Saturday, December 31, 2011

Exes and Oh's

The other day I met a guy. “I’m a widower and a single father,” he announced. “This is usually the part where women run. Let’s see if you do the same,” he challenged.

 I would bet that most women don’t run because he is a widower or a single father, but because his attitude inspires flight.

Issuing a challenge is really not the best way to inspire me to break the pattern. I’m not that competitive.

While I knew we weren’t going much farther than the ‘getting to know you’ stage, I kept the conversation going as long as I could.

“So, how did your last relationship end?” I asked.

Now, I don’t read people’s looks at all well—truth be told I don’t really try. I’m enamored with words: I don’t study expressions unless they are expressed through them.

But I could read his look.

“She died.”

I think it was the tone that annoyed me most.  Not the ‘I already told you that’ but the malice with which he uttered the words.  As if he was challenging me to again do what few had done before me: date him.

I’m a divorced, single mother.

When I say I’m divorced, do people assume I am talking about my last relationship? Labels seem to have a way of sticking around.  When I am dating do I have to say I’m dating and divorced? If I remarry will I be a married, divorced mother of 3?

When my children are grown will I still be a single mother? Or does single drop off when they turn 18?

I am not the woman to date first. I am not ‘first date after the end (rather it ended from natural causes or not) of a long relationship’ material.  I’m not even sure I’m ready to be in a relationship so I can help someone else get into one?

I don’t know what people think of when they hear the labels I choose to define myself by, so I will translate them.

Divorced: I was married. I know how to hold on to something of value and when to let go of something when it no longer works.

Single mother: I have priorities. I know how to put the needs of others before me.  I know how to accept responsibility, how to encourage, and how to love someone other than myself.

It also means if you want to spend time with me, you have to have yourself together.

A clarification: I’m not looking for a father for my children.

Needless to say, the conversation with the single, father widower ended. Not because he is a single father. Not because he is a widower. But because I don’t date challenges; I’m not that competitive.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Learning to Speak Me: Part II

seduce me
do not squander silences
create of words a cassock
sway me gently
do not write poetry.
do not speak poetically.
do not ponder in meter or philosophize in line.
do not brood in rhythm or contemplate in rhyme—often.
don’t speak
tell me what my words say to you
know this
if my tone offends you, you aren’t listening

Thursday, December 29, 2011

There Are Words: 1971

They say there is a word for everything.
By they
I mean me.
There are some who still believe it.
By some
I mean those who still endeavor to transcribe teardrops
Those not yet fluent in goodbye.
There are words.
One thousand intricate ways to say goodbye.
There are some who live
in laughter
in music
in art
in moments
dying too soon,
too young,
By some
I mean you

Goodbye, etc...

If you are reading this message in response to a text, IM, email, voicemail, telephone or face to face (highly unlikely) exchange for which you need clarification, these are the things I probably should have said.
1. I am intentionally vague.
2. Despite what you may have been led to believe: very seldom does something slip that I didn’t want you to know.
3. I am commitment challenged: in a relationship (at least right now) the only thing I’m really committed to is changing my mind.
4. While whatever you did is annoying, irritating, frustrating, inappropriate and/or asinine: if it was not this, I would have left you for something else.
5. Despite the implication, I really don’t want to be friends. Maybe is so big and so broad and so wide a word that while I may have said, “Maybe we can be friends;” what I meant was we are not friends.

Learning to Speak Me: Part I

Words seduce me
I do not waste them
I do however squander silences
Despite my passion for creating of words a cassock to sway me gently at night, I do not write poetry.
That is to say, I do not speak poetically.
I do not ponder in meter or philosophize in line.
I do not brood in rhythm or contemplate in rhyme—often.
When I think: you hurt me. I say, you hurt me. I mean, you hurt me.
I try to say what I mean in a way that I find pleasing—I realize you don’t always speak me.
I speak me—fluently
It is not necessary to tell me what my words say to you
I know this.
As surely as I know, if my tone is what offends you, you aren’t listening to the words

Advice from an Infrequent Reader

This Friday, the Writer’s Center in Bethesda hosted an Open Mic Night for members and nonmembers. The reading drew a crowd of about twenty five people, most of them readers, a few were supporters: all were supportive, well almost.

