Celebrate My Unofficial Handwrite-a-Letter Day

When this English tree lost its leaves, it snuggled up in a secondary, fuzzy coat.

When this English tree lost its leaves, it snuggled up in a secondary, fuzzy coat.

Miles run today: 4.5

Chapters still needing revision before submitting to writing group (Sunday–eek!): 1

Handwritten letters most people write per month: 0

Happy birthday how oil are you now. Can You send a note back to me.

My son received this note from a first grade neighbor the other day. The paper is taped together, and the words are way, way up near the top, very carefully considered.

I love it.

I would not dare suggest that I believe we should all go back to the days before email and texting and dial-in conference calls and Skype.

However, I believe a handwritten letter is special.

I receive hundreds of emails each week. I love hearing about writer friends’ accomplishments through Facebook. I am thankful that I can interview people over the phone for work; it saves time and gas expense.

But when I walk out to the mailbox and once in a blue moon receive a handwritten note, my heart skips.

Back when I was away from home for the first time as a freshman at college, we had tiny mailboxes in the large dorm lobby. Each day, I would open the small door and hope for something from home or something from a friend away at another college.

When I saw my mother’s steady, loopy cursive or my father’s sharp, diagonal scroll, my grandmother’s warm script or my friend’s careful blend of cursive and print, the envelopes themselves made my day before I even ripped open the seal. The stamp or the sticker used to secure the envelope was often chosen with care.

After I opened the letter, I might be able to tell that the writer was short on time: their writing seemed labored and cut off quickly without completely finishing the thought.

Or perhaps the edge of her coffee cup had rested for a moment on the edge of the paper; I could picture my mom writing at the kitchen table, gazing out at the birds stopping by the birdbath right outside her window. Maybe my dad had been sitting in the recliner, resting the paper on a magazine and taking the time to describe a recent dinner before he lifted the leg rest and let his eyes grow heavy.

When I was away from college and home for the summer, my boyfriend sometimes sent letters with intricate drawings of things he had seen or places he had been.

Before we met, my husband spent many months in England away from his American girlfriend in the days before the Internet. He wrote pages and pages that made the trans-Atlantic voyage, laboriously penned while his friends were napping or headed out on the town.

As I addressed our Christmas cards last night, I thought about how glad I am to receive the photos and good wishes around the holiday season from friends and family far and wide.

But even better are the notes and cards that come without any warning or expectation. Almost no one is expected to write thank you notes or to send letters that make no demands; words that simply shoot the breeze.

What if you were to choose one lucky person to write to? Not for the holidays, but for today.

For all of you young people who can’t remember life before the Internet, choose someone older, someone who remembers the joy of receiving a letter. Or better yet, choose someone young who never checks his mailbox because there is never anything of value inside.

I urge you to take pen in hand tomorrow, Saturday, December 1, and write to a neighbor, friend or family member. Tell them anything: thank you for existing, what you did last weekend, how you think about that trip you took together two years ago whenever you need a pick-me-up.

I guarantee that when that person opens the mailbox, she will smile. And you will be the reason.

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Open Letter to the Woman Having Major Relationship Issues While Perusing Nerf Guns at Target

Sometimes life gets complicated.

Miles run today: 0 (rest day)

Christmas cards ordered: 100 (no, I do not have that many friends, but maybe I will by Christmas)

Cell phone received by my son yesterday: 1

Dear Woman Having Major Relationship Issues While Perusing Nerf Guns at Target,

I want better things for you. I have added you to my Santa wish list in hopes that your life will turn around.

Me: Standing in the CD section, deliberating about whether to buy the new Diana Krall CD for my father-in-law for Christmas.

You: Pacing the Nerf display, talking on your cell phone to someone who has obviously been much more naughty than nice. And not in that good, funny way that they print on holiday t-shirts.

I know lots of things about you from the five minutes I spent inadvertently hearing your side of a sad conversation:

1. You have nice hair. The fact that you took time to fix your hair this morning while your world was crumbling around you says something about how strong you are. Use that strength to get out of a very bad situation.

2. You care about some little kids enough to want to buy them the best Nerf guns out there. Maybe they’re your little kids, or your nephews or even some lucky Toys for Tots recipients. But I could tell by the way you looked at each one and touched it that you want good things for other people, even if you can’t figure out how to make it happen for yourself.

