Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spare Change

Like thousands of others, I had grown indifferent to them. 
Not to the mother, the father, the child, the sister, the brother, the young, the old, the mentally unstable, the sick, the alone.  But, them, the collective totality of the nation’s homeless.
His was one of the first images I saw when I pulled up to the 7-11 this afternoon.  I took in the parking space, the car to my left, the car to my right, and the man about to ask me for ‘spare change,’ in that order.
I am a single mother of three, I cannot recall ever having spare change. When I can, I give to people who ask.  Though, my definition of when I can likely differs from yours.  When I can doesn’t mean I have extra money—we have acknowledged I never have extra money.  But, it’s when my heart breaks over the possibility of this person’s reality: the cold sidewalk, the hungry children, the incomprehension of it all.
I stepped out of my car and without fully looking at him, I knew him.
I knew he was homeless, I knew he was about to ask me for ‘spare change,’ or something equally as subjective.
I was mid conversation about why I was on my way to see a career counselor: “I just can’t seem to find a job,” I whined into my cell after thanking the gentlemen for holding the door for me. 
That I can’t find a job is not true.  I have a job.  My friend translates my statement to mean I can’t find a job I like that pays me enough to raise 3 children, has flexible hours, excellent health benefits and allows me to write or engage in some sort of public speaking. 
I briefly note that the man holding the door does not ask for money.
Customers usher in and out, the man seemingly tirelessly opens the door for everyone.
“My man…” he calls to someone walking out.  I assume I know what he is asking him.
When I am finished at the ATM, I expect him to ask me for money. Mentally I check to see if I have any 1’s.
“Miss Lady,” he calls.
I sigh. 
I tend to find the question, the wording really—the assumption that I do not have mouths relying solely on my income, responsibilities, trinkets that go unbought for the sake of buying a child a new pair of shoes or a treat—offensive. But, I do give.  I give money, I give food, I give groceries because often I am touched by the randomness of life and circumstance.  
They only want money for alcohol, I hear the old stereotype.
How am I to know? Who am I to judge?
And so, I give when I can.“Miss Lady,” he repeats.
I stop and for the first time I see him. 
“I found my job in the phone book,” his finger scans an imaginary page. “I just called every listing and asked if they had a job.”
He smiled.
If it worked for him, it would work for me.  Don’t give up, make things happen. 
I thanked him and meant it. 
I will spare the time to see the people around me.  I will remember to be forever thankful and open to opportunities to change.   

Monday, March 30, 2015

Hot as Hell (on the ice) Diary of a former Hockey Mom

My son is an ice hockey player, well he was two seasons ago when I was certain we were staying in Baltimore and the investment in a career hockey player was a sound one.  It took me two seasons to decide to stay in Maryland (at least through December).  Vester is back on the ice and he’s still hot.  He races around the rink with…well, not grace but speed.
When he was five my son started ice skating, he was a tiny liability on the ice, the little person people thought needed looking out for.  So, they recommended I teeter on the ice, to keep him safe.  So, donning ice skates and maternal attitude I slid out on the ice. 
Ok, that’s not quite how it happened. 
I sort of walked, sort of side stepped, holding on to the wall, and mainly crept along the edge of the rink as he sped in and out of people, raced other skaters, and did hockey stops back and forth across the ice in a spray of almost $1000 perfection.  It didn’t take long for the well meaning rink employees to suggest I leave the ice, perhaps it was only 2 or 3 people folded in my wake for them to realize I was not a strong skater. 
He started skating as a compromise. 
My son wanted a dirt bike and speed.  He got speed.  After a few lessons, one of the managers at Northwest gave him a pair of ice skates.  From there it was lessons, basic ice hockey skills, ice hockey practice and ice hockey games.  He was one of the youngest players on the team.  The first season his entire team played against one another, it was hilarious in a Bad News Bears sort of way.  My son was the only one checking kids, indiscriminate of color jersey. 
 By season two, the kids on his Mites team realized they were on the same team and that they were supposed to pass the puck to one another, by season three they knew to put the puck in the goal, in the other team’s goal came a few games later.  His father, slightly appalled at my son’s sport (my daughter plays volleyball) came to one, maybe two games over my son’s ice hockey career. 
Sylvester played baseball and basketball; he was an athlete enjoying privilege and popularity through high school.  Neither got him a scholarship to college, neither got him to college at all.
Sylvester told me black children don’t play ice hockey, well I know at least one who does.  Actually, there is a team of inner city kids, predominantly black, that my son does not belong to.  One day my son will learn that drive, not color, determines his opportunities, and until that day, his mother does. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Death of Another Publication

