obsession. I've been waiting for something like this for awhile without realizing exactly what was missing out there......what to do is all well and good, but sometimes we can learn as much or more from what NOT to do and why. Tight, to-the-point posts on missteps and wrong turns at the top that exemplify the old addage, "If you can't be a good example, you can at least be a horrible warning."

Professional Studio 365: http://professionalstudio365.com/ Emily Bennington is that person you want to be, even if just for a day to see what it's like to always be smart, coiffed, and funny! No pressure, right Em? I love her committed focus to young professionals and she's just at the perfect stage of her life to inspire the very young who want to evolve, as well as the not-really-so-young who want to resurrect their ideals.

In closing, I'm becoming more fond of those blogs that don't try to gross me out or shock me, but that seem genuinely interested in making the world a better place.

These bloggers do that, and for that I say Thank You.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Skinny Branch

So this is, as they say, me "going out on the skinny branch."

I want to write just a little bit about the whole social response to Tiger Woods and his admission of infidelity to his wife, Elin. And since he and Elin are the parents of two very young children, I think it may not be over the line to say that he has strayed from something much bigger and more significant than just his relationship with one woman.

It's always a shock to realize how imperfect you are, and I mean that sincerely.

Item One that Troubles Me: I know. We all know. Any grown-up aware of your situation knows. You are the last to know.

I don't believe that I am any better than this man, or better than any other person. I was raised in a faith tradition that says all are flawed, and to tell yourself otherwise is to head down a dangerous and arrogant path. So please, stop educating me, and stop acting like admitting you are human is some Big Revelation to anyone but you. It's insulting. I encourage this conversation with yourself, but truly you are the last to know. We know.

Item Two that Troubles Me: As a society, we are more and more likely to say that this failure is not relevant.

I believe that the only the two people in a marriage who know what it is and what is going on (and sometimes not even then) is, well, those two people. I myself have been divorced. I am not interested in encouraging judgement on the highs and lows of other people's relationships. But I'm also a little freaked-out that we seem to have swung from making adulterly an offense punishable by death, to shrugging it off and saying it doesn't have anything to do with "us."

When we say as a society that it is irrelevant, and everyone votes in their online polls about how they don't care about his personal life, it feels to me like we are turning our backs on a very sad and vulnerable situation. We are saying, look, just play golf, and you -- the Mrs. -- quit complaining, there is plenty of money in this for you, the kids will eat, and it will all be fine.

I'm pretty sure no on in the Woods' house is fine. And it's painful to me that the public choice seems to be to say it's none of our business and who cares, or to make jokes or attack the participants in some way.

On Father's Day, the NY Times ran a beautiful feature on this family: how they loved each other, how it was a dream come true, how they inspired other people in so many ways. That was about 6 months ago. I don't think I'll ever forget that picture.

Please don't think I'm saying I have the answers. I'm not saying that.

But I am saying that if we can't stand up for the fact that it is a big deal when a family is permanently scarred by these kinds of choices and events, we are in worse trouble than I already thought.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Engage with Grace

Thanks to my friend Bob Coffield at The Health Care Blog who is encouraging this important coversation in families. Asking you to take a moment this weekend to discuss your desires for how to live the end of your life as meaningfully as possible--If you want to reproduce this post on your blog (or anywhere) you can download a ready-made html version hereMatthew Holt

Last Thanksgiving weekend, many of us bloggers participated in the first documented �blog rally� to promote Engage With Grace � a movement aimed at having all of us understand and communicate our end-of-life wishes.
It was a great success, with over 100 bloggers in the healthcare space and beyond participating and spreading the word. Plus, it was timed to coincide with a weekend when most of us are with the very people with whom we should be having these tough conversations � our closest friends and family.
Our original mission � to get more and more people talking about their end of life wishes � hasn�t changed. But it�s been quite a year � so we thought this holiday, we�d try something different.

A bit of levity.

At the heart of Engage With Grace are five questions designed to get the conversation started. We�ve included them at the end of this post. They�re not easy questions, but they are important.
To help ease us into these tough questions, and in the spirit of the season, we thought we�d start with five parallel questions that ARE pretty easy to answer:

Silly? Maybe. But it underscores how having a template like this � just five questions in plain, simple language � can deflate some of the complexity, formality and even misnomers that have sometimes surrounded the end-of-life discussion.
So with that, we�ve included the five questions from Engage With Grace below. Think about them, document them, share them.

Over the past year there�s been a lot of discussion around end of life. And we�ve been fortunate to hear a lot of the more uplifting stories, as folks have used these five questions to initiate the conversation.

One man shared how surprised he was to learn that his wife�s preferences were not what he expected. Befitting this holiday, The One Slide now stands sentry on their fridge.

Wishing you and yours a holiday that�s fulfilling in all the right ways.

(To learn more please go to www.engagewithgrace.org. This post was written by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team. )

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why He's Leaving West Virginia....and Why You Should Care

Sometimes the most helpful thing I feel like I can do with this blog is to use it to highlight the words of others.

Scott Finn, award-winning investigative reporter, is moving his family to Florida. This loss for our state resonates in many places for me. The most painful part is that it removes all plausible deniability that our state legislature "gets it" at all. Things connect, they are not isolated issues. What is in the best long-term interest of the state of West Virginia is what is in the best interest of children and families.

"......the purpose of this essay is to get you to realize what a serious problem autism is for thousands of families in West Virginia - and to get you to do something about it."

I hope you'll give five minutes to this well-written op-ed on a subject that, if it has not touched you yet, will:


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Storm Brewing

Sometimes in the middle of a beautiful sunny day, there is a terrible secret.

Sometimes when our eyes are full of delight and our hearts are full of love, we can be blind to the actual climate of a situation, and those clouds can come roiling up out of nowhere and, well.....you just wished you'd checked The Weather Channel.

I had a tough experience this weekend watching a dear friend verbally attack someone else that I love, and it all happened at what was supposed to be a nice event. After a little reconnaissance I figured out what happened, but that didn't really make it any better. It got me thinking about the difference between how a person feels and how they act.

I don't really want to argue about the feelings. You can't tell people their feelings are wrong. (You can, but it makes things worse.) But I might want to have a conversation about the actions. I'm debating this because I was not directly involved and it may alienate me from the person who said some inappropriate things. He's in a very stressful emotional state to begin with, and I don't want to upset him more. But I have not been able to stop thinking about how unkind the words were and how far out of kilter they were with the actual situation.

I did call the person who received the aggression, and extended my regrets that it happened. That might be enough.

It might not.

Photo credit Zevotron, http://www.flickr.com/photos/randomurl/842016056/

Friday, October 30, 2009

Scarletts and Melanies

A friend of mine recently mused, "In this life there are Scarletts, and there are Melanies." What followed was the predictable rush of women to assert that they were Scarletts, they had gumption, they were independent, and one may fairly assume that they were captivatingly gorgeous as well........

But my friend and I got into a side conversation about Miss Melly, a character who as I grow older I find all the more incredible and in fact the true bad ass of Gone with the Wind. (I noticed right away that my friend never judged one or the other, but it was immediately assumed she was lifting up Scarlett as cooler and more preferable.)

