Free Colleen

Things I Said

I decided it was a good time to reread Long Day’s Journey Into Night. (When is it not?) So I went to one of my town’s two postage stamp libraries. The first did not stock the book, but the catalogue told me it was available at the other. I hurried across town before it closed.

I found a shabby copy of the play that hadn’t been checked out in nine years. (Do they not teach Long Day’s Journey in high school anymore? Eugene O’Neill invented American theater. I think that’s worth a spot on the syllabus. But, I digress.) The librarian noted that it had discard stamped on it.

“We would have gotten rid of this. We have so little space,” she said.

“I always feel sorry for a book when I see that no one has taken it out in years,” I replied. I immediately thought that it was a precious thing to say and that the librarian probably thought I was nuts.

She smiled warmly. “Well, I expect we’ll keep it, because a patron checked it out. It was waiting for you.”

Librarians. Where would we be without librarians?


Just in time for Halloween:
The Weird Zone

“It’s probably kids,” Officer Ross said.

“If you could have heard the laughter—it was blood-curdling,” Mary Jo insisted.

He smiled patiently. “You need some rest. Can anyone help you with this ... ?“ At a loss for words, he indicated the animal entrails (Ross suspected cat) spewed all over the patio.

“I’ll do it,” said Sophie.

Sophie, Mary Jo, and a third actor were staying at the Barnes cottage. It sat in a row of tumbledown places where Sherman Playhouse boarded its casts. The Weird Zone, Ross called it. These people all had overactive imaginations. This neighborhood produced the strangest calls.

“Don’t, Sophie. It’s too horrible,” said Mary Jo.

“Doing Strindberg in Fort Lauderdale during spring break is horrible,” replied Sophie. “This is just messy. By the way, Officer, what percentage of your unsolved cases do you attribute to kids?”

“Most of them. And I’m seldom wrong,” Ross said, hitching up his belt.

“Then I’m honored to be here for such a rare event,” Sophie chirped.

“Are you saying you know who did this?” the cop asked.

“Not who. What. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Officer.”

The rest of the story, and another by yours truly, is in Brief Grislys, a horror anthology with a cute, cuddly cover.


Just in time for the Ides of March, Twitter poems about rites of spring

One day, the timing’s right
Romeo and Juliet smile wide awake, ditch the family tomb
Why be star-crossed in a world of infinite endings?

God’s in right
wrangling beach balls and pigeons
watching the exquisite game unfold
ready, but rarely called upon


Why liberals love Jack Bauer

I always look forward to spring, a time to plant my organic garden and picket a Wal-Mart without getting chilly. This year, I’m especially looking forward to the scheduled return of the television series 24. This apparently makes me an outlier.

Pollster Amy Zegert recently discovered that people who watch spy-themed television and movies are more likely to approve of the National Security Agency. In fact, 58 percent of people who watched spy movies six times or more in the past year had favorable views of NSA. Only 34 percent of infrequent spy moviegoers approved of the agency. Her earlier work showed that consumers of “spytainment” were more likely to endorse waterboarding.

I am here to tell you that you can love James Bond and revile Dick Cheney. And you can have a small obsession with Agent Jack Bauer while writing regular checks to the ACLU.

For years of Monday nights, I was not convincing friends to boycott polluters or writing governments to urge the release of political prisoners. I watched 24 on, if you’ll pardon the expression, Fox. It was my favorite television show.

I remember trying to reconcile this as I watched the final double episode. It helped that Jack didn’t actually kill anyone in the series’ last two hours, even when he had the men responsible for his lover’s murder in the sights of his sniper rifle. He chose, instead, to gather and reveal evidence of a government conspiracy. In the end Jack risked his life and accepted exile in the relentless pursuit of the truth. When you get down to it, the relentless pursuit of truth was his core mission for all of the show’s eight seasons.