Another publication has slivered in to oblivion, tucked its thin, shiny pages and high-tech, glossy covers between its trembling bold-fonted legs, and kissed its ISBN number goodbye.  
 
To be honest, though I have seen at least one issue of Woman's Scope Magazine--the issue its publisher left in our office bearing my name (though I had never written anything for her) as a contributing writer. I have never read it, nor visited the website, looked for it in a venue, or considered writing an article, letter or post to it.
 
The structure of publishing as an industry is crumbling, seemingly by choice.  When I spoke with Woman's Scope's publisher Janet Leak, she was enthusiastic about the corners her magazine would turn if it could only make it through this rough patch which to her reflected the next three months and to me reflected the past twelve. I asked if she had a blog (I had assumed she had a website) and she didn't.  Since we had spent a class discussing the benefits of blogging, I felt confident suggesting she allow her underpaid staff of writers the opportunity to blog using their articles as jumping points.  It was an opportunity to extend the conversations their articles had generated and ideally an opportunity to use some of the research that was now cluttering their cyber waste baskets to foster a sense of readership and networking. She agreed, it would give her writers the exposure they needed to start build their careers.  
 
She quickly scribbled my notes and suggestions, asking questions that made me wonder at her cyberbility. Excitedly, she agreed, it would give her writers the exposure they needed to build their careers. The idea, the entire concept seemed completely new. Perhaps that's when I began to worry about the scope of her endeavor. 
 
Less than one month later her magazine folded, at least in print. 
 
This could be an exciting time for her, a time of blogs and chats, of timely articles, interactive pieces and reader led (moderated) interviews. She could take her publication beyond the mortality of ink. But, she will only do that if someone, ideally a stable of underpaid, hungry writers, drags her by the wireless carrier of her choice in to the 21st century.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Comment on Comments

Lately, I have been trying to communicate more. With friends, family and colleagues, I have a tendency to communicate in doses.
So, when I decided to join the community of blogger—about a year after I started blogging—it was somewhat cautiously.
I started by commenting on other writers’ pieces on Open Salon. Most writers here are a lot better at reading other’s posts and commenting, it’s really a community. I dangle along edge.
After a few comments here and there, I was ready to comment on a few other sites. Yet, not all sites were ready for me, or ready for me to comment that is. For some, you either had to register, create a profile, or otherwise commit in order to comment.
I see the benefit of ‘Hi, I’m (insert username) and I (insert comment here). But, I prefer the ease of posting a comment with less effort. I don’t mind supplying my email address as a sort of guarantee that I stand behind my words. What I mind is the assumption that I have the time (or inclination) to provide my address, subscribe to a newsletter or feed, or otherwise commit to the content (other than my comment).
Still, I prefer the e-antics of registering over the silence inspired by sites that don’t accept comments at all. While their blog posts inspire bloggers to write responses and post them on our own blogs, they don’t inspire communication.
And, isn’t that the point of communications?

In search of a Raspberry Martini: A brief review of the Apothecary in Lancaster

I'm a mom. I don't go out often, so when I do, I like to get what I want.

I've been in Lancaster for just over two years now. For the past six months I've been searching (well, hoping to find) a Raspberry Martini. I hadn't realized what a difficult search it would be. I was at a pub the first time I asked for one.

"I've never made one but if you tell me how to make it, I can do," the bartender said.

I don't actually know how to make one; I just know how to drink one.

I was at Greaves Park the next time I tried.

"Let me see what I can do," the bartender's enthusiasm was a bit disconcerting.

He poured "Martini" from a bottle, dropped in actual raspberries and began smashing the berries. The result was a pink, pulpy mixture that looked "like baby vomit" according to a friend and tasted like pencil according to me (yes, I tasted it).