3. If you weren’t talking in a loud voice in a big box store, you would look like all the other women I know who have managed to find some nice, wholesome men who are nice to them. Contrary to what your mom might have told you years ago, not all men are dogs, and there are some out there who are still looking for women who take the time to fix their hair each morning.

4. It is not too late to get help. The simple fact that you are sharing your woes inside the front section of Target where small children in carts and people who blog and write newspaper columns can hear you makes me think that you are crying out for help. Please talk to a good friend, minister or counselor who will tell you to run, not walk, away from the man on the other end of the phone.

5. It is too late to save your relationship. Just before I ran to the frozen food aisle, Diana Krall CD in hand, your end of the conversation made me feel sad: “You should stop listening to all of your women who say sweet things to you and make you feel good and come home to me.” I’m going out on a limb and guessing that you may have had this argument before, in some other Target or Walmart or even TJ Maxx. Today was not an isolated incident. Please read the signs and move on.

6. Maybe guns aren’t what you need to be shopping for right now. Turn off your cell phone, go for a good, long run and eat some Cadbury’s chocolate. You will feel so good that you may forget about that loser for a few minutes. Hopefully forever.

For you, I hope that 2013 finds you back at Target shopping for a new cell phone with a different number. Electronics is just past the Nerf display.

Best wishes for your holiday season,

A Concerned Woman Who Tried Not To Overhear Your Distressing Conversation and Wants a Better Life for You

 

When You’re 12

Middle school: It can leave scars.

Miles run today: 11

Age of my firstborn baby today: 12

Interesting people I’ve interviewed so far this week: 2

My baby boy turns 12 today. He is 5’5″, wears his father’s running shoes, and his most common question is, “Are you gonna eat the rest of that?”

I am hopeful that 12 years old will be everything wonderful for him: the year he gets braces, the year he starts earning money on small jobs in the neighborhood, the year he finally gets a cell phone so he can stop browsing cell phone websites like they’re offering a year’s supply of Cadbury’s chocolate.

For me, 12 was the year when everything died.

When I was 11, I skipped a lot. I danced to Michael Jackson’s Thriller with my best friend, and we pretended like we were in Coca-Cola commercials.

Then I turned 12.

Within two weeks, my rabbit had died; my grandmother, who had been living with us while she battled cancer, died a couple of days into the school year; and then my cat died in a freak accident.

It all felt very epic, as so many things do when you’re 12.

Coincidentally, English class was also very dark and epic, which suited my mood perfectly.

Presiding over the room was our English teacher who we christened No-Neck ____. Her hair was light and fluffy like a chick’s, and her shoulders met her head in a way that kept me fairly distracted.

No-Neck was the perfect person to teach us about Miss Havisham, because No-Neck herself felt a kinship with the dark and twisted character: at her advanced age (probably 52), she had never married, because she had had one true love, and he had died in a fiery car crash not long after they were engaged.

Her tragic past informed each of the equally dark and twisted selections we studied that year: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Raven,” “Great Expectations.”

I don’t recall being depressed that year, but the realization that death could come early and often was never far from my mind. Whether one was bricked up inside a cellar by a raving lunatic or ensconced in a house with a rotting wedding cake, death was coming for you. Get ready.

We also read a short story by O. Henry called “The Last Leaf,” and an old person who is dying says she will die when the last leaf falls off the tree outside her window, and an artist paints a masterpiece leaf that fools the old person, and I figured she probably decided to live forever at that point. I sat in my old, withering middle school English classroom with cinderblock walls and windows that pushed open at the bottom and watched the leaves blow around outside.

Death.

I felt very old and jaded as my classmates quibbled over who stole whose pen and whose friendship notebook with all of those secrets inside was read aloud in the middle of science class.

But the best part was that I didn’t die.

I kept jumping around to music and practicing cheerleading and giggling about boys. It was the year I got a black Member’s Only jacket for Christmas and went to sleepovers and thought “Back to the Future” was the greatest movie ever.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

And sometimes, I am simply glad I lived to tell about it.

Happy Birthday to my 12-year-old! I tell him that pretty much everything will be better than it is right now: it’s all sunshine and happiness after you clear middle school.

Back me up on that if he asks you for confirmation, my friends.

Giving Thanks for the Little Things

Which conveniences are the unsung heroes of your daily life?

Miles run yesterday: 5

Pies made for Thanksgiving: 4

Hugs given and received: 52

Hopefully, my family and friends realize how much they mean to me. I thought I would focus my post-Thanksgiving post on the modern conveniences I didn’t know I needed… until I did.