He had less in common with your standard shoot-em-up protagonists than with the heroes of the first grown-up movie I saw in the theater, All The President’s Men. Mom deputized my older sister to take me, despite the usual family ban on mature language, because I so idolized Woodward and Bernstein. They were not the ones who inspired me to be a reporter when I grew up, though. That honor goes to Geraldo Rivera. I was nine when he, as a young reporter on our local ABC affiliate, exposed the mistreatment of mentally retarded residents of a state institution. Willowbrook eventually closed down, partly as a result of Rivera’s investigation.

I realized then that I could find out the truth, tell it, and change the world. And so that’s what I did, to the extent I could anyway. But as the years passed, I found that my paper’s news hole was shrinking and that trivial stories were getting a larger chunk of it. Things ended for me when an editor told me, “No more stories about poor people. That stuff kills us in the suburbs.”

Anyone who talks about “the liberal media” has clearly never worked in it.

Since that initial disillusionment, I’d seen the New York Times playing footsie with Scooter Libby and various Pulitzer prizes awarded for journalism that subsequently turned out to be fiction. And, of course, Geraldo had long ago grown sleazy enough to match his moustache. Most of my friends who were still in the business of shining lights in dark places had either been laid off or were waiting for the axe to fall.

If you retained that old fashioned yearning for relentless pursuit of the truth, the only place you could find it was on Fox (on Mondays at 9 p.m. EST). The show was unconscionably violent. But I’ve always believed that lying is the worst form of violence.

It’s the murder of reality itself. Once upon a time, we liberals could rely on a vibrant press to shine the light in the dark places and drive out such violence. We don’t have that anymore.

For eight seasons, I had Jack: More dogged than most reporters; and now to my amazement I find — more restrained than most spies.

Jack Bauer would never have wasted his frantic days compiling my phone records just in case. He focused on real, immediate threats to American citizens. Though I’m not big on a casual attitude toward the rule of law, Jack at least recognized that the liberties he took were significant and reserved them for desperate situations. And he never covered up his actions — in fact, he was a great exposer of the cloak-and-dagger crowd — friend and foe.
Jack would have disdain for the folks at the NSA.

But I’m guessing he would have loved Edward Snowden. 11.12.13

Flaming Synergistic Cupcakes

To: Ashley F. Associate Producer
From: Steve R. Head of Programming
Re: Über Chef development

We’re the network who convinced Americans that the grilled cheese they’d known and loved for generations should be made with artisan havarti and toasted sourdough -- and should cost $17.95.

We can certainly convince adolescent males that cooking shows are cool. 

Our content will be an attractive alternative to skateboarding, jerking off … whatever it is adolescent males like. BTW, have we hired anyone to figure out what adolescent males like?


To: Steve R. Head of Programming
From: Ashley F. Associate Producer
Re: Über Chef development

Retained HomoEmergent (boutique agency specializing in the 12.3- to 15.6-year-old male demo). Staff at HE suggest more physical challenges and unusual ingredients to add excitement to the competition. Wrestle a komodo dragon and fire grill it – that type of thing

They love our working title. An umlaut suggests heavy metal.


To: Ashley F. Associate Producer
From: Steve R. Head of Programming
Re: Über Chef development

Komodos are “a vulnerable species” and given their venom sacs I’d have concerns about the contestants butchering them. Consult legal?


To: Steve R. Head of Programming
From: Ashley F. Associate Producer
Re: Über Chef development

Not suggesting komodos literally. Just trying to give you a feel for the concept. We could have them hunt rats with crossbows, for example.


To: Ashley F. Associate Producer
From: Steve R. Head of Programming
Re: Über Chef development

Locally sourced and sustainable! Go for it.

How’s the contestant search going?


To: Steve R. Head of Programming
From: Ashley F. Associate Producer
Re: Über Chef development

Below are summaries of applicants Brad and I thought should advance to an interview with you. Pix are on the shared drive.