If you recall, Melanie's portrayal as "mealy mouthed" and basically a big loser comes only from Scarlett, her chief rival for Ashley Wilkes' love. If you discount Scarlett's obvious bias against her and just judge her on the merits of her actions and her approach to life, she is a complete rock star.

She is incredibly kind. She never has a bad word to say about anyone, and in fact rushes to Scarlett's public defense, calling her "sister," when anyone else would have let her crumble under the much-deserved public scorn she heaps upon herself. She knocks out a Civil War childbirth with no medical help. She is able to talk Rhett, rendered incoherent and insane with grief, off the proverbial ledge when his child dies. I have some vague recollection of her dragging a sword to Scarlett's rescue when she can barely walk herself. There is more, but these are my favorite memories of Miss Melly in Gone With the Wind.......

I don't need to tell you what a repulsive person Scarlett O'Hara is. Yes, she is stubborn. She is a fighter and a survivor. But she wouldn't know love or friendship if they slapped her in the face, and unless someone is serving her in the manner she wants to be served and worshipped, she has no use for them.

So yes, I think I might want a Scarlett if I need someone to do absolutely anything necessary to never be hungry again. But I want a Melanie beside me in life for the long haul.

Thankfully, I have many.

No photo credit, I probably don't have permission to use this, but I thought it a lovely photo of Olivia de Havilland.

Friday, October 23, 2009

That's right, she said Tooth Fairy.

Well, actually it's not "right." But it is what she said.

This morning a friend of a friend compared climate change due to pollution as the same thing as believing in the Tooth Fairy.

Apparently as Americans we are continuing to exert our God-given right to believe whatever we want to believe, regardless of what research and science demonstrates. The person commenting was implying that "believing" in climate change was the same thing as believing in the Tooth Fairy, and that sooner or later everyone needed to grow up and stop making things up.

There are so many levels of frustration I have with this there is no room or time to go into it all, but here are some questions I have:

1) Why would anyone want to "believe" in climate change? What possible advantage does this provide to anyone in any way? It's making my life pretty damn inconvenient. Oh, wait......

2) Why are we still using words like "believe" when discussing science?

3) How can a person seriously argue that people are not having a negative impact on planet Earth through our rampant consumption and disposal?

4) I don't care who you are, if you're not a scientist do you seriously think your opinion overrides the peer-reviewed research of some of the best-trained minds in the field of biology and other related sciences? When did we decide the mood ring should drive public policy?

Another person commented on how the "enviro-tards" have the audacity to think that humankind can defeat nature, but I think that's missing the point. Yes, the Earth will go on. Nature will absolutely win......but here's the kicker: If we don't literally clean up our act, people and everything we currently know and love about life will be gone. Not in the lifetime of anyone reading this, but eventually.

If you're down with that, carry on. I'll leave a quarter under your pillow for you in the morning.

Photo credit: westerndave http://www.flickr.com/photos/westerndave/101849734/

Thursday, October 8, 2009


West Virginia, I WILL CREATE……the next generation of West Virginians who think, who do, and who love our state. I think so often about the opportunities we have every day with young people in our lives to teach by example. About everything. Do we show them how much we love West Virginia? Do we show them that love for WV, like love for anyone or anything, is not about selfishness, or jealousies, or holding so close there is no growth? I need to not just say, but do.

My child holds me accountable every day for 1,000 things. I see her study my reactions, my tone of voice, my interaction with others, my comfort level in every situation. We all have so much opportunity to create the future through our purposeful interactions with children, both our own and all of those around us.

I WILL CREATE…..a new future by showing these children that seeing the world is not betraying anyone or anything, that getting more education than the generation before you is not being unfaithful to family, that being willing to lead sometimes mean being willing to be marginalized, and that the good fight is always, always worth it.

Posted originally for A Better West Virginia

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Dream is Always the Same

As Tom Cruise famously quipped, "The dream is always the same."

I'm on campus at Davidson College. It's a beautiful late fall afternoon with slanted gold light. There's that sweet smell of some blooming evergreen shrub and the soft sliding sound of insect legs rubbing together. I belong there.

Then I have a moment of panicked recognition. I'm about to not belong there. I'm in my senior year, all the tests are taken, profs are packing up classrooms for the summer, and my dorm is being emptied. No one is kicking me out exactly. But it's over.

I become intensely aware that this summer I will not go home and come back. I will just go home. (Dream editor's note: Apparently my subconscious is not concerned with seasonal continuity; I think the opening of the dream in autumn must be a metaphor for something drawing to a close.)

Now I am awash in all that I have taken for granted: the friends, the freedom, the opportunities, the culture of intellectual investigation and honorable debate. My mind races to bargain my way out.........what if I do this, what if I say that, how can I make this not be real. I belong here! This is my life. This is where everything makes sense, where everything has a purpose.

This is where I make sense.

But because the dream is always the same, it always ends the same way. I stand on campus with underclassmen milling around with their backpacks, and see that they are oblivious to my reality. They have one more year, or two or three. My heart feels like a stone in my chest. I know I can't come back, but I don't know where I am going or how I will cope with the fact I can never return, not really. I can come back to this physical place, but this Place is no more.

Like a play the curtain of my mind draws shut. I wake up, knowing full well I will relive this moment over and over again for the rest of my life. I focus on bittersweet gratitude, squeeze my eyes open and closed, and pull myself up.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


This week I started a wonderful new job working with some phenomenally talented people, managing a complex, statewide, volunteer-driven policy initiative. It would probably fill up my heart and soul no matter the timing, but I’m back on the job after two years of time away from the office. Its significance at this point in my life is big.

It’s always advised to “take some time between jobs,” but often this means a couple of weeks. These past two years have been a great luxury, and helped me sort out the goals and objectives I want most to achieve in my work. In a sense, I have been working during the time away from the office, but the project was myself. The whole process got me thinking about two types of reflection.

There is the looking at the past, and analyzing and evaulating the decisions and results; there is also what we see of ourselves in other people around us. They may be clients or colleagues, but those closest to us eventually have a significant impact on our sense of self, and our ability to bring our dreams from thoughts to realities. The length of time I had away from my own old patterns made it impossible for me to deny the changes I needed to make. While it is surely easier to wish others would change, in the end it is always us who needs to alter what is happening in our own lives.

If you are struggling with needing to make a change, you might not need the extensive time I took to get there. You might just need encouragement and validation! Below are some questions that may help you get there more quickly:

Where do you see your reflection? In evaluation by others, in your own ability to steer your professional ship, in the kinds of clients you attract, in your paycheck, in your relationships with your co-workers? When you pinpoint your most common reflection, does it ring true, or do you want to see yourself somewhere else?
What one change could you make within yourself to see more of the person you want to be?
This post first appeared on www.corporateidealist.com on August 14, 2009. Photo credit:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Everything and Nothing

I once heard organizational guru Peter Walsh http://www.peterwalshdesign.com/ say, “When everything is important, nothing is important.”

