Thursday, October 29, 2009

[WHILE I'M AWAY] Burnt wedding toasts

"While I'm Away" could also be called my "I'm in Peru and can't blog" series. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Today's post: proposed wedding toast styles -- you know, to add a little class and pizazz to the proceedings.


Burnt wedding toasts


Next weekend I am maid of honor in my dear friend's wedding. That means I get to adjust her train. And take pictures with her all by myself. And -- brace yourself now -- give a toast.

I know. Me, writing, marking occasions, speaking before large, anonymous groups of people? It's like opium to a Chinese whore.

But it turns out writing a toast is harder than I thought. On one hand, you don't want to be too schmaltzy and send everyone into diabetic shock. On the other hand, you don't want to downplay the significance of the day. And on the mutant third hand, you don't want to incur my father's communications wrath about the sad, sorry route to Hell most modern wedding toasts are traveling along.

Worse, creativity isn't necessarily rewarded in a toast. Have you ever heard a wedding toast haiku?

1.
Congrats on the hitch!
Don't get her pregnant too soon --
it kills all the fun.


2.
Let's talk honeymoon.
We all know what they're up to,
But we'll turn blind eyes.


3.
Love, many splendored!
Cupid's arrow did not hurt?
Shoot one my way then.


Or a wedding toast limerick?

1.
May you always be true to your wife,
And spoon with her all of your life.
But don't be a dork
And go off and fork
Another, or she'll slip you the knife.


2.
At the risk of inducing a coma,
I now hand you both "Love Diplomas."
You've earned nothing but praise --
Just look, Ma, all A's! --
Now get thee to Oklahoma.*


* You try finding a rhyme for diploma.

Or wedding toast Facebook statuses?

1.
LINDSAY is OMG, soooo000OOOO00ooooo happy for her friends! You guys are the best -- guess you're the real BFFs now, LOL. Keep it real! ;););)

2.
BRAD just wants to say hey man, I love you, and I'll never tell Janet about that hooker outside Wichita. Or was it Boise?

Or wedding toast tweets?

1.
We all know what Bob is doing right now ... SYLVIA! Oh snap! Best man FTW. ;)

2.
Bawling my eyes out on the altar. Kelly's so beautiful. Wish I had stuck some tissues in my bra. Oh wait, I can't wear one in this dress.

Or wedding toast skits (acted out by the bridal party)? Or wedding toast stand-up (performed by the drunkest guest available)? Or wedding toast Powerpoints (in case the food's not ready or the DJ is suffering a heart attack)? Or wedding toast text messages (because love ain't free)?

Sigh.

I could just write a regular toast, I suppose. You know, talk about how I never worry about the health and longevity of their commitment. How they give me hope that good, kind, well-matched people can still find one another in our hyper-networked yet sorta lonely world. That they exemplify for me the most enduring, constant elements of a mature adult relationship -- trust, faith, friendship, good humor, and humility.

That I love them both, and love that they love each other even more.

...

Nah. It'll never play. Wedding toast interpretive dance it is!

Image by ceoln

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

[WHILE I'M AWAY] Should we save newspapers -- or journalism?

"While I'm Away" could also be called my "I'm in Peru and can't blog" series. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Today's post: a blog lit review of the "journalism is dying!" discussion, with my own two cents thrown in.


Should we save newspapers -- or journalism?

It began with a Twitter chat ...
@RocchiJulia: Why we can't let newspaper journalism die: http://tinyurl.com/cfyknv

@spurdave [aka Dave Svet of Spur Communications]: Should we save journalism or newspapers? I would like to see journalism have a sustainable economic model.

@RocchiJulia: Good distinction. I think we need to preserve in-depth journalism. I agree, the model and delivery should change with the times.

@spurdave: Thanks. My Dad was a newspaper guy. Watching this is killing me. We can't mourn the death of journalism. We won't be safe.

@RocchiJulia: I think the shifting models have caused laziness -- biased reporting, lack of research, etc.

@spurdave: I think a lot of the lack of quality in current reporting is due to budget cuts and a thirst for ad $. Impartiality went away.

... and ended with me making a thinking face. (Which, for those of you who don't make these often enough, involves furrowing your brow and tapping your finger on your cheek in contemplation.)

Without a doubt, the institution of newspapers is dying, dealing another psychological blow to our bad-news-weary nation. Shrouds, wailing, and hand-wringing are rampant. But what should we really focus on resuscitating -- newspapers and their outmoded business models, or journalism itself?

