Sunday, January 31, 2010


So for the better part of a year, I've been floating various ideas for a writing project. Right now, two proposals clearly appeal to me.

One is not my idea, but I stumbled across a photo that I thought was more than a nugget of a screenplay. So I set a plan in motion with a few other people, and I think I can be a solid contributor, a key scribe behind the kid geniuses. It is Bud Light: no guilt, lots of fun, easy to swallow. But fruitful.

The other spawned from my own sense. It started out as a good idea, but somehow my brain polished it up as I slept. When I awoke, I realized that it evolved on its own, impregnated in my dreams. It is Guinness: heavy, serious, hard to get down. But gratifying.

I welcome both. Each will sap a lot of my personal time, from my family, from my training, from my energy. Still, I anticipate that they shall reinvigorate my soul and my spirit, my desire to leave as many imprints as I can before I leave. And since we never know when that will be, the best day is today.

And so now I shall write.

Friday, January 29, 2010

An American Life Cut Short

It's been 13 years since a good friend of my two brothers died suddenly. I thought of his passing as I reflected tonight on Tyler's death, which happened two weeks ago. Same reason, same tragedy, same question: Why. Damn it. Why?

So with a sky full of stars and a beer in hand, I toast the memory of a good kid, Pawel Patel, who I wrote about for The Morning Call in a column that brought on a steady stream of tears as my angry fingers flew across the keyboard near midnight in the newsroom. People were on deadline; I blocked out the noise, the police scanner, the late-night production madness. I specifically remember writing in a staccato manner. Smacking letters. Short paragraphs. To the point. Matter of fact. But with purpose, with honesty. Death does that to you when have to write about it. There is no other way for me.

An American Life Cut Short

June 24, 1997

The Morning Call

In late May, the telephone rang. My mother's voice came, sounding grave.

"Pawel the Polish kid is really sick," she said. "It doesn't look good."

She was talking about her lanky, shy neighbor, the one who still carried a thick European accent eight years after moving to the States.

If Pawel Pytel had been on the line, he would've clarified one thing: He's not Polish. Born in Gdansk. Grew up in Poland. Speaks Polish.

But his blood runs Ukrainian.

Still, that's how most folks in my family's Whitehall Township neighborhood have known him and his younger brother, Jerry.

The Polish kids.

Pawel had collapsed during a Ukrainian festival in upstate New York and lay in a hospital.

Brain aneurism, the doctors said.

My mother was shaken.

"He's only 23."

The Polish kids immigrated to the United States in 1989 with their parents, sister and grandmother, Babscia, who today still wears a kerchief around her head, hot weather or not. They joined their aunt and uncle, crowding a tiny brick cape on 4th Street, about 150 steps from Grape Street in Fullerton.

Not enough room for eight, though.

So while the men built a massive addition that year, the boys quietly played soccer in the back yard.

Amazed, the neighbor kids watched as Pawel and Jerry spun the black and white sphere on their toes and lobbed the ball over their heads, as if it was second nature.

They were determined to blend in. But it was hard to ignore their plaid shirts, wide-legged pants, dark socks with sandals.

One couldn't miss their choppy, accent-laden forays into English.

"Play ball?" they'd ask my younger brothers.

Nah, the Reaman boys would reply. My brothers liked football, American football, not the European kind. Still, the kids tried to amaze everyone with their grace, although Pawel once launched the soccer ball into my parent's dining room window. Within weeks, however, the soccer ball vanished and the Polish kids started tossing pigskin in the alley.

In a few years, Jerry would be catching passes for the Whitehall High School Zephyrs. Pawel, sticking with tradition, would play defense for the soccer team.

Pawel wasn't as outgoing as his brother. But he had his own way of Americanizing.

He landed jobs at the local Acme and McDonald's, always shyly smiling when he was recognized, then shooting his clear-blue eyes toward the floor. He saved his money, waiting for the day he could afford an American car.

When it came, he bought a powder blue Mustang with an obnoxious exhaust. Pawel spent that summer peeling down the alley, annoying a few of his neighbors.

