Category Archives: writing

I told a story

For months I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook promoting the Front Parlor Series – public storytelling in the Capital Region. The group hosts an event every third Monday of the month at The Olde English and describes them as being “like The Moth radio hour…” Hmmm, doesn’t that sound interesting?

Needless to say, I’ve been wanting to get down there for some time and when I saw that June’s theme was “Dads,” I knew I had to go. The event began at 7:30 and I rolled in solo some time after 8:00. The upstairs room at The Olde English was steamy hot which provided the perfect excuse for my flushed face and general sweaty-with-nerves appearance. I  missed the first group of storytellers and had arrived at intermission. Never having done an open mic thing before, I looked around for a sign-up sheet, but learned quickly that it was more casual than that – just leave your name and they’ll let you know when it’s your turn.

There were three people in front of me and they each told stories which were unique in both content and conveyance. The first man seemed to be responding to an earlier participant (his daughter?) and tended to wander  a bit, while the second man had a more focused tale that he shared, gathering laughs along the way. The woman immediately before me told a sweet, but alarmingly brief, story that had a distinctly poetic sound to it. I would have enjoyed hearing more from her, but suddenly it was my turn.

The rules stated no notes, so I didn’t have anything beyond a mental outline of what I was going to share. Participants are limited to 5-7 minutes, but I had no sense of how long it would take to tell my story. There had been a timer which had actually sounded during one of the previous stories, but no one really paid any attention to it from what I could see. Maybe it would have been an issue had there been more participants, but on this particular night it wasn’t a problem. That took some pressure off and I made a note to speak slowly and take my time collecting my thoughts and words.

So – my story was about how I found my father. I brought a prop for inspiration (and a shot of confidence), the 30+ year old page from the Dublin phone directory which led to me locating my first ever relative on either side of my family. It’s a story that can take significantly longer to tell than 7 minutes, but I hit the most important parts while purposefully keeping the story focused on my father and his our family.

The response from the audience was encouraging. They laughed and sighed at the right times and afterwards a few were kind enough to compliment me on my story.  I recognize that I tell stories here, but standing in front of a roomful of strangers and actually seeing their reaction was a whole new experience for me. I’d definitely consider doing this again, if only as an exercise in pushing myself beyond my comfort level.

Maybe you have some stories to tell, too?

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Filed under Albany, Events, ideas, Local, Observations, Recommendations, writing

A is for apology

When my marriage ended, I wrote a lot about how I felt. It helped me to clarify and deal with the end of the longest relationship of my life and I felt entitled to that process. It was what I needed to do.

Afterwards, though, I felt guilty about some of what I wrote. I questioned whether I had been fair and if I should have been so honest about the pain I was in. I attempted to compensate for my regret by expressing the positive things that had come from the relationship. I began to shift my thinking to consider the possibility that the end of my marriage came because of needs not being met, not as a result of actions directed at or by either of us. I learned.

Or so I hoped.

My life is pretty public. Secrets aren’t something I personally feel the need to own, preferring direct honesty above polite bullshit, but it really is unfair of me to share my own disappointments at the expense of another. It isn’t kind and doesn’t serve a positive purpose. I don’t believe it’s necessary to tear down someone who once brought you tremendous happiness to make yourself feel better. It’s wrong and I’m sorry about doing it.

Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we planned or hoped. Maybe we’re told things that may or may not be true. Perhaps there are struggles beyond the circle the two of you have created, issues that need to be addressed that simply can’t be resolved as a unit. It’s hard to say and I probably shouldn’t even attempt it.

Suffice it to say that having one’s needs met and being loved the way we want and need to be loved is ultimately the purpose, I think, in having a relationship. When that’s not happening, it’s time to accept the situation and move forward. No need for scarlet letters at all.

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Filed under aging, love, musings, relationships, stress, Uncategorized, writing

I like that

2B1BA3C8-94F6-4EDB-BBAF-12E804849B00When I was an undergraduate, studying English and Women’s Studies at the University at Albany, I didn’t often buy prepared food in the basement of the campus center. There was one occasion, though, when I was on campus in the evening for a panel discussion and needed a bite to eat. I walked downstairs and hesitated a moment before entering what was then the grill area of the food services concession. As I stood at the doorway I witnessed the cooks behind the line blatantly eyeing up (and down) each woman. As the women approached the counter to place an order I could clearly hear the men saying “I like that. I like that.” They made no attempt to hide what they were saying, nudging each other and smirking. Did they think they were offering compliments as a side order?