1. Remote keyless entry for my car. What a ridiculous concept! Are keys really so difficult to turn? I have an idea: let’s take something that’s super-easy and make it even easier!

At least, that’s what I thought until we got our minivan 11 years ago. And then, while balancing a baby seat on one arm and a reluctant 2-year-old on the other, rushing through the pouring rain, a push of a button to open the car door didn’t seem so ridiculous anymore. Thank you, remote key fob. You are a tiny bit of sanity in a crazy world.

2. Functional car door handles. While we’re on the subject of cars, I wanted to urge you to enjoy your door handles for as long as they last.  We have had two of the four break or otherwise throw in the towel, and the absence of door handles can really make you appreciate the non-pretzel-like way you used to enter the car. My husband has spent way, way too many hours fixing and re-fixing ours. And he can’t get those hours back, my friends.

3. Word processing. Let’s get serious here: how (much more) wacky would writers be if we were all forced to re-type pages on an old typewriter?

4. Can openers. Have you ever been alone in your house and found that your can opener will not open a can of tomato sauce? It is not a happy time. It is a time of bad language and misusing other, inappropriate tools to try to get the job done. It is a time of not having tomato sauce in your life. O, Rare Functional Can Opener, you are a ray of light in the darkness.

5. Floors. Stay with me here. I asked my son, “What other little conveniences do you not appreciate until they’re gone?” And he said, “Floors.”

We had a period of a few months; The Dark Months, you may call them, when my husband had stripped our downstairs floors and prepared them for hardwood. These were dark times indeed. Dark and, er, loud. You would not believe the acoustics in a home with no floors and no furniture. When the kids practiced piano, I imagined that I was sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall.

6. Thumbs. Scientists may have mentioned this before, but opposable thumbs really are all they’re cracked up to be. Try injuring one and then trying to do basic, daily life stuff without it. Thumbs aren’t sexy, but I am very thankful for mine.

7. Sunglasses. Ever since my grandmother told me I looked ugly when I squinted in the sun, I’ve made it a point to wear sunglasses. Someday, maybe when I’m 83, I will be very glad I did.

8. Tape measures. When my mom gave me a pretty tape measure to put in my purse a few years ago, I thought I might use it once or twice. You would not believe how often I whip that thing out to measure my kids’ waists for costumes, shelving at Lowe’s Home Improvement and the height of a mailbox.

9. Swiss Army knives. My son decided I needed a Swiss Army knife a couple of years ago. I wasn’t sure when I would use it. Since then, I’ve cut forgotten tags off clothes, filed a pesky fingernail and sliced an errant string.

A week ago, you could find me in a school storage supply closet washing grapes and using my Swiss Army knife scissors to cut the mammoth grape cluster into reasonably-sized bunches. Bear Grylls I was not. But I went there in my mind, people. File my name under “resourceful.”

Which commonplace items are you most thankful for this holiday season?

Are You Pre-Excited for the Holidays?

I have pre-purchased my cans of pumpkin to make yummy pumpkin pies.

Miles run today: 4.5

Pounds of cranberries pre-purchased: 3

Deadlines left to meet for work before the holidays: 0

Setting: Our house in front of the TV as my brain is shutting down for the night.

“What’s this pre-ordering stuff?” my husband asked.

“Hmmm?”

“The pre-order. Pre-ordering isn’t a thing.” He points to the TV, where people are busily pre-ordering laptops, vacuum cleaners and cell phones.

“I guess it’s a thing.”

“It’s Not. A. Thing. You either order, or you back-order if they don’t have it in stock. Now people are pre-ordering. And it’s not a thing.”

I was listening with half an ear. I have requested that my husband never employ the word “utilize” (a jargon-y word that simply means “use”), and I have had to stop saying things like, “I’m going to walk a ways down the road” for my husband and “neat” for my dad. (“Neat! Neat! ‘Neat’ means nothing; try ‘illuminating.’ or ‘mind-boggling,’ or even ‘grand.’ Never neat. Oh, please.”)

So I was afraid pre-order was going to go down as another forbidden word.

But then a funny thing happened: I realized my husband was right.

Not only on TV, but all over real-life, too: people were pre-planning and pre-pre-Black Friday sales-attending.

On another recent TV night, we looked at each other as a newscaster talked about stores pre-preparing.

My husband sat up straight on the couch. “Seriously? Pre-preparing? Where does it end?”