Three years ago, Pawel joined the Navy, earning enough to fulfill another American dream: a convertible, forest green Mustang. He came home on the weekends, slowly tooling through the alleys of the neighborhood, a one-man parade in all of his glory.

By now, the shy immigrant in clashing plaid shirt who struggled to speak English was now one of Uncle Sam's boys, interpreting Russian, Polish and Ukrainian on far-away missions.

He grew out of his shell, matured perhaps by the Navy's training and his sea-worthiness. He no longer cast his eyes to the ground when he said hello. He didn't awkwardly cower his 6-foot-5 frame behind Jerry, who teetered a few inches shorter.

Pawel was a man.

Through the years, he carried with him his family's strong work ethic and the belief that people should help people, no matter what.

I hadn't seen Pawel in at least six months, until I moved in March. I feared I didn't have enough hands to carry all of the furniture.

But my father had it covered.

"The Polish kids will be here," he assured me.

And, without my asking, they were. Like workhorses, Pawel, Jerry and one of their cousins --fresh to the States -- showed up in Pawel's new black Jeep, lugging chunks of furniture for six or so hours.

They barely spoke a word to me.

Afterward, they didn't ask for anything but a beer. With a little urging, they took pizza and sauntered into my cellar, away from the "adults." The Polish kids, now in their 20s, played with my kids' games and laughed. Within an hour, they waved goodbye and left.

On an April weekend, Pawel helped his uncles build a three-car garage. Afterward, he etched his name into the wet cement. His uncle Walter freaked, but relented.

So "Pawel 1997" remained as he headed back to his Willow Grove base.

Just a month later, Pawel, Jerry and a bunch of friends piled into the Jeep and headed to the Ukrainian festival. But the Polish kids wouldn't return home together.

In early June, the telephone rang. My father's voice came, sounding broken.

"Pawel's dead," he cried into the receiver, the words barely spilling from his mouth. "He died a few hours ago."

At his viewing a few days later, sailors flanked Pawel's casket. Ukrainian priests chanted, shaking incense into the air already thick with emotion.

His funeral procession spanned at least eight blocks, snarling traffic through Fullerton, West Catasauqua and Catasauqua, all the way to his resting place in Northampton -- 4,000 miles away from Poland.

Unlike his sister and brother, Pawel wasn't a U.S. citizen.

Pawel wanted be naturalized, but didn't have time, Jerry said.

It didn't matter.

Lying in his Navy uniform, Pawel's casket was draped by an American flag. A rifle squad fired a salute and a bugler cried out taps.

Pawel Pytel died an American.

Glimpses is an occasional feature about the experiences of people in the Lehigh Valley and the places and events that define life here.

Fathers and Daughters

This is a tough topic for me, I concede, because:

A: my relationship with my father is a mixed bag.
B: my relationship with my father is hard to define.
C: my relationship with my father is capricious.

And those things all mean the same to me, while remaining completely divergent.

Without too much detail, I'll simply say that I have made my father proud many times; still, I have disappointed him probably just as often. He is a man of a few words, as most men are, and I never really know where I stand, how I measure up. He is a man's man: a NRA-touting, deer-stalking, fast car-loving, John Wayne-model of a person. The kind of guy who can recite lines from Bridge Over the River Kwai without skipping a beat. The kind of guy whose bad mood can change the tone of a room without him uttering a word. All you need is to hear that heavy exhale, and my three brothers and I know to brace ourselves.

Perhaps this why I revel in watching the relationships between Mark and our daughters. The dynamics they share are quite unlike the connection that I had with my father when I was a child. And part of me is rather envious.

Take Crazy Hair Day, for example.

Kendall needed a 'do that would qualify as "crazy hair" at preschool this week. Now, I can pull off braids. I can straighten Grace's wave. I can twist some curls. But I cannot do "crazy hair." Cosmetology is not listed on my resume of skills. And it never will make the cut, either. So I tried to formulate a plan the night before about how crazy I could make her hair. I thought about gels, spray glitter, parting it on the side. I couldn't decide. I even dreamt about it.