I sloshed it around a bit when he gave it to me. I edit my words but not my facial expressions.

"You can have that for free."

He read my mind.

A few weeks ago someone told me about a place in Lancaster that served the elusive Raspberry Martini. The Apothecary. I read the menu online. There it was. I called to be sure: "yes, it does have that on the menu," the person said.

But do you have it? I wondered.

A few days later some friends and I went down to find out.

"ID, please," the bouncer said.

We laughed. It's been decades since I've needed a fake ID.

"He was probably checking to make sure we aren't too old," a friend laughed.

Maybe she was right.

I placed my order. A few shakes and stirs later, the bartender handed me two ice blue cocktails. They were pretty, but they weren't what I ordered.

"Not what you were expecting?" The bartender asked.

"No. Those aren't Raspberry Martinis."

"The guy who makes the menu likes to put Martini after everything," he explained.

I re-read the menu. Unlike the version online, the in-bar one says something about their own twist to it.

"It usually has candy floss in it."

I've never been the age where I would order or drink a cocktail with candy in it or on it. But cotton candy in a drink? I'm too old for that. I was ready to leave.

"I'll try again."

More mixing, shaking, stirring, actual smoke drifting into the air and a sugar cube later...

"That's not it."

It was time to go.

"Try one of these," a woman at the end of the bar said. She pointed to a concoction of berries and alcohol, "it's really good."

It was fine. The service was great, the atmosphere was promising and while they don't actually have Raspberry Martinis, the Apothecary has spirit, at least the try and try again kind flourished with a smile. The DJ came out and I'm pretty sure a disco ball did too. We left for the night.

Will I be back?

Not likely. I don't have a lot of free time and like to get what I want. If the menu promises it and the service doesn't deliver it, I have to find someplace that does.

Friday, March 27, 2015

From Baltimore with Love (Repost)

Two feet of snow.
Outside of my back window, icicles slowly drip, snow glistens, trees bend.  Occasionally a squirrel—a reckless naysayer no doubt—rushes up a heavy branch.
Out front, my children, neighbors and I have piled two feet of snow into treacherous mounds of four or five feet, packed behind cars, along narrow parcels, squeezed anywhere so we can all get out—when they plow our small cul de sac.
At 1:45 AM, a bulldozer beeps, light shining as if it is not 1:45 in the morning, up my street.  Accidentally, the small truck knocks over a mound of snow as it turns.  It is not so much plowing snow, as making tracks over it in some areas, through it in others.
By morning, my street is more clear than it will be in 24 hours, but today, I am on vacation.
When I think of vacation, I think of warm sand, blue waters, music.  If I think of a snow vacation –and I rarely do—I picture skis, a cute bunny suit, and warm cocoa.
The State of Maryland is under a state of emergency.
Two days and two more feet of snow later, I am on vacation again.
Baltimore City is in a Phase III emergency.  Bulletins warn residents to stay off the streets, even walking them, unless it is an unavoidable.  Essential employees, police, fire fighters, must report or are on standby.  Four feet of snow has a way of putting careers in perspective.  Even the self-declared-self-important, must stay off the streets.
My children are restless, bored, easily agitated with one another: we are in a house of emergency. 
This is not how I would choose to spend my vacation. 
But, I can’t afford not to.
To be paid for the days off due to snow, I must use my vacation time.  Millions of Americans do not have company paid vacation time.  Across the country, in other state of emergencies,  non-essential employees are forced to attempt to trek snow and ice covered streets because their employers cannot or do not offer paid time off.
And so, I sit in front of my window waiting for a stalactite-like icicle to drip off the side of the house attempting to enjoy yet another day of vacation.

I do--Maybe

Most of my friends, acquaintances, and family are in relationships of one kind or another with varying degrees of happiness and commitment.
I don’t envy them.
Still, as I prepare to date seriously—with the intent to commit (at least) to dating—I find myself reconsidering what I once considered spam.
Every two weeks I receive email about how to promote love and happiness in my marriage. Which would be great if I had a marriage I wanted to save.
Up until recently, I deleted these messages with regularity. Today, I pause before I click delete.
Would I—in the right circumstances—ever marry again?
I no longer know the answer. I don’t mind not knowing.
And, truth be told, I’m kind of glad I’m asking.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Finding Words (Repost)

We are there to pick up books. Not cozy mysteries, romantic thrillers, young adult dramas, or preschool serials. Just books: free books.