He was counseling a woman who had lost control of her possessions. All of her things were out on her front yard, and she somehow laid hands on her deceased father’s wallet which had been crammed in the back of a drawer. It was full of pictures of her and her siblings, as well as handwritten notes and other mementos. Bursting into tears, she begged to be allowed to keep it, even though she was in a boot camp of sorts to save her home from clutter.

Walsh reminded her that she had not even known the wallet was there for over 20 years. It made no sense to hold onto it. “But,” she cried, “this is so important! Please!” Gently he pointed out to her that she had not treated this item any differently than she had treated anything else in her house, from random domino pieces chewed up by dogs to moth-worn scarves from her kids’ childhoods 40 years ago. That’s when he laid it on the line. “When everything is important, nothing is important.”

Unlike any other related advice, this stuck with me from the beginning. We so rationalize our attachments that often we lose our ideals to the idea that everything is important. I’ve had multiple experiences over the years where I felt pressure to push someone else’s goals, priorities, or even values up the totem pole in the interest of my own pereceived success.

There is no end to the parade of people who need you to believe that what THEY want from you is important. The question becomes, what is important to YOU? Which of the things you have filed away and stuffed into drawers – literal or metaphorical – are truly important to YOU?

This post first appeared on http://www.corporateidealist.com/ on August 5, 2009. Photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/sylvar/2764272024/.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Where We Are

Lots of my peers are wrestling with relocating their lives. There is frequent talk of "making a change," and often this manifests itself in a laundry list of other places they and their families could live.

Looking for better schools for children; more variety in dining; more diversity in neighborhood; a change in commute; a change in climate; a new house; a more challenging job. The list is familiar and endless.

Pawing the ground at middle age is hardly new territory. The stereotype of the midlife crisis is not positive to say the least; but there is a strange degree of beauty in the moment. I like to believe that change is always available, that what we lose little by little is the will to make it. Midlife wrestling with where we are and where we want to go has an air of Dylan Thomas, "Do not go gentle into that good night."

Where it can get ugly is usually two fold for me. One, we repress our real feelings and needs for so long that when our conscience can't manage anymore the backlash is a destructive taking of all our unmet needs we've left untended for years. Two, there is a lack of clarity about what it is that is really unsatisfactory.

Is it REALLY that you don't have enough of this, that, or the other thing in the place where you are, physically? Or is it that you don't have enough in that other place where you are. You know, your life. Note to self: You take your life with you when you go.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It Takes Two

"Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him and to let you know that you trust him." Booker Taliaferro Washington

I have a stack of notepaper, each page of which has a snappy quote. Some are good, some are not good, and some stop me in my tracks. The one from Booker T. today was the latter.

We seem so anxious to apply one or the other, but rarely both. Some might say trust is earned, not bestowed, and I do agree with that. But I think there are also times when one has to be willing to give both responsibility and trust in order to really get results.

Our public assistance program is a great example of all responsibility, zero trust. I don't have the answer, but I do worry that heaping obligation on people while simultaneously indicating a complete lack of trust is a dynamic headed for failure.

I also see a lot of this in the personal lives of people around me. A tight demand for meeting expectations and needs, but extreme stinginess in the trust department. Like the public assistance program, it seems to thrive on resentment and anger. The more resentful a person is, the more responsibility is demanded and the more trust is witheld.

It's hard to watch, and even harder to change. All that any of us can do is to support putting responsiblity and trust together as often as we can, and try to show it working in our own lives.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I found some missing puzzle pieces today
Two to be precise
Been doing the thousand piece for so long without
They seem out of place, now
998 seems right
Can't bring myself to throw them away
But they no longer fit
Are in a drawer
Clawing to get out
I push the drawer until it clicks

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The 80th Anniversary of the Birth of the Father

A few years ago, an associate of mine took off work to go hiking into the woods on the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth. He said since his father had passed away, he had taken to spending each birthday thereafter by himself in a peaceful, meditative environment, thinking about his dad and his dad’s life.

I was touched by this simple act of honoring a parent. I also was moved by the sincerity of the gesture, and of the completely un-modern spiritual commune with the memory of someone so important. I think most of us tend to take our parents for granted; even when we love them and talk to them often, do we really appreciate them as people, as individuals who had lives long before we were born and who – though they may make us think otherwise – often have lives long after we are born that are separate and apart from their identities as parents?

June 24 is my father’s 80th birthday. I am so blessed to say he is still living here on Earth, interacting with me and my family on a daily basis, enriching and encouraging us constantly. I cannot begin to imagine my life without him. The beautiful thing is I’m not sure I ever will have life without him. He is such a part of who I am, and because of his positive influence, such a part of so many people and institutions. I see him being a father figure to people who are not biologically his children, and offering opportunity to those who will never even meet him through his support of his beloved alma mater. One of his signature phrases is, “Never resist a generous impulse.”

Thank you, Dad, for always being yourself. You are a wonderful person, a stalwart friend, a judicious mentor, a loving husband and a patient father and grandfather. I love you for all that you are, and will always look forward to celebrating the anniversary of your birth. The world is a better place for you coming here, and I love you.

Monday, June 22, 2009

How You Look, How You Feel

For whatever reasons, I’ve never had big problems with how I look. I’m like everyone else in that some days there are some things I’d like to change, but overall my appearance has never troubled me greatly.

What has troubled me on and off for years, and lately more on, is how I feel.

I decided yesterday to take the challenge of a blogger on A Better West Virginia and to use social media to help inspire myself and to keep me accountable for making some meaningful change in how I feel through a new focus on fitness. http://marketinggenius.blogspot.com/2009/06/fitter-west-virginia.html

Not long ago there was a television campaign by the Church of the Latter Day Saints; it featured images of people in a community, all of whom looked pulled together and well. But through the magic of television the ad was able to show the people’s insides as well as their outsides. Some people were dealing depression, some domestic violence, some alcohol abuse, some profound grief, some chronic pain, some eating disorders. All of these struggles were invisible, but were wreaking havoc on quality of life.

I have not felt particularly great since having a baby, and by that I mean physically great. My heart is full, and I am so thrilled to have my daughter in my life. But the way my physical life has changed is starting to effect my psychological life as well. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say this kid is trying to kill me and some days might be gaining ground on that goal. I’m really ready to stop waiting for this to “get better” on its own and to start doing something to make it better.

I’m not sure yet exactly how this is going to go, but part of it is to stop living in my own head all the time and start putting it out there, what needs to change and documenting progress.

For some strange reason, I think I feel better already.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fly Away Home

I was born in Charleston, West Virginia, over four decades ago. Before I was fourteen years old, I had been to Bermuda, Quebec, Denmark, Paris, Switzerland, and Germany. I attended college in North Carolina, and before I graduated I had back-packed Germany, Scotland, and England. I worked on Capitol Hill my first year out of college, and lived and worked in the international university community of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill for 10 years before making a conscious choice to move back to West Virginia.

Simply put, I’m a big fan of West Virginians getting out before they lock it in.

I’ve puzzled for several years since my return over the hungry – yea, desperate – plea from some contingencies here to create an environment that children don’t leave. “If we only did this…….if we only changed that……if we had a…………then our kids wouldn’t have to leave home.” This is one of the most misguided philosophies I’ve ever encountered on two fronts.