  1. Hedda. Her cuisine is entirely cicada-based. Surprisingly marvelous étouffée. Sorbets disappointing.
  2. Thomm. Locally sourced, slow food, eat-your-own-placenta-with-a-free range-egg-on-top kind of guy. Calculated scruffiness. POV: What if James Franco had a food truck?
  3. Cliff. Ditched career in neurosurgery to become a chef. Left a patient on the table and flew to Tuscany where he lived over a bordello for six months to “immerse myself in my passion” (food, presumably). We can feed judges lines like: It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know you don’t serve undercooked seafood.
  4. Tuck. Semi-vegetarian health and fitness guy. Edamame martinis and so on. POV: “In a former life, I was tofu.”
  5. Andy Thal. Andy was discovered by an archeological expedition in Northumberland. Frozen for centuries and, after being thawed out, good as new. Fond of grilling. Needs diction lessons (Do you remember who we used for Guy Fieri?), also needs manscaping. Possible series title: Frozen Foodie.
  6. Faith. From Brooklyn.
  7. Vehemence. From Austin, Brooklyn of the South. POV: Fusion of Tex-Mex and Indonesian. Ditched college to backpack thru SE Asia. Wants to be a celeb chef to show her parents that this made so much more sense than going to Yale. Has Something-About-Mary-Meets-Anne-Burrell hair, which can make framing shots difficult.
  8. Jolene. POV: Informed girly chic. A Disney princess with a pitcher of cosmos making petits fours with crystallized violets – but ironically.
  9. Chuck. Chuck played a detective in a minor 80s show. Will send you a link. Apparently much of our main demographic thought that he was dreamy when they were 14. Nostalgia bump? POV: He cannot cook and is perfectly OK with that.


To: Ashley F. Associate Producer
From: Steve R. Head of Programming
Re: Über Chef development

Will Tuck balk at the rat killing?


To: Steve R. Head of Programming
From: Ashley F. Associate Producer
Re: Uber Chef development

OK with it, so long as they are free-range rats. Vehemence might object though.


To: Ashley F. Associate Producer
From: Steve R. Head of Programming
Re: Über Chef development

Tell Vehemence, whose real name is undoubtedly Kate, that if she didn’t want to get her hands dirty she should have finished college.

Can we have Chuck shoot some rats w/ the same make of gun he used when he was “on the beat?”

BTW, we need a cupcake episode.


To: Steve R. Head of Programming
From: Ashley F. Associate Producer
Re: Über Chef development

Did you know Chuck’s catch phrase before shooting bad guys was: Did somebody call an exterminator?

Cupcake episode?


To: Ashley F. Associate Producer
From: Steve R. Head of Programming
Re: Über Chef development

I know everything. After all, I did go to YaleJ

We need a cupcake episode to cement our traditional demo, who may be put off by the rats. Plus, what fun to see Andy make a mess of fondant!


To: Steve R. Head of Programming
From: Ashley F. Associate Producer
Re: Uber Chef development

Actually, Andy has a knack for cake decorating. A little something unexpected for our viewers.


To: Ashley F. Associate Producer
From: Steve R. Head of Programming
Re: Über Chef development

No one ever made any money challenging Americans’ expectations. Andy will fail spectacularly in the cupcake round.


To: Steve R. Head of Programming
From: Ashley F. Associate Producer
Re: Über Chef development

We could give him a slow oven.


To: Ashley F. Associate Producer
From: Steve R. Head of Programming
Re: Uber Chef development

Just the opposite. Calibrate his oven to run 150 degrees too hot. When he burns everything, it sets up all kinds of caveman humor. Fire – bad. Etc.


To: Steve R. Head of Programming
From: Ashley F. Associate Producer
Re: Über Chef development

You nailed it! Cupcakes for our traditional demo. Fire for the young males. It’s … I don’t even know what to call it.


To: Ashley F. Associate Producer
From: Steve R. Head of Programming
Re: Über Chef development


I wonder where you source cicadas?



This is a piece I wrote for public radio back when Dubya was spying on Quakers and Catholic Workers. It’s a true story and sadly topical once again.