I admit free is part of the fantasy.

And, there is a fantasy. The moment I read about the Book Thing—a warehouse stuffed easel to easel with books of all topics, languages and genres—ok, so I don’t think such a description existed, but surely it was implied—I fantasized about finding the perfect book. The book I absolutely needed, right then.

I am a believer that when I need to find something, I find it.  This is not the same as believing if I lose something I will find it.  It’s better. A lot of things happen by chance, by design, or divine, and some things—like the right words at the right time—just happen.

At the Book Thing, my 3 children—a teenager, a middle schooler and a preschooler—pick up books indiscriminate of subject matter (more or less). I pick up books I had long forgotten, like the Bobbsey Twins (after reading it with my 4 year old, I remembered why I had forgotten it), a mystery or two. My daughter finds a Spanish book; my boys find books on space and antiquated books on culture around the World. For my little one we all find something.

To the 18 books we leave with that day, there is little thought given.  One book in particular I pick up because it’s a children’s book written by Lucille Clifton.

It isn’t until evening, my 4 year old ready for the evening’s literary adventure, when I find the words I didn’t known I was ready to speak.

I talk a lot about dating—with my friends, my family, online.  But, not with my children.  Until now.

I struggle with balancing dating with raising a family. As I figure out what is important to me in my relationships, I don’t want my children meeting multiple men I may or may not want to know well. So they don’t meet anyone and of the men I date, I rarely speak.

Common sense tells me when I am ready to introduce them to someone, I will. Until then—though I have no one in mind to introduce them to—I worry about it.

Usually, my children know when I am going out on dates. We have discussed dating in obscure terms, without absolutes.

Lucille Clifton’s Everett Anderson's 1-2-3  is a poem/story about a young boy’s perceptions when his mother starts dating. He is worried about sharing their time with someone else.  He’s worried about someone else taking his place. He is worried.

I sit with my little one explaining why the little boy in the story might feel this way.  I call to my oldest son, he listens. We talk about how he would feel in the boy’s situation.  I call to my daughter.  We talk.

We talk about dating in terms of absolutes: in terms of me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

345 Degrees (Repost)

I don’t drive to DC.
I drive to the metro, park, and ride.  Rather, I park, figure out how to purchase tickets, ask an attendant or knowledgeable-looking traveler for help, wait for the metro, then, I—we—ride.
 I herd children –three of mine and one friend it always seems like a good idea to invite at the time—on and off trains without bothering to disguise my bewilderment when we reach China Town Gallery and have to remember which track goes the direction I want to go.
 On a good day, we have our choice of seats –theirs facing backwards, mine facing forward—and the only unruly chatter comes from someone I gave birth to.
 This time when we get on the Redline, we are standing.  “We” implies but does not include my four year old (I am holding him), but the older children and I. Just like “standing” does not imply we were not swaying, bumping, pushing, sliding, and teetering along with other people “standing” on the train.
 Yet, I find the train is less stressful than driving to DC.
 “Driving” implies but does not mean, winding roads, green lights, and traffic-free road ways. 
So, I don’t drive to DC.
 This upper 80 degree day finds my children, their friend and I sweating the I don’t know how many blocks to the zoo this hot, summer Saturday. 
 Each time we visit the zoo manages to feel like the first time.  My daughter and I watch the animals watching us in our “natural habitat.”  The boys play, tease, and I’m sure in some ways amuse the animals as much as the animals engage them.
 For a moment, it seems like a good idea to let the children stroll through the outdoor bird house while I rest on a bench.  I imagine the boys rhythmically skipping behind my daughter who points out exotic birds along poppy filled trails as the birds sing a Disneyesque melody.
 I can’t remember the last time I saw my children skip.
 I hurry to catch up.
 Inside, the birds mainly walk and watch as we watch and walk through. Somewhere a bird calls, another responds.
 On the left of us, a male peacock waits.  Eventually, a female peacock saunters across our path, preoccupied by a dish of food next to where the male waits. 
 She ignores him.
 The male displays his feathers, but not for her.  He turns in a 320 degree circle of purple, black and blue glory.  It is a slow, methodical turn.
 On first glance, it is amusing; she is at about degree 345.  She is not impressed by his back.  Yet, if he would put forth a little more effort, she might be impressed by his span of feathers, the color, the effort.
 She continues to ignore him and he continues to what?
 Their dance reminds me of me.
 How often have I put forth just enough effort to not get the object I desire while claiming to desire it?  There is no rejection without effort.  It’s not my lack of confidence that makes me stop between 320 and 345, it’s sometimes the fear of the follow through, the relationships, the ‘I do’s.
 Maybe the female notices him and is just not interested.  Maybe he’s just not her type.  How often do people approach me and rather than saying, I’m just not interested, I claim to not be ready for relationships (no matter how true that is, that’s rarely the only reason).  I sometimes do it to sales people, to family members, to men. 
 Honesty is so 2009.
  Probably, the male is smarter than I give him credit for.  Maybe, he knows if the female is interested, she will poke her head up and see him.  Maybe he knows she will cross his path again and notice him.
 Maybe they both know just what they want and how much effort it’s worth to get it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dating While Dead: An Intimate Personal Essay