That morning, I descended the stairs in a rush. About 15 minutes stood between me, crazy hair, and the time I had to run out the door for school. "Keni," I yelled, "let's figure out the crazy hair."

But as I reached the family room, I found Mark quietly smoothing Keni's blonde locks that extend down her narrow back. And I watched.

Calmly, he created sections; slowly, he pulled the brush through; carefully, he turned and twisted her long strands into three equal ponies.

And I watched. With envy.

For here was a father--also a strong silent type, a man often of few words and a brooder in his own right--giving attention to the small details that a daughter needs. I watched and wondered if my girls realize how lucky they are that he is patient, that he remembers the names of their stuffed animals, that he volunteers to play Chutes and Ladders, that he does "Baaayybeee Bath Time" without my prompting, that he carefully picks out their clothes each morning. When I was a child, my father didn't have time for such particulars. I don't remember him at a swim meet, or when I cheered, or when I danced at recitals. Common interests revolved around his interests, not ours. Plus, he had more on his plate, I guess, and so our relationship today wasn't built on nurturing or close attention, but rather existence. Or perhaps, obligation. Or perhaps. reaction to what I've done right, done wrong.

I don't judge him for that, for he is who is. Luckily his investment in parenting evolved when my two younger brothers were born years later, much to their advantage. I acknowledge that, in recent time, he has connected to me as we've both aged, and for that I am thankful.

But tonight, as Grace suffers from an angry stomach flu, it is Mark for whom she cries to carry her to the bathroom, to give her solace. Me? I want to scurry to the basement, find somewhere to hide, avoid the temporary suffering that she undergoes. I want to ride my bike, do laundry, find an excuse.

I guess, in the end, I am not unlike my pop. Still, my hope is that our daughters are like their own father, and that they realize one day how blessed they've been.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kafka and me.

Evil Iago nefariously warned Othello to beware the green-eyed monster. This tragic flaw, of course, leads many folks to depression and doom, for jealousy sweeps us off the path of productivity, from the sense of satiety, to the world of why. Why me? Why not me? Why someone else?

Well, the green-eyed monster tapped on my shoulder and has been breathing hotly down my neck for the past 12 hours. It appeared out of nowhere when a friend of mine, a published author, informed me that she would most likely be resigning from a job that pays the bills for a career that fills the soul: full-time independent writer.

Welcome aboard, jealousy. Welcome board, indeed.

To write full-time again would satisfy my needs greatly, for I remain all-too-familiar with the subconscious pressure of mentally sorting and stacking ideas that consistently flow through my mind--but they are ideas that have not been given the respect or opportunity to see life. So when she broke the news, I had to manually use my hand to close my agape mouth. I apologized to her because my conflicted feelings clouded my happiness for her. I stammered through most of the conversation. Why not me?

This is not to say that I don't love my own job, for I do. Teaching affords me the chance to share my philology with budding writers, eager learners, lovers of linguistics and turns-of-phrase. However, it has been a long road, and to improve as an educator, I need to continue growing as a writer. Thus, hearing of my friend's decision made me rather reflective, rather envious of someone who will soon be able to write for eight hours a day, not 30 minutes a week.

It seems that I spend so much time thinking about what is going on around me, and that I need to somehow share it, tell it. The handsome elementary-school teacher who died today of leukemia, only eight weeks after I spoke with him in a class. The elderly one-armed man grocery shopping today, so intent on pushing a filled cart to his rusted Toyota and waiting Huskie. The girl who broke down tonight at my kitchen table, weeping because anxiety trumped arithmetic homework. The woman who finally decided to go against the tide of common sense and follow her dreams...

Yes, yes. I am jealous. Yes, it is not a healthy habit. But somehow, I will find a way. For, as Kafka says, "Writing is a sweet, wonderful reward..." And I deserve the reward. I do; truly, I do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Death a Genuine Article

“You meet people who forget you. You forget people you meet. But sometimes you meet those people you can’t forget. Those are your friends.”