First, kids are supposed to leave home. When you reduce it down to its barest elements, the whole purpose and goal of parenting is to raise a baby to a level of maturity where he or she can take care of themselves in their developing social, physical, intellectual, and spiritual spheres. To suggest that there is something unnatural or undesirable about leaving the nest is a bit smothering and insecure. One of the best things that can happen to a young person is to explore the world on their own terms. Whether you grow up in West Virginia or Tuscany, you need to deliberately depart the confines of your small, childlike world, and put yourself in the environment of newness, diversity, challenge, and change.

Second, from an economic development standpoint, we need less a climate of existing jobs than a climate of innovation to draw the people our state needs to blossom in 2009; and yet we still have a strong dialogue here that centers on former West Virginians coming “home” to fill job vacancies that await them. The people I have in mind that will come to make their lives in our state are looking for opportunity to build, create, and innovate. I am interested in the minds that seek an environment that supports new business creation, not simply seats for warm bodies.

I propose we give the clutching after our offspring a rest. Let’s stop worrying about getting former West Virginians back, and start strategizing about creating a place where smart, motivated people who have grown through diverse life experiences want to work and play. With all due respect to those of us who grew up here, our birth certificate does not automatically make us part of West Virginia’s bright future. What will make us part of that future is our willingness to engage the world; to embrace new people and cultural elements from outside our borders; and to stop asking for jobs and start making them.

Oh yes. And our willingness to kiss our children on the cheek and wish them well on their own journey to whatever place – maybe ultimately here – that creates a sense of place for them and their best lives.

This post was composed for "A Better West Virginia Challenge," http://www.abetterwestvirginia.com/2009/06/16/a-better-west-virginia-challenge-identifying-obstacles-and-solutions/

Monday, June 15, 2009

These Are My Confessions

Every now and then I just really like something in spite of my better angels. I have some strange thing with Usher’s song, “Confessions (parts I and II).” I’m not a big Usher fan, but every time I hear “Confessions” I have to listen to it to get to the hook, which is so damn catchy I can’t stand it. Then I walk around all day singing it in my head.

The problem is I hate the guy in the song.

The whole song is utterly bizarre and the guy is the kind of person who just makes you want to whack him in the head with a heavy fish – or worse. He’s running around on his current girlfriend with his old girlfriend (does that technically mean he has two current girlfriends?). This is not endearing, but also is not what makes it especially heinous. Some version of this is the mainstay of an estimated 25% of popular music. (For the female version, nothing beats TLC’s “Creep,” which again, while I’m opposed to the behavior, damn it’s hard to stop singing. But I digress.)

What makes me want to whack him with the fish is his extreme ego, and his complete cluelessness about what his “confessions” are worth and how anyone could reasonably be expected to react to him. For example, check out this series of brilliant thoughts:

Everytime I was in L.A. I was with my ex-girlfriend
Everytime you called I told you,"Baby I'm workin." (No!)
I was out doin my dirt (Oh!)
Wasn't thinkin' 'bout you gettin' hurt
Brace yourself It ain't good
But it would be even worse if you heard this from somebody else (oh no)

(Blogger’s edit note: Would it? I think not.)

Now this gon' be the hardest thing I think I ever had to do
Got me talkin' to myself askin' how I'm gon' tell you
'bout that chick on part 1 I told ya'll I was creepin' with
Said she's 3 months pregnant and she's keepin' it
The first thing that came to mind was you
Second thing was how do I know if it's mine and is it true
Third thing was me wishin' that I never did what I did
How I ain't ready for no kid and bye bye to our relationship

Oh for God’s sake. I’ll spare you the rest but you get the idea. He goes on to talk about “being a man” and telling “the woman he loves” that he is “having a baby by a woman (he) hardly even knows.” So let’s summarize, young man. You deliberately misled your girlfriend for an extended period of time; you disregarded the impact of what you were doing until it affected YOU; you suggest the other woman is promiscuous; you’ve been getting it on without birth control with no intention of parenting; and you are all freaked out that your girlfriend is going to break up with you.

Yes. Yes she is, you idiot. And after that she’s invited to my place for a champagne toast. The girl you're ditching with the baby can come too.

Confessing – no matter what the situation -- isn’t something that makes you honourable. It’s something that unchains you from your own guilt or fear of discovery. But to expect to be revered or respected for confession on something like this story or perhaps any other issue hardly seems realistic. I think when you decide to confess something, it’s best to eradicate all notions that the person receiving the information is going to give you a gold star. You are deciding to end the suspense while waiting for a bad reaction, not to get rid of the bad reaction itself. By the time you have something to confess, you're pretty much already screwed.

So please, please..........no more self-love and expectation of reward for confession. It doesn’t make us a “man” or a “woman.” It just unburdens us. What happens after that is out of our hands.

Tattoo Denouement

Thank you so much to those of you who chimed in and advised on the tattoo revelation process. You deserve to know how it went, so here goes……….

It was totally uneventful.

I had a few drinks, then when my dad was inside I told my mom. She said, “Really? Can I see it? Wow, that’s cool. Did it hurt?” Unbelievable.

Then I asked her if I should tell dad. She looked ponderous. I took that to mean maybe not. So I didn’t tell him, and if she wants to tell him I can’t stop her. Lord almighty, the weight is lifted! Free at last!

The whole thing has been rather hilarious, with the drama of Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” hanging over my head for two years.

Confession is good for the soul. I’m considering it as a theme for the blog this week. Think about freeing yourself from something this summer. I can highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Charging the Waves

We are at the beach in North Carolina this week with extended family, and I just had to share what happened yesterday evening with the baby.

Her dad and I took her down to the water’s edge at low tide just before dinner. She was wearing a t-shirt and overalls to protect her from the sun and insect bites, but the light and the tide and the temperature was all so perfect we decided this was the moment to embrace the ocean for the first time.

Now we’ve all seen different children’s reactions to their first (or 51st) encounter with the sand, salt water, and waves. Some kids just plain don’t like it, and I can’t blame them. They are tiny, and all the forces around them are huge and potentially quite overwhelming; so it was anyone’s guess how our little elf would feel about it all.

Her dad lowered her bare feet to the wet sand. We held our breath. Suddenly we say her “pigglety toes” spread and grab the wetness with a surprisingly strong-looking grasp. She looked down for a few seconds, and dropped to her hands and knees, and then just starting crawling……..out to sea.

No fear, no worries, nothing but direction and excitement and a smile. The low tide kept rolling up, and she kept going. She reached to the side, popped a shell in her mouth, and kept going.
Her father and I are delighted. I’m not sure anything could have done more for our sense of being on the right track with this little one than her warm-hearted embrace of the ocean, and her confidence in where she was as a good place. Naturally, we have to watch this…..she has no idea what danger she could encounter. But I don’t want her to start life with that mindset. There is plenty of time to learn how to analyze risk.

For now, she’s charging the waves, and I think it bodes well.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Body by Experience

An associate, shall we say, recently commented on the fellows roofing the house next door. “Heavens they are attractive (edited for family viewing). There is just something about a physique cut from hard work versus cut from the gym.”