Many of the readers were members, some were avid readers, some had not read in years and for some, tonight was their first reading. There was a pleasant sense of camaraderie and a surprising hint of animosity.

First, the camaraderie: All readings have etiquette.
1. Food and drinks were to be secured before the reading, during breaks, but not during changes in readers.
2. Cell phones were to be turned off.
3. People who did not adhere to item number 2 were to be immediately shamed by the turning of heads of all who had conformed and the silence of the reader. The ending of the shaming coincides with the reader’s continuation of the reading and the silencing of the phone.
4. No laughing during anyone’s reading, unless the writer waits awkwardly for said laughter or unless the line, word, look, tone, is supposed to be funny. Because I lack poetry skills, my cues are off. I did not laugh.
5. Relax
6. Enjoy yourself
7. Project your voice
8. Make eye contact (which is different from allowing your eyes to roam freely and I dare say creepily around the room)
9. Introduce yourself, these people don’t know you and even if they do—introduce yourself.
10. Please, do not introduce the piece. If it is important for listeners to know the piece is about your ex-boyfriend who deserted you on 695, dooming you to walk where no pedestrian should, as you learned the difference between the inner and outer loop: write about it (please). But, please do not tell readers this and then read a piece to which this knowledge is relevant or not relevant. If it belongs in the piece, put it in the piece.
11. When you like something about a piece, let the writer know. Encouragement is appreciated.
12. Please read your own writing.

Now to the animosity: I was surprised when a fellow reader approached my supporter and I to ask if we had come expecting to learn “to speak alien.”
“It wasn’t on the website,” I diplomatically replied.
I was equally surprised to learn he was not referring to his own poem.
“I could just kill him,” he said, slicked-back hair slicking.
“You’d have to write about it,” I joked, not certain he was joking.
“I wouldn’t really kill him,” he said, finally.

If only I were reassured.

Open Mic Night at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda offers a largely inviting atmosphere to listen to writers in various stages of their craft. The welcoming vibe, all-inclusive turn out, the support of fellow writers, the promise of snacks, and the free cost to participate, makes this venue a nice place to practice thesis readings while appreciating the community of writers wherever you find it.

Random Acts of Random (fiction)

It is not the sort of place one typically finds me. But, it is where the people go. I had decided to wander amongst them. I had been told by the wife of the man who tends our gardens that of the markets of Florence, Piazza S. Lorenzo boasts the most delicate swatches of intricately hand-woven cloth of all Italia. For his birthday, Roberto’s mother had sewn, day and night, a table cloth of many colors and fabrics. Mama G—saw poorly during the day and even worse during the night. Two nights after her death, I gave the table cloth to her maid for her years of service and sent her on her way to make her fortune elsewhere. Finally, after two years of marriage, I am the woman of the house.

So, I needed a new table cloth for the main dining room and knew of no better place to find one suited to the task. When I arrived, it was barely dawn, yet every beggar, hag and orphan had a bauble to trade or a story to tell. Upon every rickety table, within each dank crevice, and across each wobbly threshold, crosses, beads, scarves, bags, fruits, vegetables, trinkets, spices; every ill-conceived convenience and cheap inconvenience, could be had for a lire or more.

I had wandered nearly an hour looking for a cloth of a certain pattern and distinction. The sun was high when I found it, finally. It was of the lightest cream and burnt beige. It was intricately woven with worn stones for an elegant, earthen appeal to the senses. And, it was in the hands of another.

“I have been here for hours and yours is the most pleasant face I have seen thus far,” I said. I had merely whispered her name when Maria twirled to face me. We gathered in a long embrace, as if we were friends when in fact, we are not.

“S. I have not seen you since dear S. G’s funeral. You have been missed at church.”

Maria spends day and night in church. In youth, we competed in all categories befitting ladies of our class. Beauty, grace, education, opportunity; I won them all. Religion was the only category I cared not win.

“How is Brother Roberto? He has always been terribly close to his mother.” There was a time Maria had eyed Roberto for herself, but the opportunity for her to let it be known to him, did not itself present. Rather, I also had my eye on Roberto and as I had older brothers with whom he was acquainted, the opportunity presented itself often for me to let him know of my interest.