Before we answer, let's have a quick lit review:

* First, the actual news about the news, best exemplified by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's move to digital-only format. Here are woeful and upbeat takes on the announcement.

* Then, the dire situation cast with fine doom-and-gloom panache by Albert R. Hunt. Key phrase: "... maybe when the economy rebounds, newspapers will get a bounce, too, although the structural problems predated the financial crisis. And there may be costly casualties in the interim. That may not matter much for a vibrant economy. It matters a lot for a vibrant democracy."

* After that, a look at Arianna Huffington and her model-shifting Huffington Post, credited for seeing the newswriting on the wall (or perhaps blamed by some for holding the pen).

* Immediately following, a glimpse into the future of the newspaper industry. Will it be a for-profit model a la GlobalPost? Or will we (brilliantly? awkwardly? inadvisedly?) combine two worlds with a service such as The Printed Blog?

* Now we're at the reigning champ of all these discussions, Clay Shirky's Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. His key takeaway here:

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.


* And finally, the end, with a strong summary from Mark Bertils (hat tip to Andrew Savikas at TOC):
Journalism is the act. Newspapers are the artifact. The infrastructure around the artifact is imploding, never to be replaced.

So what should we save? Journalism, of course. Its delivery vehicle is simply a straw man, one that can (and will be forced to) adapt with our Web-driven times. And what that will look like ... well, it doesn't seem anyone knows.

But we do know that our world continues to be tangled, confusing, even dark. Now more than ever, we need skeptics, watchdogs, interrogators, and gumshoes. We need eyes and ears in all the places and situations we fear to tread.

What's more, we need to support our journalists to ensure their essential service to our society continues. And we must hold them accountable to the highest possible standard of reporting and integrity, because in the end, their quality and content will be the only deciding benchmark of who survives the revolution.

Thinking faces on, everybody. There's more to come.

Monday, October 26, 2009

[WHILE I'M AWAY] Interviews: The professional confessional

"While I'm Away" could also be called my "I'm in Peru and can't blog" series. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Today's post: my take on the interview process, with some tips on how to sail through them and go straight to employment heaven.


Interviews: The professional confessional


You enter a small room. You feel nervous, self-conscious. You sit face-to-face with the person in charge. You share personal information about yourself and your deeds. And in the end, you hope to receive acceptance and absolution.

No, I am not talking about Confession. I'm referring to Interview, a necessary and nervewracking stage in any job search process.

Believe me, I'm not complaining about interviews. They validate all the hard work you've done at your previous jobs and in your search efforts. They prove your cover letters, resumes, and contacts are effective. And they mean that if you smile enough, speak clearly, and don't wet your pants, you might end up on payroll.

I was in one of these coveted meet-ups yesterday when I experienced an out-of-body experience -- the sense that I was indeed confessing. For those of you unfamiliar with the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation, here's a brief lay person's primer:

1. You sit in a booth or a room opposite a priest. Screen optional.

2. You fudge tell him how long it's been since your last visit.

3. You detail all your sins while wiping your sweaty palms on your jeans and trying not to think about that one time, at that bar ...

4. You listen to comforting words of counsel and understanding.

5. You say the Act of Contrition or completely make it up if you're me and have a huge mental block with this particular prayer, receive absolution, say Amen, and leave to go back to that bar.

And no, people do not enjoy artistic cinematography with light through the screen or hide in there for sanctuary or pose as priests to gain access to secrets. That's just in the movies.

It's still intimidating, though. Even the Church's semantic crusade to emphasize the kinder, gentler phrase "reconciliation" -- rather than the harsher, more accusing "confession" -- doesn't diminish the fact that it's tough to be on display.

Interviews are the same way. Despite the understanding that you're scoping out the organization too -- a mutual grilling, if you will -- the fact remains you are under a microscope.

No wonder people get nervous. You become acutely aware of your image and responses. You feel your faults pricking right beneath your skin, begging for a misstep or tongue slip, a chance to reveal themselves. You learn anew how intense it is to answer probing questions about your decisions and actions for two hours.

At least in Confession, you know God's going to accept you at the end, because, well, that's His job. But the same guarantee doesn't exist in an interview. You can only prepare and pray and try your hardest, and hope in the end that it's enough to get you into employment heaven.