Amen and pass the sledge hammer. I live with someone who earned his muscles this way. He almost never hits the gym, but he does everything, and I mean everything, himself. Need firewood? He goes into the woods, chops down a tree, and carries it back up the hillside over his shoulders. Need 6 tons of gravel spread in the driveway and around back? He carves out the rest of the day. From carrying a king sized mattress on his head to planting trees and driving stakes, he uses his body day in and day out to build our life for the better. I actually have to be careful when I comment on heavy objects like landscape boulders as we drive along. “Do you want it? I’ll go pick it up right now.”

I honestly don’t know if a person actually looks any different when they work out this way, but when you know it, it just feels different. It reminds me of the lessons of Good Will Hunting. It’s one thing to be able to quote a sonnet, another to generate one from your heart because you are in love. One thing to know what the Sistine Chapel ceiling looks like from a textbook, quite another to know what the chapel smells like the first time you set foot inside. I could quote birth-to-three neuroscience chapter and verse, but when my daughter was born it went from theory to religion.

A toast to experience. Drink deep.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wonderful to Look At, Delightful to Hold

But if you break it, we mark it sold. Yes, today was the first time my child broke something in a store. Against my better judgment I let her play with a bottle of nail polish in the shopping cart. I’ve learned that as a parent you take calculated risks all the time simply in order to get through the day.

I have to hand it to her, she made a pretty grand mess from a simple drop. The color was “Pat on the Black,” and the square glass bottle never even bounced. There was an enormous crack, and then the white tile floor looked like the world’s biggest beetle had been crushed under foot, oozing thick midnight blood in coagulating puddles.

I went back down the aisle and got a new bottle. At the checkout counter I mentioned to the young man that he should ring me up for two of that item, due to the debacle in aisle five. He stared at me. “What do you mean?” I explained again that my child had broken what I originally intended to buy, and therefore I would be paying for both the broken item and the one I was taking with me.

After processing my apparently bizarre behavior, he thanked me over and over again for “being so honest.” I said you’re welcome, but the mess is right there, I think you know what happened. “Yes, but we don’t fingerprint. You didn’t have to admit it.”

I do understand what he was saying. When it happened, it even ran through my head to not even acknowledge it. The item was overpriced to begin with, and it’s easy to feel like the world owes you a “gimme” when you are trying to function with a toddler in tow.

But I don’t want a gimme. I want people to admit it when they cause damage, and I want them to make it right as best they can. It has to start with the little things.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Tattoo and The Beach

So here it comes….the family beach vacation and a week spent hiding my tattoo. What is wrong with me? I mean really.

Two years ago I got this absolutely rockin’ tattoo. I even wrote a short essay about it during a Davidson College alumni weekend modeled after the NPR “This I Believe” series. Here is an excerpt from that essay:

“I needed permanent representation of bringing my heart and mind to peace with nearly ten consecutive, tumultuous years involving (illness), professional struggle, marital crisis, and infertility. Enough was enough, and my soul hungered for a ritual to mark my moving forward. When the voice of the universe whispered repeatedly the answer was a Eurasian practice of permanent decorative skin marking from Neolithic times, I was stunned. I expected something more like a new sports car.”

As much as I adore this new part of me, I cringe at the idea of sharing it with people I think will judge me. I’m an adult two times over and I still can’t be my full self with my own parents. I have a cousin half my age who floats in the same general familial goo I grew up in who proudly sports her tatt and even had her wedding dress cut to show it off last month. She and I recently reconnected after well over 10 years of no contact, and I’m wondering if there is a higher opportunity there. Maybe she is my bridge to “coming out” with my art. I’m thinking about sending my full “This I Believe” essay to the folks before beach week.

I may need to just bite the bullet and ‘fess up and move on. I’m not really in the mood for hiding anymore. Any thoughts and advice are more than welcome. I’ll post how it goes soon.
(For the record, if you are looking for the real deal in a great tattoo artist and shop, find Robert Ashburn at http://www.liquiddragontattoo.com/.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes

This is a tough topic, but here goes nothing. I’m really struggling with what is going on with product marketing and very young children, especially marketing to girls.

I realize this is not a new topic, but it struck me in a new and disturbing way on a trip to Target with my daughter this week. I despise what they are doing with Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell and her fairy girlfriends (http://disney.go.com/fairies/fairies/fairies.html), but mostly it has been my frustration that the come-hither poses, cleavage, and general body language seemed inappropriate as role models for young children. This week changed all that.

For the first time – and perhaps it was because my daughter was with me – I looked at one particular product that seemed insanely sexed up, and got a cold chill down my spine that still hasn’t gone away. It’s no longer for me what these images say to children about how they should behave. It’s what these images convey to adults about children.

I’ve spent a good portion of my professional life focused on children’s well-being. As part of that work, I made it my business to know as much as I could tolerate about specific threats to kids. There are a lot of things I wish I didn’t know about what our children face out there in the world. Without going into the weeds, I want to state a clearly as possible that little girls being seen attracted to and interacting with the kinds of images Disney is churning out with this fairy money machine is not increasing their safety.

What makes me most angry is that it is Disney. As in Walt Disney -- the alleged magic kingdom where we are all safe and respected and can explore our dreams as kids to our hearts’ content. They are sucking these kids and parents in on a reputation that they simultaneously are sending up in flames to anyone who is paying attention.

Sure, little girls are suckers for pretty. And for cute. And the more you ply them with pretty and cute, the more money you make. Probably no one will notice much if you show more of Tink’s leg, or give her bigger breasts. Probably no one will make a fuss if you add a few more girls to the mix. More girls, more money. It’s basic math. I mean, any adult who complains about this has issues, right? It’s just for fun. It’s for the kids.

Here’s the deal: I know when my spine goes cold with fear. I know when my mind’s eye races at 90 miles an hour down to the image of an innocent kid being perceived as a sex object and where that is headed and who’s to blame. And I know all about how big companies like Disney try to cover up what they are selling for their own profit.

I wish I didn’t but I do.

I’ll try to chill this weekend, and see you next week in a better place.

The Envelope, Please.......

I recently received the Bella Blog Award for “One Lovely Blog” from Connie at http://www.wvfurandroot.wordpress.com/. Simply put, it made my day! The rules say I must pay it forward to other blogs, I presume so they can feel as good as I did when Fur and Root passed it on to me, so here goes:
A Better West Virginia http://www.abetterwestvirginia.com/

I really like what tends to happen on this blog. Serious issues are brought up and commented upon intelligently but not hatefully or in a destructive way. Readers of this blog tend to express themselves coherently and with respect toward other people, even in disagreement. This can be a rare dynamic as people strive to improve WV, and I credit this blogger’s careful tone and approach with turning out positive e-conversation.