Roberto was not an attractive boy and is not an attractive man. He is, however, very wealthy. My daughters and sons will have every convenience, as I now enjoy. Roberto is generous with his mistress as well, as I am generous with my lover, thanks to Roberto.

“And, how is the Father?” I have heard rumors of convents and wondered if they were true.

“Oh, praise his holy name, why just today—“

“What a beautiful cloth,” I interrupted. I had little interest in the church and spent only as much time as my title demanded in them.

“Reading the bible by candlelight has caused Sister L. to go blind, the delicate strands of this cloth, the mixture of strength and innocence, she will surely love this cloth.”

A cloth such as this is wasted if no one can see it, I thought.

“I have given the table cloth Dear Roberto’s mother made with her brittle fingers to her girl for her years of dedication.” It was mostly true. By now all of Florence knew the girl’s services were not needed a moment after the S.’s funeral. I suggested she vacate her rooms before the family returned from the cemetery, she did.

“If it will make Roberto’s burden easier to bear, you should have this cloth.”

The old woman of the table frowned. She had openly listened to our conversation and seemed to favor Maria’s nun.

“This cloth is for comfort, not for table,” she said. She crossed her arms as if she had determined who would be the buyer.

“How much is it?” I asked. She named a price Maria could not afford. It was worth it, to be sure, but even I did not want to pay such a price for a shabby piece of cloth. But, I did. Maria watched the old woman’s gnarled, thick fingers delicately fold the cloth into careful, equal sections. The woman wrapped the cloth within tissue and presented it to me as if I had won some great contest.

I accepted, paid and gave the cloth to Maria.

I never endeavored to be holy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sent: Sun 1/12/08 9:10 PM
RE: Tonight

There’s been a change of plans. My beloved wife is so tender and fragile these days, and though I do not deserve it, she has forgiven me, at last. Just last week she could barely look at me. Her speech brittle, words chosen painfully, as if we were in-laws, she talked around the weather, the day, but rarely directly to me. Weeks into therapy, Charlotte had not forgiven me our affair.

I emailed you last week because I wanted you. Living here then was like living here before—you. She was characteristically cold, distant. I was reminded often of you. Not of as you are, but of as you are not. The depths she went to avoid me attending all-day conferences and workshops–why a writer needs conferences, IDK–would have been funny, if it were not happening to me, to us.

But, tonight she smolders. Her short brown hair whipped around her face as she turned it this way and that. Her long, sensuous lashes could barely contain her almond-shaped eyes. I told you once of her passion, you accused me of missing her, you were right, of course. Tonight she bristles over a remark carelessly made.

“Is there milk in the macaroni and cheese?” I am lactose intolerant, a condition my wife had carefully planned meals around—along with allowing for my other allergies—but that I was afraid she had forgotten in my absence.

I wonder that you did not notice, but we seldom dined together, did we? Our entanglement had left her intolerant of my various calamities and so I had asked. Oh, but I am so glad to have asked, for then I realized her forgiveness was finally granted. The words that came out of her supple mouth, the articulate gestures of her long, slender fingers, the contortions of her beautiful golden, brown face, finally she is at ease with me again. I would kiss her bony hands gleefully, but to do so would be to admit I know she did not before forgive me. I would rather to mark this pass silently than to mark it in vain.

I, of course, cannot continue to see you, meet you, as we had planned.

Sent: Sat 2/19/08 9:10 PM

I have been ill these last weeks. Between conferences, Charlotte has taken up cooking with a vengeance rivaled only by Chef Ramsey, LOL. So vexed by my dietary limitations, she has decided to see exactly what I am allergic too, so as to strike a balanced medium for our meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are an array of possible intolerants. She tries so hard to please me in ways other women would not endeavor. I have worn a path from the couch (where I sleep so as not to disturb her) to the bathroom. I fear our carpet cannot handle more of her culinary intervention.

How is my girl?