I think we need a professional variation on the Guide for Examination of Conscience (the questions that help people ready their hearts for Reconciliation) to help alleviate some of the stress. It could go like this:

* Am I committed to the quality and integrity of my work?

* Did I represent myself honestly and accurately in my resume, cover letter, and interviews?

* Can I admit my shortcomings, and take steps to address them?

* Can I recognize my strengths, and make full use of them?

* Do I believe in my own dignity and worth, and understand that others' hiring decisions do not necessarily confirm or negate my value?

* Do I know what I'm talking about?

* Is my fly zipped?

... and so on.

If we are prepared to be transparent and authentic in interviews, then chances for acceptance skyrocket. And if all else fails, and your interview is a disaster, then pull this out:

Bless me, employer, for I have applied ... it's been three weeks since my last interview ...

Photo by xmascarol

Friday, October 23, 2009

[WHILE I'M AWAY] Critical career lessons I learned this week that you should know too

"While I'm Away" could also be called my "I'm in Peru and can't blog" series. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Today's post: the one where I finally get some important truths about the workplace -- and my place in it -- through my thick skull. Please read so you don't suffer the same fate.


Critical career lessons I learned this week that you should know too

Oh boy, has it been one of those days/weeks/months/years/lives. I got sick, my boss resigned, the sky fell down ... ok, the last one didn't happen, but in my more dramatic moments I wished it would. At least then I'd have a viable excuse to not show up at the office.

The good thing about times like these, however, is that they help refocus my energy on professional development. I reexamine what I'm contributing, and where my goals are now. And it forces me to remember -- or flat out learn -- the necessary workplace lessons that will keep me from:

a) pulling my hair out,
b) getting an ulcer,
c) losing my temper,
d) crying at the office, or
e) all of the above.

Note: All of these have happened already except the ulcer. And just give that one time.


So, here are just a few of the latest lessons:

* Your manager can hand in his two weeks' notice and really mean three business days. Plan accordingly.

* Figure out what constituted the happiest hour of your day at work. Do your best to make it happen again amid the unhappy hours.

* Your worst work-related nightmare can come true. And it will turn out it's not all that bad, and you'll just deal, because you're a big kid now and life goes on.

* Sometimes, you do have to ask "how high?" when someone says jump. The question is, are you having to say it all the time at the detriment of your professional satisfaction and growth?

* Some people are perfectly happy coming into the office everyday, doing whatever, collecting the check, and going home. My mentor calls this "making the donuts." They have no investment in the reach or effectiveness of their creative work. I don't understand this mindset. But I need to, because donut makers constitute a large part of the workforce.

* It takes a strong and desperate person to quit a job in this economy without another gig lined up. Conversely, this speaks volumes about the health of the environment he or she is fleeing.

* If your manager asks you to take a "leap of faith" and follow his lead, try to believe him. Why? Because if the leap pans out, then you've learned something new about your manager and improved the relationship. And if it doesn't, then you've saved yourself the stress of assuming responsibility that isn't yours to assume.

* You cannot reverse the Titanic's course by yourself. Don't kill yourself trying. State your concerns, do what you can to help, and then let it crash. Just make sure you're in a lifeboat.

* At the end of the day, you walk out of the office with only your interests in mind -- your career, your mission, your passion. The rest is ephemeral. Bend your work opportunities to your long-term vision. And when you can no longer bend them, take the skills elsewhere.

That's a lot of takeaways from a 42-hour week. So I'm pretty sure you've got some from your work experiences. What tips can you give this over-sensitive, over-committed young career woman to help prevent "e" (see multiple choice question above)?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

[WHILE I'M AWAY] Word on the street: English as a second love

"While I'm Away" could also be called my "I'm in Peru and can't blog" series. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Today's post: one of my favorite Word on the street entries. Love indeed is everywhere if you just listen for it.


Word on the street: English as a second love

The scene: St. Matthews ESL program over at 18th and N. I helped out with hospitality -- fancy word for opening doors and serving snack -- during the summer session. What follows is a conversation between me and one of the level one students who always seemed very happy to see me ...

It's snack time. I sit at the table, taking money and dishing out snacks. The level one class comes down. One of the students is Ermelindo, a young man who looks about 19 or 20. He is smiling and stammering as he approaches the table.

Ermelindo: Hola.

Julia: Hello.