Eclectic Glob of Tangential Verbosity http://www.eronel.blogspot.com/

I’ve been following this blogger since I found her on Twitter, also following @Hillsborough, a beautiful town where I spent an unforgettable decade of my life. Her profile says, “I'm a scatterbrained, mischievous, incorrigible, silly, cynical, optimistic pessimist, with a flair for worrying and obfuscation. My writing is rarely negative. Reading between the lines is an exercise left for the reader.” I love her combination of an academic mind with art, food, and nature. I regret I did not know her when we were in the same part of the world.

Little Stomaks http://www.littlestomaks.com/ “Science Driven Real Life Toddler Nutrition”

Written by a dad of toddler twins. This man loves his children, and clearly loves children period. Addresses range of issues, from childhood obesity to how to safely introduce your little one to sushi. The global toddler profiles of kids around the world and what they eat are great.

Moving Momentarily http://www.movingmomentarily.com/ “Why We Love Hate the Metro”

All about the real relationship DC has with the metro, if you have ever travelled by metro in our nation’s capital, you will be entertained! From metro surfing to tourist angst to crazy drunks, this is a lot of fun.

I’m the Chez http://www.imthechez.blogspot.com/ “I Am the Chez, and You Are the Macaroni”

A 30-something blogger opens up about friendship, family, co-workers, and crazy blind dates. Don’t miss her tribute to her grandfather, one of the most lovely expressions of love and pain over the loss of a loved one I’ve ever read. If that makes you cry, just read the blind date story and you will be cracking up in no time.

Kitchen Geeking http://www.kitchengeeking.com/ “The Act of Feeding Your Belly by Way of the Awesome Fury of My Cooking”

I fell in love with this blog when he wrote about Amazon.com selling a whole cooked chicken in a can for $50. I also loved it when he had readers put together his grocery list after not having shopped for months. An absolute riot, balanced by reflections on family meals and lust for specific food.

Hillbilly Homo http://www.hillbillyhomo.blogspot.com/ “The life and times of a Small Town Boy turned Big City Boy turned Small Town Homo again. Politics, life, a diary, and maybe some outright whining.”

Observations and analysis of the finer points in gay image, portrayal, and interpretation in today’s media. I really like his willingness to say, “I saw this, I read this, this is how it made me feel and why. Are you paying attention?” He draws connections between overlooked oppressions in everyday culture that are invaluable.

Eat Cookies. Be Quiet. http://www.ecbq.blogspot.com/

Blossoming fantasy writer and middle school teacher extraordinaire reviews books, makes summer reading recommendations…….and oh yes, is a dear friend of The EDG.

Create WV http://www.createwv.com/ “Building Creative Communities for the New Economy”

No one, but no one, has ever grabbed the bull by the horns when it comes to driving change on a grand scale like this initiative. That’s right, this is about completely revising the state’s economy away from dependence on extractive industry and towards productivity from the power of ideas. If you love WV, or if you are concerned about a state struggling to break free from old constructs, this is for you.

Now, dear winners, it’s your turn! Share the glory, and let us know who you think deserves The Bella.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


There are a lot of us out there blogging these days, and I’ve been learning to appreciate other people’s styles. I think a lot about how it is incredible anyone does this at all. It’s rather, as they say, “out there.”

I notice especially the difference in tone between women in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond. There are even digital bumper stickers for blogs saying “I’m a 20-something Blogger” or “I’m a 30-something Blogger.” I didn’t really get it at first, but now I think it’s a road sign, a fair warning of where this woman is on her journey, so buckle that seatbelt gentle reader. You may be in for a wild ride.

It is not a matter of policy, but so far I don’t read 20-something blogs on a regular basis. I suppose I’m just so well past that phase that I don’t connect in real time. I do connect retroactively, and frankly it’s rather painful. Thus the non-read……. I respect what they are going through, but heavens, once is enough. My twenties felt a lot like being blindfolded and asked to drive a familiar car down an unfamiliar street. Exciting, dangerous, and clueless. From what I can tell, not much has changed. There is a hard edge to much of this writing, and I know why. They are earning it every day. It’s all a challenge, opening up in any way. I don’t think the vulnerability required by revelatory writing is appealing to most very young women; their writing is a protective shell, a striking back.

The 30-something bloggers are still relevant and lovely to me. They have that life-is-funny edge, but the life is FUN piece is getting smaller in the rearview mirror. They have this beautiful analysis in real time that is heartbreaking and touching and educational all at once.

Beyond the 30s, I read less real time analysis and more soulful reflection. There is less anger, more acceptance, and a coming to peace with self and the world that balances out the chaos of other decades. I don’t know when wisdom kicks in, but maybe the 40s are the foundation for getting there. It certainly seems like it when I read this group’s work.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, keep going.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Being There

I won’t be posting for a few days, while I reconnect with some good friends and with a good place, Asheville, North Carolina.

All the email, phone calls, tweets and letters in the world can’t replace the warm blooded glory of being there. When all the children are totaled, we’ll have five girls under five; 3 incredible husbands (one each, mind you); and 48 hours of time together, precious time……………

I look forward to bringing back some good authenticity observations from this trip. Oh yes, and some stories about the pleasures of a weekend in America’s Number 1 craft beer city should round it out nicely as well. Sometimes craft beer connects with good story telling. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sex on the Beach: Finding the Sneetches Today

Theodor Seuss Geisel holds an honored place in my pantheon of writer/illustrator gods who got into my heart in childhood, took up a place in my head, and never left. Thank goodness for Dr. Seuss! (My other deities are Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, and Charles Schultz).

Geisel had a special technique, a way of communicating with children about critical adult issues long before they had to wrangle those issues in the real world. As many of us know, he explained the follies of racism gently and masterfully to a generation of both children and adults in the powder keg dawn of the 1960s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sneetches_and_Other_Stories).

You know the story: Some have stars, some don’t, a social struggle ensues to define which is superior and worthy, and a capitalist extraordinaire rolls into town to make a profit off the – pointless – argument. He does; the sneetches are physically, morally, psychologically and financially spent; and in their mutual exhaustion and confusion, find they can’t remember who was better and why, and decide they really don’t care. They have a shared perspective on what they all have lost to their fight for status.

An earlier post, “An Unexpected Place,” examines the Adam Lambert phenomenon. Lambert became more interesting to me as an illumination of the ongoing -- and in my humble opinion, ridiculous – cultural obsession with each others’ sexuality. (See this truly fun piece in the Baltimore Sun, Ricky Nelson vs. Elvis, http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/tv/bal-zontv-column-0517,0,2532025.column) The rumor is thousands of folks spend hours in the American Idol voting process trying to defeat Lambert because he is gay. The best part is he has made no such claim.

He’s got a lot of drama, he wears eyeliner, and he’s been seen kissing boys. Good for him. I hope he keeps it up and makes people’s heads explode, in true spent-sneetch fashion. I hope he makes all those crazed anti-voters so confused about who he is and what he’s doing that they forget to remember who they are and what they are doing and why, and decide the whole thing is a complete waste of time and energy.

"I'm quite happy to say

That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day,

The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches

And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.

That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars

And whether they had one, or not, upon thars."

Whether he’s the next American Idol or not, I don’t think I’ll forget him.