Sent: Mon 2/21/08 9:10 PM
RE: Enough

Of course I will stop calling you my girl, as you are right, you are no longer my girl. Charlotte is the only girl for me. If only I had known before our venomous months of sex on your dented futon and all of that cheap, greasy affair food. Shiny packaged sandwiches from gas stations on the way to your cramped apartment. At least, Charlotte says, climbing six flights up that narrow stairwell (I am convinced echoes of our lovemaking still linger there) kept my body strong. Still, if I had not eaten all of that sleazy food for you, I would be spared the indignities of the weekly colon cleansing Charlotte says I now need to go along with the prune, fiber shakes she makes me for breakfast.

Thx–a lot.

Sent: Sat 3/5/08 9:10 PM
RE: What the hell?

Oh dear silly little one, of course Charlotte knows all about you. She does not know about your emails; though you must be more careful. A cell phone rang during dinner last night. I worried it was you. I dropped my fork with such a clatter I worried the plate chipped. Charlotte would have been furious as the plates were given to her by my mother, as was the house, and everything in it. A price for marrying me, sort of a dowry.

My nerves are so on edge that Charlotte has taken to making me drink a strong brew of teas and whatever else she read or heard will soothe me. She tries so hard. I suggested Charlotte stay home this weekend and spend it with me. The look in her eyes frightened me more than her silence. I immediately reconsidered. These weekly conferences, though I don’t see her write anything, keep her connected with other writers. The phone, of course, was not you. Charlotte has taken to whispering on the phone, no, to taking calls in other rooms and then whispering. I know because when she catches me cocking my head to listen, or tiptoeing behind her into the living room or bedroom, she sneers and sometimes growls at me. Worse, she will turn her back on me, talking as if I am not there, hissing into the phone.

She is everywhere.

Sent: Tues 4/29/08 9:10 PM
RE: What are you talking about?

I am dreadfully allergic to shellfish, tobacco and olives. Or, it makes a horrid dish. The concoction slithered around the plate, shrimp sliding under leaves, hiding within olives. They slid down my throat faster than I could chew them. Charlotte poised across from me the better to see my discomfort, watching every bite slip in to my mouth. She notices everything, forgives me everything or nothing at all. My insides, and I know because between vomit and diarrhea, I am forced to come face to face with what should be within my body, are rotting. I mean to rid myself of this poison. I will tell her everything, she will know everything. She will forgive me for she loves me so. Her deep eyes water as she empties the buckets I am forced to relieve myself in when I am too weak to get to the bathroom. She utters not a sound as she empties the buckets, when she is home. She spends more time at these conferences. They are spilling in to her work week so much that she had to quit work to devote her time to conferences. I married a writer. She is writing a mystery, it is not finished. She says I may not like the ending. I am sure it is good, I assure her, she has been writing for so long, has so much knowledge by now. Her lips puckered in a huge hard kiss, but she did not kiss me. We are not ready for intimacy: sex, words.

Sent: Sat 5/18/08 9:10 PM
RE: Leave me out of this

You are in it! She knows about us. The teas are working, loosening my bowels, my tongue. I am a babbling fountain of deceit, Charlotte says. She was slithering around the dining room, the bedroom, slithering and hissing in front of me. She has devised a menu of roots and berries, three times a day. I am an unattractive mass of adulterous rotting flesh. I do not know where Charlotte comes up with these things. But, they must be true. Thoughts flicker, anger, indignation, but they wither. Pride is hard to maintain when your stomach knots, cramps and releases in 60 seconds. She hates you less today than she did yesterday.

Sent: Wed 7/2/08 9:10 PM
RE: You’re as crazy as she is. May you both rot in hell

Thank you for the well wishes. Charlotte and I are doing frightfully well. Charlotte has ceased going to workshops. Her novel is finished. She lays up at night watching me sleep, I know because I wake often and she attends me. She has created the most delightful bitter, sweet tasting tea. My angel is just now fixing me another cup of this elixir. Goodbye forever sweet trollop. Tempt me no more!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Unfollowing (Repost)

In about five minutes I will have un-followed my first “friend.”

Why does it bother me?

In truth, it’s not the unfollowing that bothers me. I only knew him as well as I could know anyone with whom I exchanged workshop critiques over a 3-week summer writer’s workshop. Which is to say I knew him by words and by sight—which does not, as some might believe, mean I knew his insights, or lack thereof.