I, being full on a diet of Women’s Studies, stepped up to the counter and addressed the cooks and informed them that what they were doing was unacceptable and they needed to stop. Their response? “What are you? Anita Hill?” This was late fall, 1991 and the news was full of Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court and Anita Hill’s testimony accusing him of sexual harassment. Knowing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere dealing directly with the kitchen guys, I walked away shaking my head.

The next day, I wrote a letter to the then head of Food Services at the university. A couple of days later, I received a phone call from his office and arranged for a meeting with him on campus. He complimented me on my letter writing skills and we discussed the incident. I explained my position and the concern I felt for 17 and 18 year-old women who might not be comfortable confronting men who were engaging in inappropriate verbal harassment and that campus should be a safe place for everyone. He was sympathetic, understanding and assured me that the situation would be addressed. I never went back to the cafeteria again.

Maybe those men were spoken to and developed a new understanding of what is acceptable in terms of addressing women and professional demeanor. Maybe they have daughters of their own now. Maybe they even now know that we don’t like it. At all.

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Filed under Albany, Education, girlhood, Local, musings, writing

Brooks Brothers suits

b683bae9-f62b-4ceb-96e3-a47c320e332f-10839-0000071941aafe77_tmp… my taste for customer service, that is. I don’t often shop at Brooks Brothers (their clothes are well tailored but a bit conservative for my lifestyle), but after visiting their Lee, MA outlet location twice in the last few months, they just may have made a customer out of me. Here’s why…

I dropped into their store at the end of summer to pick up a few dress shirts for a friend as a gift. I’ve never been particularly good at keeping track of measurements and sizes and that trip to Lee was no different. I had no idea where to start with sleeve length and neck size for this guy, but I did know that he has a history of shopping BB and I hoped that perhaps there was a database of customers that could be accessed. I stepped up to the counter and inquired and within minutes I knew the necessary shirt size. Easy.

What I didn’t know was that there was a preference (or even a difference) in collar style. Seems that my birthday guy prefers a close collar rather than the wider one I had randomly selected. So, for the last few months three (almost) perfectly new shirts have hung unworn in a closet. Last weekend we took a drive over to rectify the situation and that’s when the customer service took an additional, even more tremendous, leap forward.

Retaining a sales receipt for months is not necessarily my strength and we found ourselves in Lee without evidence of the purchase. I’ve been in this situation in the past and was successful in obtaining a credit by presenting the credit card originally used for payment, but, naturally, I recently switched American Express cards, so that wasn’t an option. As I prepared to log on to my Amex account to recover evidence of the transaction, the clerk asked me if I knew the date of the transaction and, miraculously, I did. Within 2 minutes the transaction was located and an exchange receipt printed. Simple.

A short time later we left the store, new purchases in hand, and headed to a place more my speed – UnderArmour. I had asked at Brooks Brothers for directions to the UA outlet since it was frigidly cold and we weren’t feeling up to wandering around the outdoor mall. As we were browsing the running gear an employee approached me to inform me that I had forgotten my phone at the Brooks Brothers store. Apparently, one of the employees there had made the effort to track us down to notify us of our oversight. Wow. Thoughtful initiative? Yes, please and thank you. Well done.

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I never imagined

imageOn our 15th wedding anniversary, my husband and I had a special dinner at a restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard. The meal was a bit of a disappointment, but the company was good.

After we had finished our meals and were somewhere between entrée and dessert, our wedding song came on over the restaurant’s speakers. I was touched and felt my eyes well with emotion. I thought to myself “we should dance.” There wasn’t a dance floor (it was a restaurant), but we could have managed a twirl or two. It was our 15th wedding anniversary.

I’ve thought back to that night a few times and wonder what might have been different if I had forced the words “we should dance” out of my mouth or if he had said “I arranged for this song to play.” If either of us had done something to demonstrate our love for the other. Would it have been enough to have prompted us to steer our ships once again to be side by side and in the same direction? I’ll never know.

By our next anniversary dinner, we were, in retrospect, clearly sailing in different directions. It was a fancy meal, perfectly executed and filled with laughter. We met the chef-owner and there were many bottles of wine uncorked. My feet hurt in their new shoes. It was good to feel something.

It’s almost 5 years later now and I never dreamed this life that I’m living. I write and run and work and eat and take pictures and I love, love, love. I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt and am equally inspired by today and the thought of tomorrow. Things may not have gone the way I imagined they would, but as an inherently grounded person, my imagination is sometimes too timid.