Monday, May 18, 2009

And the Procession Continues

An emperor hires two swindlers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they tell him, is invisible to anyone who is either stupid or unfit for his or her position. The Emperor cannot see the (non-existent) cloth, but pretends that he can out of fear; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime. The Emperor then goes on a procession through the capitol showing off his new "clothes". During the course of the procession, a small child cries out, "But he has nothing on!" The crowd realizes the child is telling the truth. The Emperor, however, holds his head high and continues the procession. (adapted fromWikipedia)

Fortunately there is no quota on how many lessons and stories I can pass along to my child; but if there were, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” would shoot straight to the top of the short list.

I loved this story as a child, mostly because a grown up was prancing around naked and didn’t know it (hilarious), and because a kid schooled the grown ups (naturally). But good God, I had no idea back then how real this story was.

I’m still reeling from the Bayer explosion denouement. The New York Times editorial this weekend further pricked my feelings of WTH. (See “Chemical Plant Safety,” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/opinion/17sun2.html?_r=1) I think it’s that bizarre phenomenon of thinking there is no way this many people are just going along with this, that would be insane, it must be me so I’ll try to keep my freak out to a dull roar. Then this editorial comes along, and I’m reminded all over again that YES, this very situation killed thousands of people; that YES, chemical plants are well known terrorist targets; that YES, the chemical industry is focused on profits above all else; and YES, the procession continues.

What good are jobs is we’re all dead, or in such bad shape that we wish we were dead?

Like the Andersen story, try this litmus test. It’s never let me down. Explain any given situation to a four year old and ask their opinion. They’ll tell you the truth.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

An Unexpected Place

I have a couple of friends who are obsessed with American Idol this season, especially the charisma and talent of one Adam Lambert.

I don’t “do” Idol. I’ve become so creeped out by celebrity culture I just can’t go there. But I have taken a look at Mr. Lambert’s performances on YouTube, and he does seem to have a certain something that breaks through even the manufactured drama of Simon Cowell. (I thought this interpretation of Tears 4 Fears’ “Mad World” was hypnotic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djn3ItxukbE Give a listen…..)

In their ongoing conversion efforts, my friends sent me a post from an Idol fan board. I think this excerpt speaks for itself. Sometimes a life changing contact can come from the most unexpected place.

"For me, it’s almost like in addition to adoring his musical abilities and the 'person' (however limited our view of that is) he portrays, he kind of took me to a place I hadn't been in a long time - one where I was in touch with my real feelings for the first time in ages. Music hasn't moved me in a long time, but his has taken me out of numbness and for this I owe him a debt of gratitude. It’s like he somehow busted through a dam in my heart, and now the floodwaters of good feeling are coming out. This sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. And how, exactly, would one NOT become a wee bit obsessed with someone, real or in Adam's case fairly 'imaginary' that did something so important? Not important to anyone else, but massive in my little life!

But more than that, he is a kind of symbol for me, he inspires me to great depths and I know not why. There is something so singularly unique about him that makes ME feel brave to be MY OWN singular, unique person. There is no greater gift that someone can give than that.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog for a reality check.

What makes you want to bother to comment on a blog? I’ve been a bit perplexed at the limited comments thus far, and wondered if you are reading this if you would help me out.

When I thought about what makes me comment on someone else’s blog, it’s usually because I’m upset or concerned about the outcome of a pending issue. I don’t really write that way, so upon reflection it should not be a surprise that my posts don’t create dialogue.

I started this project to create an opportunity to write on a weekly basis, and I can certainly do that whether or not anyone is interacting with the blog via comments. But I admit I also hoped it would become a vehicle to exchange ideas with other people. I have benefitted from the comments I have received, but would really like to see more. Someone today told me “People like soap operas, not integrity.” Hmmmmm.

Is this true? Is it realistic to think anyone will comment on the kinds of thoughts I’ve put forth thus far? Do I need to just write for myself, or change my entire approach if interaction is the goal? Maybe a balance of the two. Let me know!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's All About Believin'

About fifteen years ago I lived in a great little house in Hillsborough, North Carolina. I was the second owner of a “spec” house in a new neighborhood. I’m not sure if it was the builder or the first owners, but that place was literally covered in, well, horrible wallpaper.

As with any wallpaper take-down project, the worst part involved rooms where no one had bothered to prime the walls before gluing the paper. That’s right, just glued down on drywall. I will admit, one room was too much for me, and I just painted over the wallpaper; but I made this decision after what happened in my bedroom. Let me explain.

My sister was there helping me. We used something called a Paper Tiger to score the paper, then used special glue dissolver to soak through the holes. It was a fairly big room, and when the paper came off, it came off in thin strips that snapped after about 2 inches. AND – total nightmare – we realized that only one layer of the paper was coming off. So after all the effort in any area, there was the same amount of work left to be done to get the second layer off. Chunks of the wall were starting to come off as well.

This is a lot of detail, but I really want you to “be there” with us. It was a total disaster. The glue stuff smelled bad, and we opened the upstairs windows, only to bake ourselves in the summer swelter. I was in despair. I felt like I had destroyed the most important room in the house, and I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go back. I was starting to freak out.

That’s when my sister said, “Look. We can do this. We just have to believe we can do this. There is no way wallpaper is going to defeat us, that is ridiculous. No one can make us stop working on this. This is your house, and if we have to scrape in here for a hundred years, we will because we will not be defeated! It’s all about believin’.”

“It’s all about believin’” became our rallying cry, and damn if it didn’t work wonders. Fingers bleeding? IAAB. Arms ache? IAAB. Light headed from the chemicals and thinking about passing out? IAAB. Somehow this hilarious phrase, whether screamed, whispered, sung or chanted pulled us through that craziness.

Now I’ll admit, it helped that I was 15 years younger on that particular project. But I have pulled this concept out a few times since to get through my most challenging efforts, and it still has a way of working magic. I use it sparingly so as not to diminish its power, and also because believing is harder now than it used to be.

It helps to have no massive failures on record when you chant, “It’s all about believin’”; but I can say from experience, even if you do, it still works.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Purposeful Honesty

Nietzche once said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

Amen, brother!

Often we are so focused on the fact-based realities of whether or not we have “lied,” as if that is itself the arbiter of right and wrong, of positive or negative consequences. Isn’t the real issue whether or not we have nurtured trust with other people?

There is a lot going around about the technical aspects of truth in some local community dealings. And it really seems to miss the point by a wide, wide margin. The point is that in order to continue to function as organizations, as government, as friends and neighbors and lovers and the rest, we have to have a bedrock belief that the information we exchange with one another is not only technically correct but that it comes from a place of purposeful honesty, not evasion.

Sadly, it is so easy to take for granted the good will and belief in us that most people offer up front; you only internalize what you have lost when you realize that gift is gone once you’ve treated it too casually. Getting it back can be a long road.

What holds you back from purposeful honesty, in personal as well as public life?

Friday, May 8, 2009

"We Demand a Shrubbery!"

“…….One that looks nice and is not too expensive.” If you don’t know this reference, I probably can’t do much to help! Monty Python’s Holy Grail features these enormous knights who confront King Arthur on his quest and demand a sacrifice of “shrubbery.” Makes total sense, right?