I did not know his politics.  I did not know his racial barometer, his insecurities.  Perhaps I don’t actually endeavor to know anyone that well. In the past, I had at best glanced at his updates. But now that either I have more time or he does, his updates appear to have become more frantic and more frequent. I find myself shocked by their chantish quality, their lack of depth, their lack of respect of my time.

In all honesty, what I remember best about him that summer is his overly long workshop piece laden with slightly-offensive assumptions of camaraderie and the presumption that I had the time to read it. That is what I find bothersome about following, or the implications of my following him: the presumption of shared beliefs.

It should be enough for me to quietly select unfollow and leave him to wonder why I would do such a thing.  Sadly, it is not.  It’s not even enough for me to craft an email telling him why.  I expect he would write something about the Fifth Amendment.  But, since his right to write his racist views does not infringe upon my right not read it, I will instead unfollow him and let the words fall will they may.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Beehive Baltimore (Repost)

According to their website, blog and Tweets, the Beehive Baltimore is an active community of writers sharing space to increase productivity and decrease cost. It’s a classic formula, a proven formula and financially, it makes sense.

It makes sense socially too.

The Hive is located in a cluster of offices, within a trendy, multi-purpose warehouse-esque modern building.

I picture writers, painters, sculptors, and dancers engaging in discussion, debate, and coffee laced with crème and conversation.

I don’t picture writers writing, painters painting, sculptors sculpting or dancers actually dancing.

And, I’d like to.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been planning a visit to the Hive to see just what co-working is all about. They are virtually locatable. I found their website; read their blog, and followed their tweets. I can find the Hive on a map, online, on Google Earth. I can @Beehive them, email them, or comment to a blog.

What I can’t do is call them.

Social networking, word of mouth, and an online presence, keeps them plugged into the community they likely want to reach.

But what about me?
How do I cross the communication divide?

I can’t pull out of my coveted parking spot on P2, drive the 3.5 miles in potential rush-hour traffic, and search for a parking spot in the parking garage I’m not sure they have, if I don’t know they will be there when I am.

I could email them and set up an appointment, I could DM them, or even Tweet—but, I won’t.

I will continue to search for a number to communicate in a medium I’m familiar with through a terrain in which I’m not.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Me in Community (Repost)

Recently, I got a letter that my son’s school failed the state test. Not a state test, the state test: the Maryland State Assessment Test or MSA. The test that decides funding, staffing, academic performance: the test. It’s a report card, a ‘how does the school compare to other schools in the state’ and equally as importantly, a ‘how does your child compare to other students in the state’ marker.

Each year, my children perform well, very well to be precise. Some years their schools do not.

This year, my daughter’s school passed the statewide test, my son’s did not. The letter from his school is nicely worded. It says something about under performing and reevaluating. It’s very positive, but the bottom line is that something is missing between teaching and learning: something just doesn’t work.

Four years ago, I got the same letter before my daughter was supposed to go to the same school. That year, I opted out and was able to transfer her into a performing school.

Today, the program that made such a transfer possible is defunct, and so though my son exceeded the state expectations, I can’t just bail out. And, I’m not sure I want to. There is always the option of private or charter schools. So my son, who is in gifted and talented classes, is not there out of lack of options.

My son has made lots of friends at this school, so like it or not we are vested in the community.

Problems and all, it feels nice to belong to a community.

His school plans to make some changes some academic, some administrative. I plan to make some changes too. This year, I plan to be not just a member of the PTA but a participant. I am looking for opportunities to volunteer around my schedule and my comfort level. I am considering leading a journaling workshop to help get kids excited about words again.

Whatever I do, this year, I plan to affect change.

This year, community begins at home.

It doesn’t end there.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Why I Don't Comment on Comments

In most of the writers’ groups I belong to, there is at least one conversation devoted to the topic of comments and why we don’t comment on other writers’ blogs.

Each time I read one, I vow to read a blog or two and post a comment in return: to leave my virtual calling card.
I sift through several blogs before choosing the one to respond to.

Reading a blog is sort of like reading the editorials. Reading comments is like asking people what they think about the editorials.

I don’t do that.

So while I peruse, sift and skim blog posts, I rarely glimpse or acknowledge the comments of others.
Comments are like undergarments. I assume people have them, but I’m not all that interested in seeing the general populations’.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yvonne Battle-Felton; Crafter of Sexy CV's

“Great information, can I reference this for my site and link back to you?”