Dear Tyler,

I am writing to you because this seems to be the most natural, most approachable method. After all, you were a born conversationalist, an easy-going spirit who exuded confidence and charm that many of your peers either coveted or relished. And that was back in the day, stretching into 10th grade, when I first learned who you were as a person.

Yeah, I know. You weren’t the model student in my academic English class. Right? Right. I remember I feigned shock when you told me that you were in honors history. And you didn’t do your double-entry journals for that class either, did you? Well, this weekend I went back to my old grade book to verify this, your decision to sacrifice grades for a social life, for matters that are far-more pressing than SAT vocabulary or a persuasive outline. Friendships. Wrestling. Girls. And not necessarily in that order. My pages clearly show there are a couple of assignments that are still late. But you know I never judged you by that. Never would, never will.

Those things are insignificant in our lives. They are often mere trappings of prescriptive education—and of life in general, these expectations placed on all of us to which we should subscribe. But you didn’t. You carved your own path. Instead, what you did impress upon me immediately was your gregarious spirit, your ability to command a room, your wherewithal to effortlessly connect with others. Your zest for life.

You were the Genuine Article.

It’s that simple. Walking into the classroom (late, most likely), you flashed that Peppermint-Chiclet smile, the million-dollar shit-eating grin that could only make everyone chuckle in response. Quite often, we’d digress in class, and usually you were to blame. You’d interrupt us, sit back, ask some esoteric question or make some random observation of life—anything to change gears. Wry sarcasm peppered everything, but it never offended. It just drew everyone closer to your flame.

I clearly remember talking to you one day after school; you asked me what my plans were. I said, “I’m going running.” You flashed The Grin: “Running? I’m proud of you. Way to go, Ms. Reaman.” I distinctly recall it because I had always told my squirrels how proud I was of them, and here you were—handsome, popular, outgoing—telling the old lady that you were proud of her. Proud of me? For crying out loud, you were 15. Still, your words stuck with me. I remember getting home, tying my Asics, and heading along Willow Lane, the wind flying across the cornfields. And my thoughts along the path? “Tyler Takach is proud of me! How cool is that?”

Since that run, I’ve logged, I don’t know, about 4,500 more miles. But whenever I cross that patch of Willow, I think of you, those blue eyes that made many a teen-age girl swoon, those ringlets the envy of women everywhere, and those words that made me realize how damn lucky I was to have met you. I think about how fortunate I felt to watch you flourish when you fell in love, tripped over a few hurdles, grew into a man at Freedom High School.

Every year, I always tell my friends and family who my “sons” are in my classes, squirrels who may need some direction, who challenge me, who want to connect with me. It’s a teacher thing, I guess, but you were one of my sons, figuratively speaking, during your sophomore year. And I wanted to see you succeed, to be happy. And you were on your way.

This weekend, I passed your spot again. But for the first time in a long while, I didn’t want to. That’s because you are now gone. It had been almost 12 hours since fate robbed us, since I learned that you collapsed, died unexpectedly just six weeks after your 20th birthday. It angered me, crumbled me into heavy sobbing of realization that battled my disbelief.

But I am not alone in this conflict. Far from it.

You know that; we all know it.

Many arrived early on Monday, the hundreds of people—some of whom would wait perhaps an hour—who came to pay their respects to you and your family at Long Funeral Home in Bethlehem. They wept solidly and continuously as Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin—songs that must’ve been among your favorites—played in the background. Grown men, young girls, friends, co-workers, cousins, neighbors, teachers—they poured in patiently to gaze at photos of you sprawled across three display boards, across the scrolling flat screen. By the time I left, the line began to extend down the street. As others approached, they whispered in disbelief at the turn out.

Still, I wasn’t shocked by the crowd. People loved you, T-Tak. You were the magnet to which so many people were drawn. Affable. Lovable. Memorable. And as I look back, you were one of those people that we meet who we cannot forget. Today, when my 9th grade “son” walked into my classroom, your face appeared, and I lost control—for all I could think of was the tragic ending to your all-too-short life. I rushed out of the room in tears.