As funny as it was to me the first time I heard this sketch a million years ago, it somehow has just gotten funnier as I’ve gotten more involved with gardening over time. Ah, the shrubbery…..azaleas, boxwoods, junipers and the like; pretty much any round mound you can pick up for $9 at Lowe’s Home Improvement Center. There are some major crimes against landscaping happening in my neck of the woods, and misuse and abuse of shrubs is the number one offense.

It got out that you are supposed to plant “foundation shrubs” around your house. Occasionally this morphs into foundation trees, though I’m not sure why. Rarely is it taken into account what size these plants will become over time. It appears they are expected to stay the size they were when they were put in the ground. Too close to the house, too close to each other, lined up like soldiers with no variety behind another line of identical plants. Ack!

The whole look screams, “Whoever did this had no idea what they were really doing!” and the continued presence of these overgrown monotonous linear eyesores whispers, “And whoever lives here now has no idea what to do with it!”

Life can be this way. We do things out of ignorance, thinking we are doing something good, or at least expected. One day, the results just are……well……overgrown and out of place and kind of not what we were going for.

The beauty of the lessons of the garden for me is that, yes, it can be a ton of work to go back and undo some bad decisions. But it can be done. And better yet, undoing the wrong with a new plan in hand based on the lessons of the old effort can be incredibly satisfying.

For both you and your neighbors.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Over 20 years ago, someone gave me a Mary Engelbreit card with the phrase, “Bloom Where You are Planted.” At the time, I found it really encouraging. It seemed to be saying that I could be my best self no matter where I ended up, and that I had the power to “bloom” regardless of the world around me.

Since I became serious about gardening, however, I’ve come to interpret this saying differently. It’s a lovely metaphor, and it has an important message; but I’m not sure it’s a complete metaphor, and if you know anything about the natural world it’s hard to make this the simple Hallmark card that people so often want it to be.

As represented in this photo, botanical life can have an admirable tenacity. Those seeds and roots are driven to flourish and reproduce, and they will do everything in their power to make it happen, even in less than ideal conditions. (I believe it was Jurassic Park that coined the phrase, “Life finds a way.”) So we are impressed with this tiny plant, and yet isn’t there also a feeling of wishing it more soil, more sun, more room? There is something about this image that while it engenders admiration, also makes my heart hurt.

As a gardener, I like to determine the best place for things I put in the ground. I don’t expect things to bloom wherever I put them, and frankly they don’t. Over the years I’ve had many failures due to overenthusiastic planting, or due to the belief that things just ought to grow and thrive wherever I put them or want them to be. It ain’t necessarily so, and nature will school you pretty fast on what will work and why, regardless of your will. Accepting this is one of many life lessons I honor from my gardening pursuits.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Can "Quitting" Be Courageous?

I saw via Twitter that the keynote speaker at the Generation WV conference last night used the phrase, “You’re not a failure until you quit.” It definitely brought up the concept of courage for me, but in unexpectedly conflicting ways.

Some of the most courageous things I’ve done involved deciding to stop doing something. And I don’t mean bad habits, like smoking or biting my nails. I mean sometimes there are things you have worked on over and over again, and when you look down the continuum of the continued effort, you really have to self-evaluate.

Is it possible that “quitting” can be courageous?

I use quotation marks because this term really bothers me. It reminds me of those beefy football coaches on the sidelines, screaming at exhausted players, “Winners never quit! And quitters never win!” It can be a form of manipulation, a way of suggesting that that only losers (whatever that means) ever stop trying.

Perhaps that is where the key lies. In the effort, in the trying. I agree that sometimes the effort is the main thing, and it is beautiful and wonderful and important. But let’s be honest, sometimes all the effort in the world towards the wrong objective is a lost cause. It’s then that “quitting” may be courageous, despite all the pressure and all the names you get called. And in this vein, I can clearly see why some people want to make other feels bad about quitting; it may mean you have to acknowledge the objective was never that good. Then it’s about more than the one who stops trying, and the coaches have to be accountable.

Just a Friday afternoon thought for you to chew on, and maybe comment on if I’m lucky! Happy weekend.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

People Concerned About.....People

What do you do when your heart and your mind tell you something needs to be addressed, but the powers that be seem insurmountable? How do you decide which fight is yours, and which fight you just pray someone else will take up before it’s too late?

This is a really hard one. Those of us living in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia have known for many years that we live in the only place left on planet earth that stores the deadly chemical know as MIC in quantities vast enough to wipe out human life to the tune of thousands of people from a single tank breach. This is what happened in Bhopal, India, in 1984. This tragedy is often cited as the world’s worst industrial disaster.

In August 2008, the Bayer plant in Charleston had an explosion that narrowly missed releasing MIC into the atmosphere. (For more on the event, see http://blogs.wvgazette.com/watchdog/2009/04/27/bayer-stories-collected/) The pending threat went from theoretical to very real overnight. For the record, the explosion literally shook my home miles away. While the powerful chemical industry continues to evade responsibility for the threat they pose to our community, one young woman is standing up to them and leading local residents in a public conversation with the industry and state and federal authorities about the truth of what is happening – and not happening – at the plant.

I’ve been disturbed by the way the plant’s PR reps attempt to paint her as a radical, when her approach is clearly common sense. I feel the same admiration for her I feel for the young man who addressed the Kanawha County School Board’s diversity policy. She is stepping out on her own, speaking the truth, trying to help people, and risking isolation and aggression for her efforts. I am awed by her willingness to fight a corporate giant, when so many people in our community who are on some level much more equipped to take this on stay silent; and on behalf of my family and my home, I am grateful for her leadership.

For more on her work, see http://www.peopleconcernedaboutmic.com/ .

Monday, April 27, 2009

Eleventh Hour

Mark Twain once said that courage is not the absence of fear. It is the mastery of and resistance to fear.

I started thinking about courage a week ago when I read about a young man in our local county school system. Approaching the end of his senior year in high school, he went to the school board to ask them specifically to name sexual orientation in the anti-bullying policies. This would mean that the well-known playground taunts of “fag, gay, homo, dike, fairy” etc. would be identified as on par with racial slurs and attacks.

When I saw his picture in the paper, standing alone at a podium in the board room, I was overcome with respect and frankly, amazement. He is almost out of the K-12 system. If he and everyone else in his class can hang in there, they will be out of public school all together and on to what, hopefully, will be the commencement of a full and exciting adult life. All of the pathologies of adolescence will be behind them, and they will be free to go on to grow into who they were born to be, not who the crowd tries to force them to be.

And yet here he was, putting himself out there at the eleventh hour for all of those children behind him. Whatever the school system decides to do, he will not benefit directly. If anything, the last days of high school may be a special hell for him, now that he has taken the ultimate public route to talking about his experiences, naming who has tormented him, and how it hurt. Last time I checked, people who to treat others this way don’t exactly turn down the volume when you acknowledge your vulnerabilities.

How many of us would have the courage to do what he did at his age? At any age? Maybe now I could consider it, but at 18 I am pretty sure I would have laid low and tried to just get out. This fellow is a special person, and a young man of true courage.