Ermelindo: Do you speak Spanish?

Julia: Only a little. I studied it in high school, but haven't practiced it since.

Ermelindo: You have to speak Spanish.

Julia (laughing): Why? You're here to learn English.

Ermelindo: You have to learn to speak Spanish so we can talk because I love you.

Julia: (stunned silence)

Ermelindo: Ok?

Julia: Um. (gropes for Spanish vocab)Ummm ... come se llama?

Ermelindo: Ermelindo. You can say Lindo. It means ... wonderful! And handsome.

Other student: No. Guapo means handsome.

Julia: Yeah! I thought lindo meant cute, as in 'aww, look at the 'cute little boy'!

The emphasis does not translate. Ermelindo continues beaming and stammering. The other students leave. He remains.

Julia: Lindo, you have to go back to class.

Ermelindo: I can't.

Julia: Why?

Ermelindo: I have to stay here and protect you.

Julia: Go!

He grins all the way up the stairs. It needs no translation. I'm grinning too.

Monday, October 19, 2009

[WHILE I'M AWAY] The Advent of Lent -- and of my prayer series

"While I'm Away" could also be called my "I'm in Peru and can't blog" series. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Today's post: the one where I decide to start writing prayers. And though I didn't write 40 in 40 days, I have written nearly 90 since then and created a favorite weekly tradition on my blog. Gotta love positive outcomes!


The Advent of Lent

In the beginning, there was prayer.

Well, that's not entirely true. In the beginning, there was prayer. But there was also procrastination. And avoidance. Hiding. Excuses.

As a result, the beginning never ended. It had no middle, no growth. My New Year commitment to regular prayer expired after a week and a half. My last post is dated in November '06.

This Lent, I intend to change this. This Lent, I am giving up excuses. No more claiming there is no time in the day for prayer. No more protests about tiredness. No more indulging in laziness, or worse, apathy.

After a year of thinking about it, I'm going to do it. This Lent, I will write 40 prayers in 40 days, all based on the young adult experience of God and faith.

If the resolution and sacrifice succeed, I will continue past 40 days. But for now, one liturgical season at a time will do. Can't turn a sinner into a saint in one afternoon, and can't turn a stubborn girl into a blogger any quicker.

So in the beginning, there is prayer. And here it is.

Prayer #0: Give up chocolate? Or your self?

No merciful God ever asks you to give up chocolate.

Cursing, yes. Pornography, yes. Lying and cheating and stealing, yes. But not chocolate. Oh no. God is too generous, too kind, too loving for that.

So what can I do this Lent to return such magnanimity? Surely not give up chocolate. It must be something bigger, better, more important. It must be something I've come to rely on, something I use as a crutch, something that prevents me from being my full self.

I know. I'll give up excuses. You know, those oh-so-reasonable reasons I concoct to avoid writing at home. To not bother blogging in my spare time. To pass on that book and watch TV. To skip out on my journal. To put off calling an old friend. To hide my face in the pillow at night without saying a prayer.

Lord, I give you all my excuses. I give you my rationalizations. I give you my arguments. They are all weak and empty, and they're making me weak and empty, too.

I lay them at the foot of your cross this Lent -- your cross, Jesus, where you did not equivocate or waffle, you simply did. You didn't say, "Oh come on, I did good for the past 33 years. Cut me some slack. I deserve some time off, as in, off this cross entirely. Let me have a long nap, a glass of wine, and we can forget the whole thing. What do you say?"

Instead, you said, "I'm ready. The time is now. Bring it on." And you opened your arms, and embraced every excuse-addled mistake of every sin-riddled person for the next infinity or so.

In that moment, you became exactly who you were destined to be. By shedding my excuses, and baring myself to the truth, I hope to achieve the same.

It will not happen in 40 days. Maybe not even in 40 years. But that's no excuse not to try. Remember? I'm giving up excuses. That's my small Lenten sacrifice in honor of your great one.

Let the writing -- and the healing -- begin.

In your name, now and always -- Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

[WHILE I'M AWAY] Change, change, chaaaange -- a reflection on adaptation

"While I'm Away" could also be called my "I'm in Peru and can't blog" series. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Today's post: the one where I riff on a Guy Kawasaki post and think about change in our lives -- how to accept it, handle it, embrace it.


Change, change, chaaaaaaaaaaaaange ...