Compliments are probably one of the fastest ways to get your comment approved on my blog. So, likely my ego will be my cyber downfall.

When I began looking for a full-time English faculty position, it seemed logical to post my resume and CV on my blog.

It still does.

Visions of people linking my CV to the hands of my future employer would have danced vividly in my head—had I thought of it that way. When commenters began asking to link, repost or refer the content from my blogs to theirs, I was giddy—until…

Though I still have the what’s the worst that could happen mentality when it comes to accepting comments, I still read each comment, email address, website, link, IP address—just in case.

The most recent request to link to my CV made me smile, in a what the heck? sort of way. The request looked sincere enough—though in retrospect most of the requests so far have been from spammers—the site potentially linking to mine was a porn one.

There are many ways I could and probably should take this offer.

Instead, I’m taking it as a compliment. Perhaps I’ve found my niche, Yvonne Battle-Felton, crafter of Sexy CV’s.

Monday, November 14, 2011


“What kind of films do you make?” Porn, I think.

“Just films about different things.”

I nod.

I mistake his evasiveness and momentarily forget my own.
As a writer, I seldom talk about a piece until it is finished—sometime after its final revision, submission, rejection and/or publication. Dissecting language, character, voice, and plot are far more intricate and intimate conversations than those I would have with people who would ask, “What are you working on?”

People who would not ask are writers.

People who don’t know me must think I write porn.

“What do you want to do after graduation?” A friend asks.

“I just want to write,” I say and mean—but not really.

I do not want to write manuals, business letters, or the story of someone else’s life.

I want to write short stories with characters who reflect people and the choices we make and the consequences we live with. I want to write creative nonfiction pieces about injustices, opportunities, life. I want to make people think, act, cry, care. Power issues aside, I want to incite a change.

I write more personal essays than I am comfortable with. I sift through the cyber pages of my life and while I justify it by writing press releases during the day, I cannot justify it when people ask, “What are you working on?” And while I think, a piece that shows the choices I’ve made on the path to who I have become. And I say, “Something for my blog.” I mean—nothing of consequence.

My eality—my cyber footprint—is a bit somber. My reality on the other hand, is full of promise and opportunity and always facing forward.
So while I smile as I think, What would Jesus Write, I mean it’s time I got back to writing not just about my world, but about your world, our world—as I see it

Consider the Source: FTC Updates Timely Advice (Repost)

I have always been leery of reviews.

Books, movies, companies, merchandise, what ever the product or service, I seldom trust testimonials, endorsements, or personal statements unless I respect the source.

A quick search of most products or services will pull up the product, its competition, client testimonials and customer reviews.

It should be universally understood that information provided by the manufacturer and/or provider and its competition is biased.

Word-of-mouth is just as powerful today as it was yesterday.

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and the thousands of services in between, rely on the premise of networks and the sharing of information. The power of telling a friend, who tells a friend, who tells another friend, has gone exponential.

With all of this information exchanging, sharing, updating, blogging and twittering about, the FTC reminds us that nothing has really changed. When making decisions based on someone’s experience, recommendation, or testimonial, you have to consider the source. The recent Link1 ruling takes it one step further--effective December 1, depending on the source, the information provider, exchanger, sharer, updater, tweeter, or in this case, blogger has to disclose it.

The ruling encourages bloggers to reveal relationships which may influence their reviews, testimonials, essays, etc… of products or services. Influence can take the form of money, product, trade.

The language is highly subjective to interpretation.

Bloggers are encouraged to act responsibly by disclosing this information. If they refuse, a letter may or may not go out, action may or may not follow. The ruling is vague in its language but broad in potential.

Sadly, it’s also necessary.

The often blurry lines between marketing, promotions, and testimonials are not any more or less murky than they were a decade ago, but the opportunities to mislead consumers and their networks are.

I like to believe that people are more savvy and less likely to believe everything they read. I like to believe that people recognize an ad when they see it. But then again, I also like to believe that writers willing disclose relationships that may influence their pieces.

The FTC reminds me that this is not always the case.

As a blogger, I hold myself responsible for everything I write. As a reader of blogs, I hold myself responsible for everything I believe.