I never imagined I’d quote Hugh Hefner but he said it perfectly:

“In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined a sweeter life.”

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Gifts of the season

So far, it’s been a particularly relaxed holiday season. I’ve been on my game – my freezer has 8 quarts of assorted homemade cookie dough ready to thaw and bake, the door has a wreath and the dining room a decorated tree. The last of the Christmas cards went in the mail 3 days ago and I’ve got 4 rolls of wrapping paper – and tape.

Holiday preparations are so well in hand that I’m adding challenges to the upcoming days. I’ve got a few recipes which I’ll be debuting over the next few days, a riff on apple fritter waffle donuts, overnight pull-apart brioche cinnamon roll bread and a killer roast for Christmas Eve. And, yes, I already ordered the beef from the butcher. How did I manage to be so on top of things? I’d have to say it was because I remembered to put a few things for myself on this year’s gift list.

Last week, I loaded two of the three boys into the car and drove to go pick out a tree. At Price Chopper. Yep, we bought our tree from the Golubs, the same folks from whom I bought the potatoes and onions for our latkes. Talk about one-stop shopping! Generally we go out to rural Rensselear County for our tree, not suburban Slinglerlands, but the week’s wet snow made the appeal of tromping through a field searching for a tree pretty minimal. I gave myself the gift of simplicity. $35.00 and car filled with pine needles later, we have, as always, the perfect tree.

Last night, I had a hankering for latkes. Even though it was Friday and I felt kind of beat, I made the effort to grate the potatoes and chop the onion and fry a batch of latkes. With each step, I considered, then accepted, what I had to do next to get this out of the norm meal on the table. As the pancakes fried, I peeled apples for a quick sauce and grilled sausages. We didn’t sit down to enjoy our dinner until after  8:00, but I felt so relaxed because I didn’t rush the process or myself. I gave myself the gift of indulging in something I was really craving – sour cream and generous glass of Riesling included.

During these often hectic holiday weeks, when so very much (festivities, shopping, food and drink) is crammed into each day, I purposefully left my calendar open. I quietly refused to commit myself or take on obligations. It has been remarkable. I’ve been available to do some fun relatively last minute things.  I’ve been writing and reading, taking long walks with Jeter and enjoying my home and boys. I gave myself the gift of time.

I hope you’re giving yourself something priceless, too.

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Filed under aging, Boys, Christmas, Cooking, family, holidays, musings, writing

Man crush Monday

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Image: theblogistashouse.files.com

This is my first attempt at noting this weekly event so forgive me if I fail to acknowledge it appropriately. I’m a word girl and my crushes are literary, not literal and, since I’m a librarian, I’ll give them to you alphabetically.

The most local of my crushes and the only dedicated nonfiction writer is Paul Grondahl. Reading Paul’s work in the Albany Times Union has taught me an incredible amount about writing, my community and life. I wish I knew how many stories of Paul’s I read before I began to recognize a consistency in my response to his words, to note his byline. His ability to present human beings in an utterly nonjudgmental fashion is truly an art and we in the Capital District are so very fortunate to have access to his words.

Recently, Paul visited one of the schools where I teach and hearing him speak only caused me to admire him more. He shared his experiences along with his suggestions for conducting quality research and when he spoke disparagingly of Wikipedia, I felt my crush deepen. Absolutely dreamy!

My longest term literary crush would have to be John Irving. I believe The Cider House rules was my introduction to his work and, captivated by his talent, I quickly read each of his novels. After many years, I recently reread A Widow for One Year and was once again charmed by Irving’s ability to convey a story about individuals and, for lack of a better phrase, the human condition. His characters are both blazingly unique and potentially our next door neighbors. It’s magical.

Of the three writers I’m crushing on, John Irving is the only one I haven’t been fortunate enough to meet. Yet. He’s kind of overdue for a new novel and I would love to catch him on tour, so if you happen to hear about him being around (and by “around” I mean within a 150 mile radius), please let me know.

And my final literary crush? You know – I love Richard Russo with an ardor that rivals Band Aid Penny Lane’s obsession with Still Water. Really. What that man can do with words on a page is remarkable and I can’t imagine ever growing weary of their sound. His novel, Bridge of Sighs, just might be my favorite book ever. The voices of the characters are so true and honest when they narrate and the emotions they share so raw, that I find myself rereading this book almost annually. It moves me.

Exactly what one wants from a crush, right?

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