Spare change. Noun. The coinage and assortment of other small metal objects found in pockets/couch cushions/tip jars around the world.

Now try this on for size: Spare change. Verb. To use life's shifting events frugally or carefully. To avoid the full experience of new decisions or circumstances.

Or this: Spare change. Adjective. Bare, as referring to life. Lacking in amplitude or quantity. Plain, unembellished, and just plain boring.

Do you really want to spare change in your life? Do you want your picture next to these definitions? Ariane de Bonvoisin wants to make sure both your answers are NO.

She and her book -- The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Any Change (and Loving Your Life More) -- were the subject of a Guy Kawasaki interview earlier this week that caught my eye in my RSS travels.

Maybe my own recent life changes were still fresh in my mind. Maybe two separate conversations with my Philly BFFs about new directions and doubts kickstarted the train of thought. In any event, I read the article, and discovered the nine principles that make people good at change (straight from Ariane's mouth):

1. They have a positive belief about change and are generally optimistic. I call these people "change optimists."

2 They believe in the change guarantee: that something good always comes from change.

3.They know that they possess a "change muscle"--that they are strong, capable, powerful, and intuitive enough to handle any change that comes into their lives or that they want to initiate.

4. They refuse to become paralyzed by "change demons"--negative emotions that arise during change.

5. They don't resist change--choosing instead to accept the reality of their situation.

6. They understand that their thoughts, the words they say and the feelings they allow themselves to experience during change have a direct affect on how easily they move through the transition.

7. They believe that life has a deeper meaning than what can easily be seen or felt, that something greater is at play, and that no change is arbitrary.

8. They surround themselves with a support team to help them move through change.

9. They refuse to get stuck during change. They keep moving and take care of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.


You can view these principles through a few prisms -- spirituality, pragmatism, philosophy, and so on. Whatever your context, though, the truths remain the same. Change happens to you, within you, and through you. All three steps must be present for change to succeed.

So don't be stingy with change. Grab it, gulp it, glory in it. Otherwise, the only thing getting lost in the couch cushions will be you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

While I'm Away: A time-capsule series from your Peru-bound author

Photo by pmarkham

By this time tomorrow, I will be on another continent. South America, to be precise.

By this time tomorrow, I will be in another country. Peru, to be exact.

By this time tomorrow, I will be in another city. Lima, in particular.

And by this time tomorrow, I will be on my way to a much-anticipated, grand adventure -- a two-week tour of southern Peru with Jacob, where we land in Lima, fly over Nazca, putt around Puno, cruise through Cuzco, and march up to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail.

I expect llamas, picture-taking, haggling attempts, and mild intestinal distress. What I do not expect is consistent Internet access with which to chronicle my adventures and make you wish feel like you were there with me.

So, IMS is going to have a little series to keep you busy until I get back to regale you with slideshows and stories of allergic reactions to alpaca wool. "While I'm Away" will feature some of my favorite posts from the past two years, reprinted for your enjoyment.

For you regular readers, I hope this will be a pleasant trip down memory lane. And for the more recent among you, I hope it gives you a glimpse in IMS's evolution since its inception -- and my evolution as a blogger.

In any event, posts will be all-new and some-Peru in two weeks when I return from my jaunt abroad. Until then, please say a little prayer that Jacob's constant practicing of the phrase "mi compaƱera ha desaparecido" does not come to fruition. ;) And enjoy the new/old posts!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Prayer #85: In Good Times

Cartoon by gapingvoid

Prayer #85: In Good Times

I don't trust the good times.

They're too special. Too comfortable. Too reassuring.

Too good, in short, to be true.

I'd rather live through bad times. Then at least I'm not sitting around waiting for my certain demise. Because nothing good lasts forever, nothing bad lasts forever, and this cycle is just a fact of life that only foolish people ignore.

Ascensions are easier to anticipate than downfalls.

But I want to have faith in the good times, Lord. I want to have faith that joy is an undercurrent, not a darting ripple. I want to have faith that when hiccups and bumps and roadblocks come again (because they will), they do not crowd out happiness, but coexist with it. Not erase it, but illuminate it.

You are a God who does not differentiate the cause of tears -- only that we feel enough to shed them. Please share this understanding with me too, so I can better live in -- and live out -- the good times.

Amen.

Friday, October 09, 2009

If at first you don't succeed ... tri, tri, triathlon!