In all the hustle and bustle of life, when people run out first thing the day after Thanksgiving and throw their lights up on the house and rush to tear them down at 7 a.m. the day after Christmas; when stores must stay open on Thanksgiving night so that early-early birds get their goodies a few hours before everyone else; when we are pre-printing our holiday cards this November for next November (“Hurry, Timmy, please grow a little taller so this photo still looks good next year!”)… it makes me wonder what we are trying to get a jump on…

Maybe death?

Does pre-ordering make stores feel better, or is it simply to make consumers feel better that they are one step ahead?

My husband and I have ordered and received some of the kids’ Christmas presents. We didn’t pre-order them; we merely ordered them early so that we’d have them before the massive onslaught of holiday consumerism.

We were lying in bed reading the other night.

“Ha! I found another one!” he says, pointing to his e-reader.

“Hmmm?”

“Oh. I guess that’s not one.”

“One what?”

“Another pre-thing. But it’s… er… pretend.” 

Maybe I should start using that one. I’m going to go tend to my roses before they actually need me to prune them, just to get a jump on things for next spring. Because I’m just that organized.

What about you? Have you pre-ordered anything this year? Or pre-prepared?

New Shoes and Friendship

An old building near our house with a sheltering tree.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Chapters revised in my novel so far: 6

Times I had to listen to Paolo Nutini’s “New Shoes” for this post: 4

“Hey, I put some new shoes on, and suddenly everything’s right.”–Paolo Nutini

You would not believe the amazing boots my best friend brought me today. She bought them for a penny.

Just between you and me, I may have a shoe problem.

But I have always been very, very fortunate in the friendship department.

When I was young, I was a girly girl. My 4-year-old dress habit had introduced a dress trend in the preschool set. All the moms who couldn’t get their girls to wear dresses in the past were thrilled.

And one does not wear dresses with laced shoes; dresses certainly don’t belong with tennis shoes. My shoes had buckles.

So when skill tests made the rounds in kindergarten, I passed all of them with flying colors: telephone number, parents’ names, address, cutting with scissors… all except the Shoe Tying test. When we were sitting in Circle Time, I held paper phones, paper houses, paper scissors… and the other kids held paper shoes. With ties. I ignored them.

My mom couldn’t figure out why I kept asking for buckle shoes. When she discovered the reason, she went right out and bought me shoes with ties.

I was devastated.

But I had a secret weapon: my best friend in kindergarten whose middle name, she had told me, was “Bing Bong.” I found this fascinating.

Every day after naptime, I asked her to tie my shoes for me. She did, for many weeks. And then, one day, she said, “Why don’t you tie them yourself?” And then she tore the ears off of my favorite, miniature, blue rubber rabbit. And we weren’t the best of friends after that.

I am still thankful for her shoe tying skills and for the way she encouraged me to be independent.

In college, my best friend was one of the smartest, most well-read people I’ve ever met. She could remember conversations verbatim, and when I cried on her shoulder for the fiftieth night in a row about the same boy, she never once said, “He’s a horrible, no-good idiot.”

She also put up with an awful lot of talk about shoes. When you walk miles and miles around campus and up to Franklin Street and back to the dorm and then out on the town again, you have to have shoes that go the distance.

One Halloween, I had bought nifty black shoes (with ties!) that had a cool, hip granny vibe about them. We dressed up as black eyed peas (before the music group existed) and joined the throngs of people showing off their costumes at the big Halloween celebration downtown.

Me: My shoes are getting ruined! Look at them.

Her: We can clean them off later.

Me: They won’t clean off. They won’t. Maybe I should just stop walking.

Her: Stop walking, and we’re sleeping in the street. Is that what you want?

There was an element of tough love in our relationship.

And she saw me through very many pairs of shoes; shoes with soles that had been walked right through, and new ones that we exclaimed over together. Sometimes, because of our shared interests and big, curly hair, we looked similar from our heads right down to our toes.

People would say, “Are you two sisters? You look so similar!”

And she would reply, “Yes. I’m the pretty one.”

I will never forget when I was going for my first job with a salary, and I was unsure whether I had a chance at getting it.

She looked me straight in the eye and said, “They would be fools not to hire you. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll get it.”

And I did.

Yesterday, I went out for lunch and a quick shop with my BFF. She may have a bigger shoe problem than I do, but don’t tell her I said that.

We are bound together by the excitement about new running shoes, new boots, the joy of wearing rain boots in the puddles.