I often cheer for the delinquent, the misfit, the misunderstood, the unstable, disenfranchised, disillusioned, disheartened, the despaired. But, I don’t date them--at least not on purpose, and never for real.
At times I am attracted to--but not committed to--improbabilities. I am, at least for now, selectively single.  
It took me a while to realize I was hurt by my ex-husband’s affair. And so, for a while, I didn’t.
I am not one of those women who wonder why with all of the attractive, successful, “eligible,” single men around the Beltway, I remain single.  As a “self aware” woman, I recognize, admit, and acknowledge certain flaws, characteristics, strengths, and traits, and yet, I cannot self diagnosis my own injuries.
Which does not mean I don’t self medicate.
I pop men as if they are tiny, dispensable, candy-coated cough drops.
For the past few years, I have substituted relationships for “relationships” with various built in trap doors.  I often admit my attraction to absurdities.  Eventually, when playthings and fantasies turned into reality, my attraction to absurdities became a sort of addiction to them.   
I have dated improbable men. I have been seduced by the obscure, by the experience of living and the pursuit (though I didn’t recognize it then) of inevitable endings. I remain fascinated with goodbyes. 
We all have our vices.
For a few weeks, I dated a man going through a divorce.  As someone who rarely talked about divorce even when I was going through one, I was often shocked by his addiction to disclosure.  In person, over the phone, through texts and IM’s; I learned so much about his marriage that I recommended he stay in it. I also recommended he talk to his friends, therapist (a bit too subtle of a suggestion that he seek therapy) and his lawyer. I recommended he talk to anyone, but me, about his divorce.
He didn’t take my advice.
My final suggestion came midway through texts about his recent discussion with his wife--she wanted him back. I recommended he take her up on it.
“I just can’t do this,” I texted.
Two texts of 140 passion-filled characters (he always had passionate discussions about his marriage) streamed across my screen, then silence.
 I only regretted the way I said goodbye.
Each of my relationship experiences, though departures from my norm, were necessary for me to realize I was hurt, temporarily broken (well, not broken, perhaps a bit worn) for a rather long time. My instinct was not to hurt others (though I did); it was to protect myself (I did that too).
I was emotionally isolated, DWD: dating while dead.
Now I recognize my condition and I allow myself to be temporarily hypnotized by hot guys in fast cars with dark windows (I’m still rather shallow) as they speed closer and closer to my reality.
Does this mean I am ready to commit? No. It means I am ready to commit to dating--for real.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Addicted to Ink (or HTML, Pixel, Font)

Several times a day I pick up the pen, well poise at the keyboard, to write something for tomorrow.