I’m feeling relevant and newsy. I’ve been to Quaker meetings, studied at a Catholic Worker house and volunteered for an anti-war group. Here’s the clincher: my conversations and computer files have been monitored. No, not by the government. By Alvin, which is not his real name. After all, Alvin may still be listening. 

Woman eavesdropping on telephoneAlvin was an editor, and I was a reporter. Alvin sat next to one of the typewriters. We’d gone digital long ago, but we kept a few old Underwoods around to type photo assignments. Everyone shared them. Alvin, like Yertle the Turtle, believed himself king of all he surveyed, Underwood included. He guarded it jealously by day, and feared that by night sports writers trespassed on his keys. So Alvin would remove the ribbon and unwind it to look for impressions of words like football or hoopsters. His fingers were always purplish black.

I began typing things on the Underwood like: I buried Paul; or Editor Alvin Smith Arrested on Morals Charge; Ferrets Traumatized.

It was fun, so much fun that others joined me. Reporters were staying up nights thinking of cryptic or merely bawdy phrases to leave on Alvin’s ribbon.  In the cafeteria, I was surrounded by coworkers sharing new Alvinisms. Alvin would sit in a corner, his mustache full of crumbs from vending machine Lorna Doones, and give me the stink eye. He had identified me as a subversive and worse  -- a leader.

That’s when the monitoring began. Alvin spent a lot of time looking in his mailbox – hours a day. He didn’t get that much mail. This puzzled me until a colleague suddenly lowered her voice upon seeing Alvin by his mailbox.

“He’s listening,” she said.

“Who’s listening?”

“Shhh! Alvin. He’s at the listening post. Meet me in the ladies room.”

In a secure stall, my friend explained that the newsroom ceiling ricocheted sound to places on the other side of the room. I asked her to sit at my desk and speak in a normal voice. Sure enough, when I stood at the mailboxes, it sounded like she was next to me.

Whenever I conversed with anyone, Alvin checked his mail. There was more. Alvin started saying things like, “You a need quote from the grandmother in that belly dancer story.” I hadn’t shown him the belly dancer story. This happened again and again, until a source close to Alvin – well, close as anyone could stand to be – told me that Alvin was reading my computer files.

I then created files with names like personal, job search, and labor board complaint. And I filled them with prose attacking the reader’s intelligence, manhood and parentage.

One day I let loose with a string of invective as Alvin stood by the mailboxes. When I saw him clench up and turn toward me, I said. “Ah. Ah. Temper, Alvin. If you come over here, you admit you’ve been spying on me. And you won’t do that, will you?” He stalked off to the comfort of his Lorna Doones.

That was the last time anyone eavesdropped on me. At least, as far as I know.6.15.13


Our Ability to Survive Ourselves

When Amanda Berry was literally kicking and screaming her way to freedom, I was working on a piece about solitary confinement. As details emerged about the horrific conditions that Berry and two other women endured in the Cleveland home where they’d been held for a decade, it was not the kidnapper whose behavior amazed me. It was Berry’s. I knew that being that isolated and that controlled for that long should have rendered her incapable to seizing an opportunity to escape — incapable of even recognizing the possibility of escape. It did not.

The freedom of the Cleveland women came shortly after Elizabeth Smart blamed the emphasis her Mormon culture put on virginity for a hesitation to escape from the man who kidnapped her at knifepoint and repeatedly raped her for nine months. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even [have] made a difference? Your life already has no value,” Smart said at a Johns Hopkins conference on sex trafficking. Again, it is the victim’s behavior that fascinates me. Smart is speaking out in ways that are bound to make many people in her own circle uncomfortable and that continue to draw attention to what some perceive as her shame. She’s doing it so that other victims won’t bear the same burden of shame. That would make her worthy of one of the most overused titles in our language — hero.