In all honesty, you weren’t the Genuine Article, Tyler.

You are the Genuine Article—and always will be. You may not walk this earth any longer, my friend, but you will live on until every one of us follows your path.

Rest in peace, my 10th grade son.

Ms. Reaman

Friday, January 15, 2010

Too young, far too young.

Twenty years. Not enough time. Not enough time for the world to revel in your charm, to chuckle at your stories, to blush at your bravado. You created a spark every time you walked into my classroom. We never knew what to expect, what morsel you'd share, what anecdote you'd unleash.

I can't even write at the moment for this--this untimely passing of your days on earth--have stripped me and so many others of sense, of understanding. For the past two hours, since I heard that you had just slipped away, I cannot stop the tears, cannot stop asking why.

Rest in peace, Tyler.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Fallout

A week has passed since I learned about Greg Ritter’s death, and it still affects me rather profoundly. Forcing myself into work the next morning, all I could think about as I walked through the doors at Emmaus was: How are the students at Freedom holding up as they drove past East Hills, past the school where Ritter guided them into successful, confident leaders?

As I dropped off my lunch in the faculty room, a colleague asked me what was wrong. My sadness easily revealed itself. I burst into tears, but I wept not for my own sake, or even for Ritter’s. Rather, I sobbed for them, those left behind. I could not begin to fathom the massive dark cloud that shadowed those teenagers I know, and I longed to be there to help them grieve, to make some sense of this great misfortune.

Since then, I began to closely read the Facebook page that they dedicated to his remembrance, to the commitment of his pedagogical mission, to the tremendous influence he was to hundreds of students for more than a dozen years. Their responses were heart-felt, genuine, mature, introspective. They would've done him damn proud.

Days later many of them filled the Allentown funeral home to pay tribute. Some wore their Monagacci shirts, long faded, seemingly shrunken by growing bodies. They laughed, wept, reflected, recalled how they thrived in that wonderful year of 7th grade, that rite of adolescent passage in Monagacci that so many of them found to simply be the best year out of their entire public-school career.

Despite his untimely leaving, Greg Ritter's death brought them all together—individuals who still linger in their innocent teens to those in their mid-20s who now deal with new pressures of adulthood—to share this common bond, to contemplate how people come into our lives and how we lose touch, no matter how important they seem at the time. In no way did Ritter ever create the same effect in my own life as he did with those kids. But he definitely inspired and influenced my own tenets as an educator, and I regret that I didn’t take the time out of my own frenetic life to somehow tell him that within the past year, most likely the darkest and loneliest of his life.

The small lining that comes from such a tragedy is that we, those left with a void, recognize how we must grow from this tremendous loss, how we must take the time to reconnect with those who have molded us, even in the slightest sense. Thanks to someone posting my blog on the dedication page, former students have re-entered my life, many of them now parents, business owners, college graduates, military personnel, teachers. I don’t need them to tell me that I helped change them, whittled them in some small sense, if any. Knowing that they have lead successful, fulfilling lives—and that they are making the best of this situation—is enough for me.

So as much as he impressed upon them in middle school, Greg Ritter taught them a final life lesson. But it's a lesson that's left for each of us to interpret on our own, and to grow from it.

Out of all of this, I had—for the first time—a vicious comment posted to my blog. I no longer get paid to write, so I don’t care if people disagree with me. Fortunately, I am surrounded by those who support me, who tell me that it doesn’t matter what I write. That they just want me to write about whatever or whoever inspires me.

And I will. No matter how small, no matter how distant, no matter how contrarian my life and thoughts are to someone else.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Death of an Inspiration

Leaving my career as a journalist marked one of the most difficult times in my life. It came after a wrench forced me to find a way to raise a family on my own without working nights, weekends, holidays. So I searched for a way to marry my love for writing with my passion for meeting new people, and the answer quickly emerged: teaching.

