Sunday, April 29, 2007

skipping me

I’m known as the change manager. The one they can count on, no matter what. Need a nightmare project delivered on time and within budget? Vicki’s it. Need a group of employees shaped into a sharp-winning team? Vic’s got it covered. Need a bloody no-hope concept (that someone else abandoned and no one else will tackle because it’s in a thousand pieces) refocused and produced to quality standards? Vicki will rise to the challenge.

So it totally confounds and DISGUSTS me, (yes I meant to shout disgusts!) that when I make promises to myself—to me, the only being on earth that I have any control over—I often break them!

Sure, I could teach you the principles behind human motivation and performance improvement. I’ve read all the psychology books on why people sabotage themselves: fear of success, fear of rejection, fear that we don’t deserve whatever it is we promise ourselves ... the list goes on ... and on.

I’ve studied profiles on extraordinary leaders; and theories on short-term versus long-term achievement, instant versus delayed gratification. And listened to CD recordings that tell listeners in cooing tones: “ … you deserve the love/job/house/life (you fill the blank) that you desire. But first you must love yourself. Repeat after me: … I love myself … I. LOVE. ME. …”

Hmm … skipping right along … for me it’s all about habits. And over the past couple of years, my once exceptionally healthful habits have gradually been overturned by Skipping.

Skipping is a good habit, you say! Yeah, but I mean the other kind of skipping. Skipping meals, skipping sleep, skipping workouts.

So last weekend I sat down—and in writing—fully committed myself. Not to an asylum (which is arguably where I belong), but to regaining good health habits. No excuses. No negotiation. No skipping.

Preparing for the new me, I even dusted down my bike and threw it in the back of the SUV.

Tomorrow’s a new and exciting day full of wonderful opportunities!

  • Monday’s Ideal: One commits 100% to good health habits
    To bed (sleep!) by 11 pm. Up by 6 am.
    Eat 6 small meals throughout the day, starting with early breakfast.
    Last snack by 7 pm.
    Cycle or walk x 30 mins per day.
    Weights x 20 mins, alt repping.
    Etc, etc, etc.

  • Tuesday’s Reality: One is a pathetic loser
    Flopped on top of the bed at 1:30 am. Not sleepy, flicked through TV.
    Got up and danced an Irish jig at 2.01 to the theme music of 'Crossing Jordan' (can never resist a chance to throw my arms in the air and kick up my heels).
    Fell asleep with timer on TV at 2:30-something. Up at 7.30 am.
    Breakfast … um…
    Lunch … errr …
    Healthful snacks? Dinner???
    Yeah but I did eat at 4 pm. And again at 9 pm.
    Walk? Well … yeah but I did rush around all day. Ran from the car to studio. From car to Federal Express. From car to Trader Joe’s. From car to CafĂ© Diallo. From car to library.
    Weights? … does humping my bike into the back of the SUV count?

  • Sigh …

    Yeah, but, tomorrow’s a new and exciting day full of wonderful opportunities.

    *Thanks everso to Vicky Pollard of Little Britain for pic!

    Sunday, April 22, 2007

    the girl in grey

    Chin tucked down, eyes lowered to the splintered wooden floorboards, she shuffled forward in line with 124 other homeless people seeking food and shelter that night. The cuffs of her silver grey suit shone with wear; the heels of her black pumps sloped down on the outer edge. She carried a small black purse, hooked over her head and shoulder, and wrapped a black overcoat around her arm.

    Every two steps, she leaned forward a little, shunting a battered suitcase in front of her with the side of her leg. She was blond and pale and baby-faced, but I guessed she was in her mid-twenties.

    Earlier, we’d filmed outside the building but weren’t allowed to shoot or conduct interviews inside the shelter, so Scott tucked our camera and sound gear under one of the large standard army equipment desks that doubled as a buffet table. For all intents and purposes, I was just another faceless volunteer serving the needy.

    I spooned pale gravy over the plate of mashed potato and dry chicken that the girl held out to me, and made some stupid remark about enjoying her meal. She didn’t meet my gaze, or return my smile, but turned away with a barely whispered “Thank you.”

    As other ‘guests’ came back for seconds, or to share their stories of the day now behind them, I looked around the room for the girl who didn’t belong here. She was in the far corner, rolling out one of the yoga-like mats that the homeless were given to sleep on. Between each mat and the stranger next to it, lay only 18-inches of bare floor.

    There were drunks here. Others who were clearly meth and heroin addicts. There were the paranoid, the ranting, the scathing. There were the grateful, the helpful, the humble. There were the mentally ill, the physically challenged, and the folks who pushed life beyond the edge.