Conversations I would Rather Not Have

There are some conversations that get easier to have the more often you have them—death isn’t one of them.

This weekend I woke up to quiet.

Unexpected, somewhat jolting, my three children, dog, cat, presumably the leopard gecko were sleeping and so was—it would seem for a few more minutes—Lita Gibby.

Lita Gibby does not sleep. Or if she does, she is a light sleeper. Since she’s lived with us, she has become in tuned with movement, shifts in lighting, every whispered sound.

She detects everything.

She sings—or sang—to music, to silence, to footsteps.

Lita Gibby was Noah’s birthday present.

I should have learned you can’t give life.

The plump white and brown guinea pig, deceptively quiet in the pet store, uncharacteristically quiet today, is dead.

Because Noah was three when we got her, I spent more time than I thought I would talking to, petting, cleaning up after, feeding, and though I didn’t expect to, loving Lita Gibby.

There are just a few moments between now—when he thinks Lita Gibby is alive—and later when he doesn’t.

This is not his first death. Fish have died. This will not be his last death. I will die—some day.

When his fish died, I replaced them with new, brighter, more alive ones. I think briefly of replacing his guinea pig. But, what are the chances of getting one who whistles as commandingly as Lita Gibby?

I can no more replace his guinea pig than I can replace a dying grandparent.

Each death gets more difficult to explain, the reasons more artful, the reactions more tearful.

I can buy a new guinea pig, a frog, a toad. I can not give the gift of life and I'm not looking forward to talking about it why.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Trying to Spend Money at Wal-Mart? Good luck

I love a good sale; there’s nothing like saving money—especially when you don’t have to spend money to do it.

Still, lately I have been having a hard time actually spending money. No, not because I’m adhering to a budget; not because I’m debating a large purchase or even haggling over prices: The store just won’t seem to take my money.  It’s an odd problem to have. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t complain, but these circumstances aren’t quite normal.

Last week I visited Wal-Mart to purchase new tires. On one hand I had reservations about purchasing tires from the same place I can purchase sweatpants and toothpaste; but, there’s a certain nostalgic quality reminiscent of Sunday shopping with my grandmother decades ago that eases the uncertainties. Back then, she shopped at Two Guys, a long gone “everything” store similar to Wal-Mart and perhaps more adept—though their bankruptcy would say otherwise—at taking money. So I was able to rationalize shopping for tires where I shop for life—at first.

When I stepped up to the counter it was like stepping into a sitcom. The customer in front of me had moved around the country; it seemed the only things that remained consistent over the past year were her love of mobility and her love for Wal-Mart. The employee searched for her client information using three different phone numbers before giving up and setting the customer up with a new account.  Ten minutes later, when it was finally my turn, another employee searched the computer system for my tires and found nine in stock and many more in stock that were higher than I wanted to pay.

The next part is a communication whirlwind. I say, “if I need four tires, I want four tires; if I only need two, put on two.”

They hear, “blah, blah, blah…two tires.”

About an hour later a somber faced mechanic comes out. He has broken the screw to the sensor and it looks like I am going to need a new one. I stare at the screw and the valve and then at the sensor and the mechanic. It seems an odd thing to show me, but he is intent that I see the connection: the gold-plated stub wedged between metal—yes, I see it.  The need for me to purchase a new one—no, I don’t.  First he says I need a new sensor. My sensor is broken? I ask. No, just the screw. And they don’t sell the screws? I ask. Well, I broke it, he explains—again.

He seems ready to launch into a complicated answer, instead he pauses reconsidering. “Let me check.”

The thing is we both know I’m not going to pay for a new valve or a new sensor.

Five minutes after a discussion with his supervisor, work begins again on my car.  Thirty minutes later it’s finished.

“You’re going to need two more tires really soon.”

“You didn’t put them on?” I ask.

I re-explain my explanation. “We can put them on but it will be another hour and a half,” the mechanic says. My car would be put back into the loop—I mean, in the back of the loop.