And finally there’s Reshma Begum, a seamstress at the Bangladesh factory that collapsed on April 24. After 17 days trapped in the rubble, Begum was rescued when she banged on a pipe and called out to salvage workers, who had long since give up hope of finding anyone alive. Her survival is improbable, to say the least. Begum is also a victim of crime, the crime of sending workers into unsafe conditions, a crime in which we are often unwitting accomplices when go shopping. Strong and resourceful, she managed to emerge whole when a global injustice came crashing down on her.

These stories are linked for me because they are all about the unspeakable things we human beings do to each other. They are also about our tremendous resilience, our ability to survive even ourselves. I spend a lot of time writing about what’s wrong with the world, and there is no shortage of material. But there are also Amanda Berry, Elizabeth Smart and Reshma Begum. They give me hope for my species. 5.11.13


Chris Broussard Is a Deviant
Chris Broussard

A deviant is someone whose behavior differs from societal norms. LGBT people used to be called deviants. Society, at least in the U.S., has finally come around to the idea that there’s no point in condemning consenting adults who aren’t hurting anybody else. Some people, me for example, would call that kind of condemnation unchristian. When Jason Collins became the first male gay athlete in a major team sport to come out, the society said, “Thanks for your honesty,” and went about its business.

Of course, not all of society. Yet, when you listen for the anti-gay voices, Chris Broussard is pretty much it. And even he has been forced to backpedal a bit on his initial proclamation that Collins is a sinner.

Certainly there are other homophobes out there who agree with him but are keeping silent. Now that most people embrace acceptance, homophobia is the prejudice that dares not speak its own name. That wasn’t true just a few years ago. It’s proof that we can evolve into better, kinder, more tolerant people. At least — it’s proof for those of us who believe in evolution.5.2.13


In honor of my favorite author’s birthday, an excerpt from The Shakespeares, my one-act imagining of what early retirement was like for the Bard. Here he discusses with his daughter his work as a “consulting playwright.”4.23.13

Discover your play to me.

Tis not my play, mistress. I am a retired gentleman, merely summoned back in my dotage to help a green author whose muse had abandoned him.

Did the muse choose well to abandon this fellow?

I would have abandoned him as well, if my purse allowed me to choose art o’er commerce. But your mother would have new linens and thus am I thrust out of the peace and quiet of Stratford for the loud temptations of London.

This is novelty — you, spurning loud temptations.

Thou art saucy, my girl.

Tell me about the play.

It is called Two Noble Kinsmen. It is after a story by Master Chaucer.

That’s a good start.

But not a good end. Tis a silly story, two fellows contest for the love of a lady.

Which does she choose?

The choice is not hers to make. They duel.

Loves she the victor?

Not for long. The victor is crushed by a horse.

Crushed by a horse?

That bit was not mine.


When I wrote this piece last fall about the Old Towne Team’s pitiful season, people said I’d recant by spring. I did not.4.11.13

Red Sox Stole A Girl's Heart — But It's So Over Now

Originally appeared in The Hartford Courant 10.8.12

I’m breaking up with the Red Sox.

This shouldn’t come as much of a blow to John Henry, their owner. If he’d known we were in a relationship, he never would have charged me $7.25 for a lukewarm beer. The romance was always one-sided.

A believer by nature, I spent second grade being bullied because I stalwartly insisted on Santa’s existence. By 1975, this American adolescent needed something to believe in. I refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. If there were justice for all, why wasn’t Nixon in jail? I attended Mass under protest because people never gave their stuff to the poor like Jesus said. I had a low opinion of my parents because they were, well, my parents.

So I gave my heart to the Red Sox. What girl doesn't crave a little tragedy? Plus, the clubhouse characters appealed to a kid who loved stories: Bill Lee, defender of ganja, enemy of authority; Luis Tiant, performance artist as pitcher; Bernie Carbo, who ordered for his stuffed gorilla in restaurants.

Mainly it was about Carlton Fisk. Most girls went for Freddie Lynn, who was younger, put up better numbers and wasn't called “Pudge.” But our catcher had nobility. He battled back from injuries. He cared passionately about the game and defended its honor with his fists.