Fortunately, as an education writer at the time, I had met a number of inspirational teachers, people who truly wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. People who thought outside of the four walls of a traditional classroom.

Greg Ritter was one of them.

I met Ritter in 1995 while covering an assignment to write about the award-winning program that he developed for East Hills Middle School in the Bethlehem Area School District. His self-contained program, entitled "Monagacci," was a non-traditional, team-taught program that entwined the environment with core subjects. Monagacci, which earned him a national award, involved students in academically based projects in the wilderness. The year I interviewed him, Ritter had 160 middle-schoolers apply for the coveted 56 spots. The beauty of his endeavor? Monagacci included all levels of students: honors, special education, emotionally disturbed, middle-of the-road. Basically, everyone from across the spectrum. It was one of the most heterogenous models around.

His work fascinated me. Who'd want to spend long hours with a highly challenging group of kids, some of whom came with tremendous baggage and needs to which most of us cannot relate?


Ritter firmly believed that kids--all kids--could learn life lessons through personal connections to nature, by working with peers, by eliminating barriers that entrap so many of us. Based around Gary Paulsen's novel "Hatchet," the students gained insight about survival, about how nature falls clearly into the paths of our existence, about how we can push ourselves to conquer the limits placed before us. I needed to see how this all worked, how he made it work.

So over several days in 1995, I spent time with Ritter, some of his colleagues, and 30-some middle-school boys. I watched them collaborate on building shelters out of sticks and leaves. I saw them struggle to make collective decisions that were best, or at least manageable, for the group. I joined them on a daylong sojourn down the Delaware River where they would all let go of their fears and plunge from a rope-swing into depths of unknown waters. Here's part of my observances from that article:

"Consider Ritter's classroom for three days last week.

Hundreds of cloud-reaching hemlocks surrounded Ritter and teacher Scott Denofa as they prepared more than 30 boys for a camping venture in Trexler Scout Reservation in Monroe County. The boys -- who as teams built their shelters for the night out of logs, sticks and leaves -- faced an 8-mile hike on rugged terrain, through waist-deep water and into a field of thorns.

They shouldered weighty backpacks, started their own fires with flint and steel, and cooked their own meals when they were hungry, not when the school clock said it was lunchtime.

"I think it's cool because we get to be outdoors and learn about nature and the environment," said Tyler Zeigler, 11. "I feel sorry for the other kids because they're stuck inside."

His affable personality, his innate ability to multi-task, his ease to deal with a bounty of adolescent conflicts, his penchant and unmatched knowledge of the outdoors -- they collectively helped him create a dynamically successful situation that most of the students would have never experienced. His recognition and laurels grew.

A few years later, as I was leaving the newsroom for the classroom, I remembered people like Ritter, and I knew that I was making the right decision, as conflicted as i felt.

During my first year at Freedom, the high school into which East Hills feeds, I taught ninth-grade English. When my students discussed people who created an impact on their lives, the fortunate Monagacci students readily offered: "Mr. Ritter." Hands-down. This man and his program shaped their young lives in a way that no other teacher could match. I clearly remember Josh Moretz, a boy with whom I haven't spoken in years, telling me that Mr. Ritter changed the way he felt about school, that he learned so much about himself through the hurdles that class presented. He actually looked forward to going to school in an otherwise difficult adolescent phase.

I would soon discover that the Monagacci students became risk-takers in my classroom. They embraced challenges. They boasted confidence in the classroom, leadership in the community. They all shined, no matter what the track they were in. They knew who they were. They had a sense of direction. They had focus. And as I would learn more about all of my students, it all went back to Monagacci. It didn't take me long, but as the years progressed, I could confidently ask:: "Were you in Monagacci." Chances were, I already knew. "Yes."

Time progressed before the news broke last year. Allegations arose: Ritter faced charges of inappropriate contact with a teenager from another district.

The fallout at Freedom was tremendous. The former Monagacci students who had deeply trusted their mentor sat shell-shocked for days in my classroom. They couldn't believe it, didn't want to. Who did? No one. We sent some of them to guidance for counseling. How could this be? They didn't believe it. I didn't want to either.