While we were shopping, I found a pair of lace-up (!) black boots with faux fur that had been $220 and were reduced to $33.

I carried them around the store and then put them back. I didn’t need the guilt.

“I could get them for you for Christmas! I don’t have any ideas!” she said.

“Please don’t, it’s fine. Really.”

Today, she showed up on my doorstep with a hug, a card and The Boots. When she drove back to the store and went to the register, they rang them up and charged her a penny because they were out on the floor in error.

A penny.

I told her she was the luckiest person I knew.

But really, I know I’m the lucky one to have such a good friend, one who never has to buy or give me another thing to make me feel rich. My life has been blessed by all of the friends who have changed me… for good.

The Talent

I love camelias: just when you think that nothing else will bloom until spring, beautiful, puffy, pink flowers explode.

Miles run today: 4.5

Quart of Goodberry’s pumpkin ice cream given to me by my BFF: 1

Twitter account opened today: 1

It’s a funny feeling when you find yourself starting over.

Everyone does it at some point in life: maybe the weight you thought you’d shed forever has come creeping back, or the marriage you thought was forever ends, or the children you thought would stay toddler-sized for more than a minute head off to college.

At age 40, some of the same feelings I had at age 20 have come creeping back: that stepping-off-a-cliff feeling, the anticipation of a new adventure with a fear of the unknown thrown in there.

Back when I was 20, I spent a summer interning at CNN.

My intern supervisor was older and sophisticated in a hipster sort of way. At the seasoned age of 26, she had her own cubicle with a tacked-up magazine photo of Right Said Fred, a bald pop star who sang about being too sexy. Her friends had hung it there for cool, ironic effect.

Everything was done for cool, ironic effect.

I was overdressed and overeager, ready to tackle any new challenge, whether it was holding the large, silver reflective disk to better light “the talent” as they did their standups, or cataloguing B-roll for later use.

The CNN Center was an overstimulating playground for interns, full of newsy types in glasses rushing around and a revolving chair of anchors being made up before they went onscreen. Computers lined the atrium high above the newsroom, and we could stop by on our way to running errands to check in with the inter-web about entertainment news or the latest on the Gulf War.

The budding Information Superhighway was befuddling: I was never sure what to search for.

I had a crush on one of the two guys interning in the next Cubicle Town: he wore a hemp bracelet and ironically distressed jeans. He found it laughable that I had never heard of Haight-Ashbury.

His friend, a tall, goofy sort with curly, dark hair and appropriate work clothing kept asking me out: to dinner, to lunch, to coffee. I don’t know why I was so indifferent: I mentioned a boyfriend, the one who thought we were on hiatus. One time, a Georgia Tech guy I dated only to pass the time while my friend flirted with another Georgia Tech guy sent me flowers to my intern job. The goofy CNN guy stopped asking me out… just about the time I decided I would go.

Don’t judge me.

Each time I would arrive at work, I would try to imagine working at CNN after college. I couldn’t.

That summer, we sifted through over 500 resumes from Ph.D.s, chefs and actors hoping to lend their talent to our show.

One day, after I had spent my morning holding the silver reflective stuff for one of “the talent”–a female comedian from L.A. who found our footage of singer Steve Miller punching our cameraman so distasteful she had to watch it a few times, muttering, “He thinks he’s so cool” over and over–I stood in Cubicle Town waiting for my boss to give me my next assignment.

In the once-abandoned cubicle next to me, the new guy, the “new talent,” was setting up shop.

He was old and married, about 30, with either an ironic or hopelessly uncool small mustache.

As he unpacked the box of his work belongings and laid them out on his desk, he asked me, “So what is it that you want to do?”

I didn’t know. I still didn’t know. I still didn’t know.

“Maybe producing…” But I still didn’t understand what producers did. (Before I started playing violin, orchestra conductors seemed completely extraneous; all they did was wave their little sticks around while the musicians did all the work.)

He gave me a kind look. “You know, you’re pretty enough. You could be on camera.”

“Oh, no. Oh, no, that’s… I’m not…”

He nodded and went back to arranging frames and pencils on his desk.

When I was back at journalism school that fall, giving wooden deliveries of school news stories, I thought about the “new talent” guy. I hoped his calm, kind, un-ironic, innocent hopefulness triumphed in a fast-paced world of super-cool.

I hoped I would discover what I should be searching for on the new Internet.

Most of all, I hoped my own talent would emerge before it was too late.