Pudge completely won me on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 1975, Game 6 of the World Series. The game stretched 12 innings until Pudge hit toward the foul pole. Inches separated a homer from a strike. It’s replayed in slow motion all the time. On television and in my head Pudge jumped up and down, waving his arms to urge the ball fair. It worked. Hope changed the way the wind blew. It was an act of faith that spoke to a kid who had stopped believing in everything — except faith itself.

I crushed on Fisk but also loved every player, past, present and future. Love is an extreme way to describe baseball loyalties. But it’s accurate. I rejoiced in their victories and shared their sorrows. I watched them at their worst but chose to see what was best in them. If that’s not love, tell me what is.

New Haven was Yankee territory in the 1970s. Kids made choking sounds when I walked by. I never needed my Sox to win, just to give it everything they had — curses and Steinbrenner payrolls be damned. I needed them to choose hope over fate.

Maybe finally winning two World Series wasn’t such a good thing. I’d seen 2004 as the triumph of the underdog, but perhaps the medicine cabinet was the real hero. First, we learned Manny Ramirez was juicing. Next David Ortiz got caught, though he insists he never knowingly took a banned substance. I’m a believer not an idiot, but I tried not to think about it. You know a relationship is in trouble when you censor your thoughts.

We hit bottom in 2011 when our superstar pitchers wouldn't put down their beers long enough to grace the bullpen with their presence. In 2012, the Sox brought in Bobby Valentine to change “the culture,” but he mustered less authority than a substitute teacher. Desperate trades changed the line-up so frequently that this romance felt like speed dating. When most players skipped the funeral of Johnny Pesky, the godfather of Red Sox Nation, I’d had it. The tradition that meant the world to me meant nothing to them. They were not a team, just overpaid consultants with no loyalties.

And why should it be different? To invest a sport with epic meaning and to feel an emotional bond to the players is foolish. This foolishness is encouraged because it's good business. I’ve got a closet full of Sox jerseys to prove it. It’s time I started dressing like a grown-up, anyway.

Poor Dice-K looked on the verge of tears as he handed the ball to Bobby V in what was to be the last game for Matsuzaka, Valentine and me. I remembered what a friend said after ending it with a charming and fundamentally deceitful man. “There's nothing to be sad about. The person I was in love with didn't really exist.” Dry-eyed, I changed the channel.


Redeeming Uncle Richard 3.7.13

Every family needs a scoundrel. Ideally this person should be colorful and dead long enough that the damage done is history. A black sheep makes a good story to tell the drowsy nieces and nephews gathered by the fire after the Thanksgiving dishes are done. My family had been able to claim the king of all scoundrels, Richard III, my husband’s great, great etc. uncle.

Richard IIIThe Tudors who unseated my York in-laws were shameless revisionists. Scholars have long questioned whether Richard III was really the deliciously evil fellow that Shakespeare portrayed. But if people listened to scholars we wouldn’t still be debating climate change, let alone evolution. The world continued to see Uncle Richard as a misshapen fellow cavorting from treachery to treachery.

When scholarship starts looking like an episode of CSI; however, it captures the public imagination. As researchers unearthed Uncle Richard in a Leicester parking lot, he attracted more television cameras than a living royal. It turns out that Richard was not the grotesque that Shakespeare portrayed. Could history have distorted his character as badly as it did his physical appearance?

The facial reconstruction got to me. Uncle Richard is not a dead ringer for my husband, but there is something familiar around the lips and chin. He looks like the kind of distant cousin you run into at weddings and funerals and have trouble placing. You have to remind yourself not to ask about his wife. Sore subject. Best to avoid inquiries about his brother and nephews as well.

Richard III is not my husband’s only illustrious relative. He’s a direct descendant of Geoffrey Chaucer, a discovery that really made the membership fee seem worthwhile. He’s also related to John of Gaunt, who has the best lines in Shakespeare’s Richard II. On his deathbed, Gaunt schools the earlier Richard, an alternately arrogant and sniveling king. It’s the kind of speech most of us think up on the drive home after an argument, but Uncle John delivered when it counted. I’d want to sit next to him at dinner.