Over the months, everything seemed to die down after his arrest. He was out on release. I left to teach in another district, forgot about the tragedy.

Until today.

The news? With one day before his trial was to begin, Greg Ritter shot himself to death.

His public defender told the press that Ritter was "disheartened over the prospect of the trial."

I felt empty. This sense of bitter loss covered me. By the time my husband arrived home, I had cried for a bit, confused by what to think. He offered it rather succinctly: What is disheartening is that we are all too often judged by one mistake, and that mistake incorrectly defines who we are.

Yes, Greg Ritter allegedly made a mistake. But he was more than that mistake. And he needs to be remembered for more than that. He had no shot at redemption. He left this world in a cloud of darkness. What upsets me the most about his suicide is that he didn't follow his own tenets, the beliefs he passed on to his students. As Ritter told me in 1995, his program was meant to built confidence and self-esteem. It taught them, he said, how to survive.

Unfortunately, it didn't teach him to survive. For in the end, his final lesson was to give up in the face of adversity, to not accept the challenges that awaited him. I wish he had hung in there, found a support system, learned that this mistake did not define who he was to the hundreds of people whose lives he positively shaped and affected.

Mine included.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy Birthday.

Today marks the 70th birthday of my father, the King of Fullerton and Renaissance man. Happy Birthday, Dad. Even though we are often on different plains, I am your chip, and you are my champion. May you always have the Eye of the Tiger.

Today marks the 30th birthday of my running wife, my dearest friend who has loyally strode the roads with me through at least 3,000 miles on foot and twice of that in spirit. Happy Birthday, Christine. If I had a sister, I don't know if I'd love her as much as I love you.

Today marks the birthdays of many others. May they have had a wonderful day as well.

Letting go.

I read an excerpt about Elie Wiesel, who told the tale of a rabbi who believed that when you die, your creator will not ask why you didn't become a great saviour, leader, or prophet that answered life's questions. No, the creator will simply ask why you didn't become you, why you didn't use the gifts with which you were born to become the fully realized miracle you had the potential of becoming.

One of the greatest tasks in life for any of us is to change ourselves. But how many of us take the risk to become our destiny, to let go of our fears, to not do mostly what is expected of us from others? It is extremely egotistic to think that we can change another person. But we can influence them through the sharing of our ideas, our discussion of our personal tenets. This dialogue forces us to look deeply into our own beliefs and values. It can help us better understand who we are and possibly change our lives, to become the fully realized miracle that we are all meant to be become. Intellectually. Spiritually. Mentally. Sadly, self-actualization is neglected by the people who need it the most.

Today I recognized that I must learn to let go of that which I cannot change. Something at work simply is not falling into my long-term plans, and it is--at this point--beyond my control. For at least three weeks, this possibility has haunted my thoughts, brought me to tears. Today, however, as I made yet another futile attempt to see this project come to fruition, I just sat back and said: "I have to let this go." Otherwise, it will continue to sap my energy from my other endeavors. Why should my other investments--my relationships, my happiness, my self-satisfaction--suffer? I cannot allow that. Instead, I just need to sigh heavily, shrug my shoulders, head to Starbucks for a tall skinny vanilla latte and fruit plate, sans kiwi. I need to surround myself with moments, small as they may be, that make my soul smile.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Life coach.

Photo credit: Marcy "QOS" Sacarakis

I think it's about time to pull the ideas off of the dusty shelf, these kernels of great script that have yet to sprout within the trappings of my imagination. A number of them have sat there, waiting patiently, arms crossed, feet tapping, eyes rolling: "When, oh when," they lament, "will the dreamy scribe choose me, give me the chance to pass through her birthing canal, purge me from her channel of inner-love, allow me to finally breathe?"

A writer's ideas are her children, tender souls to which she gives life. She develops them, nurtures them, feeds them, watches them grow. Or, she ignores them, finds other ways to bide her time. But thus, certain death awaits them, for they die with her.