Want to learn humility? First, wear a bathing suit that makes your body look like your Italian grandmother's. Next, cram your bushy hair into a silver swim cap. And lastly, throw yourself into a lake in Middle-of-Nowhere, VA, and watch your sink-or-swim options quickly dwindle to sink.

By 'sink,' of course, I mean 'experience abject terror and panic that sucks the breath out of you and makes you doggy-paddle for dear life.' Because that's what happened to me in Lake Anna last weekend during my first sprint triathlon.

I went in quite confident, if I do say so myself. I had trained for two months with a real triathlete coaching me. My friends were there. The water was even warm. Perfect conditions for an easy-peasy lap around the lake, right?

Wrong.

Problem was, I hadn't yet done an open water swim. So I was not prepared for choppy water slapping my face, other participants kicking all around me, and awkward sight lines. Yet there it was -- sheer pandemonium -- forcing my body to pick fight or flight.

It chose flight. Which is hard when you're in the middle of a lake where you can't see or touch the bottom and yes-sweet-jesus-a-fish-just-jumped-next-to-my-head.

I tried to get into a rhythm, calm my breathing. I dropped to the back of the pack so I could have some space. Screw being a hero, I just didn't want to get pulled from the water.

(Side note: In this instance, my solid Catholic upbringing served me well, because a) I could immediately launch into a Rosary decade to beg for salvation; and b) the imagined shame of being the one sputtering loser propelled me toward the finish line as all other bodily functions shut down.)

After what seemed like 8 years, the first buoy passed on my right. But I was only a quarter of the way there and I was already exhausted. I felt like I hadn't even bothered training -- I couldn't alternate my head, count my strokes, nothing. Surely this was a recipe for drowning. I couldn't continue safely.

That's when I heard it. The unmistakable sound of cheers coming from the shore. A familiar voice -- no, two familiar voices shouting my name.

"Julia, you're doing great! You're right there with the group! Look at you go! You look awesome! Woooooo! Keep it up, keep it up!"

My roommates. My teammates. Above all the cheers and splashes and megaphones, they sounded like they were right there in the water with me. They were tossing me an emotional lifeline. So I grabbed it and held tight, pulling myself through the rest of the run.

If this were a sports movie, I would have grown gills and raced toward the finish line, submersing others in my wake. This is not a sports movie. I struggled nearly as much for the remaining 3/4 as I did for 1/4. I was so tense that I got a Charley horse and pulled a muscle in my neck. I swallowed so much water I was mistaken for a pink buoy.

There was one key difference on the last legs, though: I stopped doing it for me and did it for my teammates instead. We were in this together. I couldn't let them down.

And wouldn't you know, the breathing did get (a little) easier. The heartrate (sorta) stopped mimicking a hummingbird's. I (barely) made it back to the holding area. But I made it. In 19:38, no less -- that same amount I'd been swimming in the calm, clear, and lined pool.

So what have we learned from this ultimately petrifying edifying experience? Several things:

* It's not worth panicking. Have faith in your abilities and preparation, and take your time. Your 19:38 will be much more enjoyable.

* That said, don't shoot yourself in the flipper. Try an open water swim before you are expected to complete an open water swim.

* I have no desire to do a full triathlon on my own. However, I would love to improve in the swim and be an excellent teammate should my roommates ever want to do this again (hint, hint).

* Then again, betcha I could do a full one on my own, given the diversity of ages, shapes, and fitness levels among all the participants. If the 74-year-old man can do it, I hope I could too.

* Then again, who would want to go it alone? Having my buddies there turned the day from an event into a lifelong memory. I can't imagine having any fun without them at my side.

* I hate running. I didn't even have to do it. Jacob did. But I still hate it.

* Do not -- I repeat, do NOT -- drink coffee before a race. Bad news. Very bad.

* Coming in 12 out of 15 is perfection, really. We're not discouraged from trying again, and we have something to aim for. Plus, we're spared the embarrassment of muttering under our hand that we came in dead last.

* Without a doubt, my strengths are mental rather than physical. Exhibit A: the fine piece of copy that was our team name (Team Bump That Ass Up). When Sus went to sign us in, the volunteer gasped and said, "I've been waiting for you guys to show up! I wanted to meet you." True story. I can't make stuff like that up. Maybe I should just be a designated namer.