Sadly, all that good breeding hasn’t produced so much as a minor duchy for us. As my husband put it: “Richard III wasn’t the last of my relatives to get smashed in a parking lot.” His family fortunes have been more modest in America. On my side of the family, we’ve mostly found tenant farmers and priests. My husband’s royal English ancestors spent centuries oppressing my peasant Irish ones, which is why I should get to choose what color to paint the living room.

Inherited fortunes are rare. Most of us are lucky if we get some good stories handed down to us. I’ve got a great grandmother who spent prohibition making bathtub gin. My husband has an uncle who (allegedly) murdered his way to the throne. Both sides of the family seem to know how to seize opportunity.

The world is more fascinated by Richard III’s story than ever. Maybe he wasn’t the gleeful tyrant history made him out to be. Maybe he’s the victim of a centuries old conspiracy. We have plenty of villains. Stories of true redemption are few and far between. In fact, the stories of redemption that Shakespeare wrote are classified as “romances” and take place in fairy tale settings to emphasize their implausibility. I love a good villain, but I love even more that Uncle Richard is getting an improbable second chance.

I cannot wait for Thanksgiving.


Bette Davis Mouth 2.12.13

This essay, on giving up cutting remarks for Lent, originally ran in Catholic Digest.

There was always one kid in catechism class who raised his hand and asked if he could give up homework for Lent. I was not that kid. I dug deep to find the thing whose absence would most torture me — usually chocolate. As an adult, I gave up coffee one Lent. That nearly killed my body, but had no discernible effect on my soul. In retrospect, it was pretty grandiose to suppose that God would care about my caffeine intake.

Read the rest of the essay here.


Two Haiku from the Park 2.3.13

he wants to direct
nipping at somber big dogs
a pup named Opie

a teasing warm wind
blows away the morning’s snow
as if winter's done


Source of Stress 1.15.13

I have a new tactic for dealing with sources who don’t return phone calls — particularly public officials. I cling to a quaint belief that answering to the press is one way that they answer to the public, which of course is their sacred duty.

From now on if days go by without so much as a “no comment,” I will write an obituary for the recalcitrant source. Should the deceased complain, my response will be: Since I’d been calling for a month without a response, you had to either be dead or an enormous jerk. I gave you the benefit of the doubt.


Let Them Eat Cookies 12.23.12

Looks like Congress is careening toward the fiscal cliff like Thelma and Louise. Only without the buddy-movie vibe, of course.

As we plunge into an abyss of our own making, I can think of nothing productive to add, except this: a recipe born and tested in my own kitchen. You can face almost anything, as long as you have a plate of cookies in front of you.

Fiscal Cliff BarsFiscal Cliff Bars
I cup softened butter
½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grated orange rind
1½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp salt
3 cups oats
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup white chocolate chips
½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cream butter and sugars.
Beat in eggs, vanilla and orange rind.
Mix flour, soda, spices and salt together.
Slowly add these dry ingredients to the butter mixture.
Stir in remaining ingredients until just mixed.
Press into ungreased 13 x 9 inch pan.
Bake until golden brown — about 35 minutes.
Cool ten minutes and slice into squares.


Prosaic Accuracy 12.7.12

I write fiction and non-fiction. I recognize — and this is the key — which is which. According to The Cape Cod Times, one of its reporters has been making up stories for years. After editors began fact-checking her stories and found that many of the people she quoted did not exist, her career at the newspaper ended, according to an apology to readers by the publisher and the editor.

If the allegations are true, the reporter, Karen Jeffrey, has violated the most sacred tenet of journalism and should be forced to wear a big, scarlet “L” on her chest to mark her as a liar.

But, I do have an iota of sympathy. Again, according to her former employers: Her coverage of courts and politics were accurate; she got creative when covering things like parades. Anyone who has ever worked for a small daily knows the horror of the weekend “community” story. You cover the county fair, which involves interviewing four-year-olds about how much they like funnel cake. I often thought: I know what this story is going to read like before I even leave the office. I could make this stuff up.