When I earned my keep as a full-time writer, I spent the majority of those 15 years exploring the lives of people (and the deaths of some) at the direction and guidance of editors. More often than not, these stories were the invention of others. (Although, the feature on the lonely typewriter salesman at Herbert's was completely mine; I felt justified years later when another reporter rewrote the same piece. Of course, the original work - mine - clearly read better. Clearly...) Still, I realize that, even if many of the ideas were not begotten by my wits, I could inflect my tone, voice, and style, stamp them as my own.

But now that I'm in another career, one in which I guide and teach young writers, I feel the nagging need to explore the bigger picture, the ideas that extend beyond print journalism, the ideas that awake me in the middle of the night to search for the pencil and pad beside my bed. And so it is time to listen to the seeds for novels and screenplays that softly tap on my shoulder. They need my attention. For to ignore them would be to ignore my need to give them life, and to ignore a large part of my being.

For the better part of three years, my mentor has been gently chiding me - with more seriousness than I originally thought - to partner with her for some publishing venture. And after the stresses that I've been encountering, I realize that I truly need to usher my talents in a new direction, one that we both know would enmesh rather beautifully with her gift for photography.

So with the New Year upon us, I hereby resolve that I will:

A: work to develop a joint venture of our talents.
B: give Bud Greene, Life Coach, a shot at life.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


It's the night before school returns. It's bitterly cold everywhere. Literally. Figuratively.

This winter break has been a mixed bag of emotions. On the up side, I welcomed the opportunity to spend some rather quality time with my own children. Baking cookies. Going to the theatre. Learning how to bowl on Wii and having my wazoo beaten by Keni, a four-year-old precocious southpaw with a Beantown accent. Spending one-on-one with my currently directionless teen, Annie, and feeling better that she likes her new job. Looking into the wide eyes of Gigi, my delicate little self, and reassuring her that I love her dearly, that everything will be OK.

And then I had the chance to spend a few hours with my English family, pedagogical gurus who appreciate intellectual banter, well-written novels, a respectable wine list, and high standards in public education. Of course, we were let down rather suddenly at The Bookstore, a modern-day speakeasy found within the confines of a candle-lit basement bar that's hidden behind faux stacks of authentic moldy books. The period drinks did little to interest me. (I never envision ordering an Old Fashioned, or anything that includes bitters. Life is bitter enough.) But I had a fairly robust ale in a cool bottle. I forget what the others had, but I know that it took nearly 30 minutes to place an order, at least 15 minutes for our drinks to be served, around 20 minutes for four slices of cheese to appear, and Lord knows how long for our messed up check to arrive.

Well, despite the rave review of previous imbibers, I was not about to dish out any stars, due to the abysmal service and limited menu. In my haste, I confess, I remember grabbing whatever was on the table. Upon my exit, I realized that I somewhat pilfered one of the old books that had been sitting beneath my plate. Perhaps it was the sole beer, perhaps it was my disgust with the 90-minute experience, perhaps it was the waitress insisting that we pay more. But I walked out with a musty book.

Safely tucked inside Marcy's SUV, I snorted that I must've scored some wonderful novel, something I hoped that would lead me to some self-awareness, some life-changing epiphany. But as we started to drive off, I looked at the title: Gregg Shorthand--Functional Method. I took a book written entirely in shorthand, which practically no one in modern society can read. Pages and pages of shorthand. Lines. Circles. Hyphens. Slashes. Magical script of old-school secretaries. Was this karma? Perhaps. 616 pages of nothingness. Disconnect. Rambling confusion for no one to decipher.

On the down side of the break, well, it was simply difficult at times. I feel as though I have so many pressures coming from different directions. My community-based project. My upcoming professional developments. My next graduate course. Mid-terms. Planning. Grading. Training. Boo to it all. I feel as though I cannot control any of it when it strikes all at the same time. And I feel as though I have a sign on my forehead: Vacancy. I need a personal assistant to manage it all. Even if all he or she ever does is write everything in shorthand. At least someone will understand, make sense of it all.