    And then there was the girl in grey.

    Who was she? Was this her first night at the shelter? Was she a regular? Did she have family? Or friends? A job? Why was she here tonight?

    The shelter manager asked us to leave so the guests could prepare for lights out. Scott lugged our heavy equipment and I followed behind, looking one last time over my shoulder at the girl in grey. She was kneeling on her mat, head tucked in silent prayer.

    We threw the gear in the back of the van and remained mute until Scott dropped me at my front door. “Heavy, huh?” he looked over the top of his glasses.

    Next evening—and the next—I went back to the shelter. No Scott. No video equipment. Just me and a glimmer of hope.

    I wasn’t looking for ‘a story’; I wanted to talk to her, to hear her story. I hung around the square outside the front door watching the expressions on the faces of the homeless flip from anxiety to relief as they were head-counted indoors, assured of a mat for the night. But I never saw her again.

    Occasionally, the glance or gesture of a stranger, sparks a memory of that night and the girl who didn't belong there. So I pause for a moment, wondering what truth the girl in grey could tell these years later … and, although I’ll never know who she was or what story she had to tell, I truly want to believe that she found the happiest of endings.

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    child heart

    "The great man is he that does not lose his child's heart.” Menius
    “Bang! Stick ‘em up mummy. Bang! Bang!”

    But instead of raising her arms in the air, her mother took a photograph. This child never had to be told to smile for the camera—her eyes twinkled mischievously and she laughed every day, brimming with an abundance of love and compassion, hope and wonder, joy and curiosity.

    She had not a fear in the world. She knew she was loved. Knew she was safe. Knew she was precious. And she reciprocated.

    She adored her mom. Worshipped her dad. And kissed and cuddled and dressed My Lady in discarded baby clothes, far beyond the tolerance of most long-suffering rescue dogs.

    She had a brother two years her junior. His special name was Coco and she loved to squeeze his coco-puff cheeks and kiss his pursed red lips, never quite sure if he was trying to cuddle her back, or push her away.

    And now—after spending a week with her cousins—she'd come home to a brand new baby sister.

    She couldn’t pronounce the baby's name, but slapped her hands tight against her own cheeks and gasped "Pretty pretty Kaya,” as they met for the first time. She snuggled into Kaya's neck, sniffing her baby-smell, and gently slid her small hands under baby's shoulders to lift her from the cot.  Her mother reached over and whispered “Let’s go outside and play while baby sleeps.”

    Straightening her Sheriff’s hat, she raced downstairs and into the yard.

    She couldn’t wait until her brother could run—then she’d have had a real bad cowboy to chase! (No way was she giving up her Sheriff’s badge.) And when her sister was big enough to climb on the shiny, black wooden pony that daddy had carved, she’d make her a deputy. That would make the new baby feel special. She smiled and her tummy tickled and tickled inside.  Nanny said those were butterflies, and she had a belly full, fluttering and dancing around. Life could get no better …

    “Bang. Bang. Stick ‘em up mummy. Bang. Bang.”
     ~ ~
    Like an ever-burning flame, the essence of who we are flickers within us forever. It may get blown around a little. Or quiver for a while. It may feel dampened—weighed down by this journey called life. We may be brought to our knees by the cruel grip of grief, or the crushing black pain of betrayal and heartbreak. Our very essence may feel scorched. Blistered and damaged beyond repair. The flame gone. Burned out.

    But it’s not.

    No matter how small, or how dim, the spark is always there. Smoldering eternal.

    When we are weary or fearful, confused, or tearful, we need to be still. We need to look deep inside ourselves and nurture the ember, rekindling the unique and wondrous essence that we each brought with us into the world. We need to refuel. To reconnect with the earth. To tease the flame. Gently. Gently. Until it glows. Until the ember grows strong. Until it once again flames. Not so that we can be who we once were—but so that we can become, so much more.

    "For it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart. " John Bunyan.

    Sunday, April 08, 2007

    remember when they'd pass a silver plate?

    Dark and mysterious secrets remain locked in the tall cloisters and shadowy tombs of Tewkesbury Abbey Gloucestershire, England. Since the eighth century the medieval abbey has survived the blood of war, fire, famine, flood. And now plastic ...

    For your convenience ...

    Sunday, April 01, 2007

    what's in a nom de plume?

    I know many professional writers who refuse to publish under any name but their own. After heartfelt blood, sweat, and tears, they want full recognition, damn it!

    But there are others—myself included—who don’t mind anonymity. And in some cases, actually seek it.

    The big question I’m always asked is why, after all that work, do you want to publish under anything but your own name?