So there you have it. One tri down, untold millions to go. Not bad for a girl who falls on the treadmill. Now when are YOU going to tri one on for size?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

To my questioner, so she might rest

I don't know what to tell you.
And even if I did know,
believe me --
I'd tell myself first.

Your whos and whats and whys
must have bounced off the walls
of my heart,
they echo so familiar ...

And your whens and hows and ifs --
How many dreamy nights have those same
question marks
stolen from me in this life?

If only I knew. (You'd know too.)

If I knew only. (And felt never.)

If I knew only this. (Our nights would fill again.)

When we're tracing deep wrinkles,
maybe that's when the answer will
emerge. And
then we'll laugh, talk of other things

because it won't be so impressive
after all

and we will realize that we
always knew.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tazewell Garden Project, part 5: Life finds a way!

Six months. Can you believe it? It's been six months since we conceived of our square-foot garden project. Four months since we planted the seeds. Three months since summer kicked in. Two months since we mourned the blight. One month since we gave the experiment up for dead and turned instead to our CSA.

But in that month, something miraculous happened. The little garden that we considered kaput made a last stand. The severed tomato plants burst into bloom. The one-and-done pepper plant popped five more. The transplanted basil flourished. The Swiss chard filled two squares to the brim.

Our experiment was a revelation! Despite blight, wacky weather, easily distracted owners, and the vagaries of natural existence, the life we put in that dirt won the day. No crying here, it seemed to say -- you put us here for a reason, and we intend to fulfill that expectation.

That, I think, is the best lesson from the Tazewell Garden Project. Sure, it's nice to know the correct times to plant things now, and how to prevent blight from spreading, and how much water to give certain plants. But it's even better to know that when we seem down for the count, rallies can -- and do -- and should -- happen.

So our garden bloomed again. We cooked one last dinner. And it was good.

Until next year, little garden. And for you garden fans, here's one more batch of pics to leave the taste of summer lingering a little while longer on your tongues ...

Note on slideshow: Click on "full screen" icon in lower right and then "show info" in upper right corner to see the captions.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Prayer #84: Bread & Chocolate

No merciful God would ever make you give up chocolate. {Eileen}

Prayer #84: Bread & Chocolate

Some days are bread -- sturdy, plain, basic, hardy. They move you through the hours. You're not aware they're propelling you, only that you somehow ended up at Point B from Point A and weren't terrible hungry along the way.

Some days are chocolate -- luscious, decadent, savory, special. They illuminate your waking hours. You are aware of each sense, each moment, and at the end of the day you feel as if you lived a month, so complex is the experience.

Some days are both -- a mix of the necessary and the indulgent. In these days, Lord, I am always satisfied. In my satisfaction I am attuned to Your presence. And in Your presence I am fed -- with bread, with chocolate, with love.

Thank you for serving both days, all ways, always.

Amen.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

How to cure sick writing


Right now I'm sitting on the couch surrounded by tissues and tea and Tylenol, taking a sick day for the first time in months. Nothing is more aggravating than a common cold. You don't feel good, you don't feel awful, you just feel blehhhhhhhhhhhh.

Wait, I lied. There is something more aggravating than a bleh body -- bleh writing. You've suffered it before. It's that dehydrated, congested, feverish copy that makes readers keep their distance and use Purell after turning the page.

So how can you heal your writing and make it contagious in a good way? Here's a three-part prescription:

1. Visit the doctor. A good doctor -- in this case, editor -- has the knowledge and objectivity to blood-let the bad humors and get your writing back on track. Don't discount your instincts, however. You know your body of work best and can sense when the diagnosis isn't the exact right fit. Play these informative sources off one another for a more holistic assessment of what ails a given piece.

2. Take your medicine. No one likes to take a knife to their writing, but sometimes you have to. Make the experience more comfortable by giving the piece a rest. Take a break from it, work on another project, exercise your mind with different (non-writing) activity -- anything that helps you swallow the bitter pills that will ultimately make you feel better.

3. Practice preventative healthcare. Basically, you're less likely to get sick if you keep yourself healthy. Make writing a part of your routine so you're always working the creative muscles. Take a class, join a writing group, read literary blogs, or check out a library book every so often to keep yourself stretching and growing in new directions. The more ideas, techniques, and self-awareness you have circulating, the more immune you'll be to uninspired writing.

Ok, I'm spent. The cold meds have caught up with me, so naptime it is. Hope your writing gets well soon! Share any tips I missed in the comments.