I didn’t, of course, because of the whole truthfulness thing. But here’s a question worth asking: If you’re running stories so inconsequential that a reporter can just make them up for decades before anyone notices — shouldn’t you rethink the kind of stories you run? The Cape Cod Times does need to apologize to its readers, but not just about Karen Jeffrey.


Short Days 11.26.12

wind nips at my cheeks
a pup who won’t spend winter
lying by the fire


A Real Woman 11.14.12
Nellie Bly

One hundred and twenty three years ago today, reporter Nellie Bly embarked on a journey aimed at beating out Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg by travelling around the world in less than 80 days. Nellie met her deadline, circling the globe in just 72 days. Headline: Real woman beats fictional man.

Nellie once faked insanity to get inside an asylum and report on the deplorable conditions there. Her editors wanted her to cover fashion and gardening, but Nellie decided to take off for Mexico instead and appointed herself a foreign correspondent. She nearly landed in a Mexican prison for exposing human rights abuses by the government there. Safely back in the United States, she wrote a book about her experiences south of the border.

Eventually, she married a rich guy, still the only path to financial security for journalists. Though she quit newspapers, she remained active in social justice work, particularly the protection of children.

Happy anniversary, Nellie. I hope your travels in the undiscovered country are still full of adventure and intrigue.


Goodnight Civilization 11.8.12

Goodnight Moon is now an app. HarperCollins marked the 65th anniversary of the classic bedtime story by coming out with versions for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. There are multiple features, including animations and a mode where the story is read aloud by your mobile device. No parent required. According to the press release that landed in my in-box this morning: Thacher Hurd, son of Clement Hurd, said, “My father would have loved this beautiful adaptation of Goodnight Moon. Loud Crow and HarperCollins have retained the quiet magic of the book while enhancing it with a lively array of interactivity.”

I hope Thacher made a pretty penny.

I remember wonderful hours spent in that great green room with my son. Is there anything so “interactive” as a parent reading to a child, snuggling, lingering over the good parts, waiting until the kid has soaked in every inch of the illustration before turning the page? This old woman is whispering something to herself, and it’s not hush.


The Waiting Room 11.2.12

Today is All Souls Day, when we pray for those in purgatory to move on to heaven. It never seemed quite fair to me. What if you’re a venal sinner from a small family and don’t have dozens of relatives lighting candles on November 2? Do you really deserve to get to heaven any less than a sinner with a longer Christmas card list? And if there’s no such thing as time in the afterlife, how can you get out of purgatory sooner?

I don’t think God has a waiting room, other than the one we’re in right now. Wish it had more magazines — not to mention better magazines. (Lists are not stories!) I’ve started doing some work for Organic Gardening. I loved it as a teen when I was really into learning about mold resistant strawberries and turning newspaper into mulch. Now they’re letting me opine about things like food and friendship. It’s heaven.


Tempests 10.30.12

Part of me is disappointed that Hurricane Sandy didn’t put on much of a show in my neighborhood. It’s an irrational and ungrateful reaction to being safe, warm and dry. But I don’t think it’s uncommon. So many people were calling into radio stations yesterday to talk about the flooding in their areas. They sounded tremendously proud of their downed trees.

You find the truth in a storm, like Lear did on the heath. Huck Finn turns into a true poet when he encounters a good storm.

In a world full of dirty dishes and quarterly reports, we need the occasional bolt of lightning.


Priceless 10.25.12

Last night I went to listen to my friend Frank Critelli play a show down the street. Most people try to sell their CDs at gigs. Frank kept encouraging people to just take them. I’m running across more people who give away their art. Making a gift of it feels right, because all creative work is priceless. Often priceless is misused to mean worth an incredibly large sum of money. What it really means is beyond price. Of course, artists have stomachs. So how do you keep your stomach and your heart full? How do you become priceless?