    I hate to suck the joy or mystery from the creative process, but it often boils down to the business of branding. An author might write for multiple genres; in competing markets; or want to create an identity as an expert on a very specific subject. They may also want to write about deeply personal issues, be extremely shy, or want to distance themselves from a particular subject or controversial stance. And sometimes, a writer has no choice.

    The publisher or agent wants a sexier name, a different image, or has a marketing crisis because your name is too similar to another author on his/her list. They may even want to ‘place’ you on the bookshelves next to an already established author—as in the case of Ian Rankin, who took the name Jack Harvey so that it planted his work in the middle of the shelf (close to Jack Higgins).

    I first used a pseudonym in a Cosmo-type magazine, for two reasons.

    Firstly, because I still worked in the corporate world and my boss would have deemed it inappropriate for a manager in my position to write about ‘such things’. I’d have received a quick adios amigo … and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    Secondly, because I’m a very private person who believes that my personal life is just that—personal. (So no, I'm not sharing my other names here!)

    Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander, says: “Anytime you work with materials that are deep parts of yourself, you feel revulsion at sharing things about yourself that you do not want people to know.” *

    I don’t know that I’d use the word revulsion. Embarrassment. Fear. Vulnerability. Feeling over-exposed, all ring truer for me.

    As someone who’s known for never broadcasting love’s highs and lows, or family issues, or friends’ secrets, I wanted to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge a few years ago when a deeply personal and intimate story—involving a man I loved very much—was “accidentally” published under my own name in a very popular international anthology.

    Of course, no one else knew or cared, and the publisher was very apologetic. But I couldn’t have felt worse if I’d been stripped naked and made to stand in the middle of Times Square next to the singing cowboy and his dirty yellow y-fronts. I did, however, learn a very valuable lesson about double and triple-highlighting the “publishing as nom de plume … ” box on all future releases.

    So why do other writers use pseudonyms?

    Writing across multiple genres or different character series

    • The queen of mystery novels, Agatha Christie, wrote romance novels as Mary Westmacott.
    • Bestselling romance author Norah Roberts switches gear when she writes erotic thrillers under the pen name J.D. Robb.
    • Samuel Langhorne Clemens wrote about different subjects, using different voices, under the names Mark Twain and Sieur Louis de Conte.
    • Mathematician Charles Lutwdige Dodgson wrote academic papers on logic using his own name, but wrote Alice in Wonderland as Lewis Carroll.
    • John Creasey published almost 600 books using 28 pseudonyms including the female nom de plume, Margaret Cooke.
    • Evan Hunter found fame as Ed McBain, but also wrote as Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, and Richard Marsten.
    • Robert Ludlum also writes as Jonathan Ryder. Barbara Vine as Ruth Rendell. Jack Higgins is Henry Patterson. And Alistair MacLean, Ian Stuart.
    • Pulitzer prize winning journalist, John Camp, writes suspense novels as John Sanford.

    Gender switching

    Less than a hundred years ago publishers rarely signed female authors, and to avoid automatic rejection, many women submitted their manuscripts using male pseudonyms. Even today, women who write for genres typically considered male-dominated, often publish using male names, or just initials as in the case of J.D. Robb.

    • Charlotte Bronte published under the name Currer Bell.
    • Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Eliot.
    • Katherine Alice Applegate writes as Nicholas Stevens.
    Likewise, female readers often prefer to read stories written by women and The Romantic Novelists' Association claims several male members writing as women:

    • Ian Blair writes as Emma Blair.
    • Hugh Rae as Jessica Stirling.
    • Roger Sanderson, as Jill Sanderson.

    • Author Eric Blair believed his family would be devastated once they discovered he’d lived down-and-out in Paris and London, and so George Orwell was born out of embarrassment.
    • Collaborators F. Dannay and Manfred B. Lee published their mystery series under the name Ellery Queen.
    • Teodor Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski wrote Heart of Darkness as Joseph Conrad.
    • By dropping the Pearl and adding an e, Pearl Gray became the very successful Western author, Zane Grey.
    • And doesn't Isaac Asimov sound much more of a sci-fi expert than Paul French?

    Secret identity

    Rather than use a pseudonym to determine if his work as an “unknown writer” would receive as much interest as his "non-pseudonym work", Stephen King created a whole secret identity. Publishing under the name Richard Bachman, book jackets displayed a photo of an anonymous male claiming to be Bachman.

    Bachman was eventually killed off with ‘cancer of the pseudonym’ after word got out that King was the author. And yes, the Bachman sales shot up.

    That’s branding folks!

    * Oleandar quote excerpted from a Writer's Digest interview.