As a journalist, I write with a sense of immediacy.  As a writer, I write with a sense of timelessness.  Writing forward takes practice, patience and more practice and more patience.

And so, I’m training myself to write and curbing my addiction to instant gratification somewhat disguised behind two blogs, a Facebook, LinkedIn, and a Twitter.  I’m writing pieces for tomorrow.  At least, I try to.  I find myself writing with the best of intentions and instead of saving it, I post it and link it and tweet about posting and linking it.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Seasons of Graduation Part III (repost from Open Salon)

The following night we are shopping for my daughter’s graduation dress, a summer dress she picks out.  While I worry that it is not quite dressy enough, I keep my concerns somewhat to myself.

The morning of her graduation, my daughter is a princess.  Her light-blue summer dress is simplistic; the aura of royalty is within her.

My youngest is distracted many times during the first hour of his sister’s graduation. He is distracted by sitting on a metal chair, perching on my knees, pretending to listen to the speaker.  All he wants to do is see his big sister walk across the stage.  Well, honestly, all my four year old wants to do is leave, but I tell him we can’t leave until his big sister walks across the stage.

Many awards are given to many of the same children who storm, stroll or saunter up to the stage again, and again.  My daughter’s name is not called. High School will be different, I think.  While she is in advanced classes now, she really has to work harder to be involved in sports, arts, after school events. 

Practices, games, meetings, fundraisers.  High school will be exhausting, for her too.

But today, she is an 8th grader.

Her principal reminds the students, during her speech, to strive for success though others may not wish it on you and to aim for excellence though many do not want you to reach it. I hope the children are listening.  I hope my daughter is listening.

“The children’s names will be called in random order,” one of the announcers says.  Briefly, I wonder whose idea that was.

A room of parents, grand parents, brothers, sisters, and student who really just want to see one child—maybe two—walk  across the stage, accept a diploma, smile for the camera, and sit back down, is now expected to sit quietly while please holding all applause til the end. 

Randomness is too chaotic.

Most manage to hold their applause, at least until their child’s name is called.

We are reminded, often, to wait until all names are called but because the program has no names on it, it is a fruitless endeavor.  The children are restless.  The adults are restless.  Still, the list of names drones on until finally, my child’s name is called.

I hear no names after hers.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Seasons of Graduation: Part I Grad School (repost from Open Salon)

The 2008/2009 Master’s candidates of Johns Hopkins University ZanvylKrieger School of Arts and Sciences is filled with parents, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, employers, employees, writers, scientists, researchers, investigators, dreamers, doers, achievers, and thinkers in various phases of career, achievement, life, goals. 

The crowd is a blur of family, friends, colleagues, alumni, faculty, police.  The ceremony, despite applause, cheers, a few ‘I love yous!” and even fewer, “You made its!” is orderly, subdued, Hopkins.

We are changed, and yet unchanged. 

For many of us, a Master’s degree marks the end of an education but surely not the end of learning.  We are now tasked with applying our education to obtain knowledge. We are challenged to reach for new goals and as Hopkins Graduates, to achieve them.

Surrounded by fellow graduates, it is an indescribable feeling, this task to use knowledge to achieve knowledge.  As a Hopkins grad, I am armed with the confidence that the Dean; the speaker, John Astin; the faculty; my family; my friends; and that I hold within.  I am prepared to reach for the next success, and to achieve it.

I plan to celebrate with a small lunch with my children and maybe with a tattoo—a small Blue Jay holding a fountain pen.

I settle for lunch.

Learning from Ourselves (repost from Open Salon)

My grandmother was the caregiver of the family.  She was a career nurse for years, then practiced at home by mending hearts, stitching relationships and suturing wounds.  I did not inherit this gift. 
Medical conversations make me uncomfortable.  They always do, they always have and I have little reason to believe they will not continue to forever and ever amen.  I was driving when Elise called.   
“I’m pregnant,”  she cried,  “I don’t know how it happened.”
Elise is 36--she knows how it happened. 
What surprises me about all of us, my sister, my closest friends, myself, is our ability to make the same mistakes.  We rewind the mistakes of one another, of ourselves and instead of reliving them as memories; we relive them in our realities.  
It's time we changed the endings.