Against my better judgment, I decided to come back another day.  When I came back I was told it would be a one hour wait. I waited. Almost one hour later my car was still parked where I had left it neither finished nor worked on.  Still, my sense of “how can this happen again” drove me to try one more time. The last time I went, the attendant looked for my tires for ten minutes without finding them. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it. He searched each tire on each shelf, even using the rolling ladder and a coworker.  Of course, he was looking for the exact tires I purchased last time without asking if I wanted a different brand.

The store manager recommended I order the tires online and have them shipped to the store for them to put them on.  I decided to go elsewhere.  I will stick to sweatpants and accessories for Wal-Mart and leave the car parts to companies who specialize in cars and servicing them.

Are your employees costing you money? If your employees won’t listen to your customers, someone else will. Train your staff to listen to your clients and address their needs; remind them to ask questions when they don’t understand and to give honest feedback when they do. Don’t let lack of communication cost you your clients; your competitors won’t.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When Apples Go Bad-Part 1

  1. One current and three potential Apple customers enter the Apple store in Towson, MD.
  2. The "genius" at the "Genius Bar" misidentifies my daughter's Ipod as an Iphone.
  3. Genuis recommends I pay $119 to have the 3-month old Ipod replaced.
  4. We discuss the probability of that happening.
  5. Genius explains the situation to the manager in the back room...laughter permeates the store.
  6. Scott (the presumed laugher in point 5) explains his logic behind suggesting I pay $119 to have the Ipod replaced: he believes my daughter is a budding technologist who somehow destroyed the inner workings of her Ipod.
  7. We agree to disagree.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

When Apples Go Bad: Part-2

  1. Explained situation to first Apple Customer Service Rep.
  2. Informative, polite exchange leading to transfer to a rep. who could look into the specifics.
  3. Transferred to Dave.
  4. Explained more in-depth, took picture of IPod, emailed Dave.
  5. Dave explained policy, issued a special code and explained the exception.
  6. Dave took notes of the exchange and determines the store needs to be held accountable for their behavior.
  7. I am impressed.
  8. Happily awaiting package to return and exchange my daughter's broken IPod.

Baltimore Book Festival (Repost)

If you've been within a mile of Mount Vernon Place this week; if you've visited the library, a book store, a friend with a book; or if you’ve perused the Sun, the City Paper or b, chances are you already know The Baltimore Book Festival is this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I’m honored to be reading with Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, writer, editor, Hopkins professor and advisor. We’ll be at the CityLit Tent from 1:45 to 2:15 as part of their School of Lit .
School of Lit features faculty and students from some of the area’s finest writing programs. Joanne and I will be reading nonfiction essays, short stories and talking about Johns Hopkins University Advanced Academic Programs MA in Writing.
I hope to see you there.

Things I Want My Children to Know

1. I love them more than I can say.
2. I am so proud of them.
3. It’s a pleasure watching them grow as individuals–even though it means I will no longer be the center of their lives (and, yes, I am oblivious enough to believe I am now the center of their lives).
4. I enjoy engaging in conversations with them (which is not the same as arguing with them, see things I learned from George Bush).
5. They are talented, beautiful, wonderful children who will grow in to talented, beautiful, wonderful adults who will never try to force me in to a nursing home (unless it’s a really nice one where I can write for hours on end while watching the ocean from my ocean-view apartment).
6. They are destined for success.
7. They can tell me anything.
8. I will always love them.
9. I will not always be right, but that won’t always stop me from offering my opinion.
10. Never stop learning.
11. Make new mistakes, there’s no sense remaking the ones I have already made (and, made quite well thank you).
12. Don’t let any one decide your dreams (not even me).
13. No one has the power to make you fail.
14. Make the decisions that will make you proud, not popular 

Things I Don't Want My Children to Know

1. Each night I check to make sure they are breathing.
2. I am capable of doing unspeakable things to people who hurt my children.
3. I am not as nice as they think I am.
4. Dating wise, I’m far more shallow than they give me credit for. So, while my daughter worries that I don’t take an interest in the men we encounter at the market, the mall, the local McDonald’s—I have seen them (often before she has) and dismissed them.
5. The rest of the things that I don’t want them to learn by reading this, smiles. 

Backstory: Reflections on this Month's Theme for Stories at the Storey

Meeting deadlines is as soothing to me as a creamy cup of flavoured coffee. Checking a project off of my mental to-do list settles me. ...