I talk to one of my favorite authors

The LA Review has my essay, “Communiques to Mr. Lee Child,” up on its web site. Go look here, and see what I think of his character, Jack Reacher, and why I love Mr. Child’s work.
And okay, maybe what I think of Tom Cruise, too.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Homage to the Weekend, in three parts

Part I: The Race That Was Not (A Race)

To Whom It May Concern,

This weekend I participated in your Rebel Race. A friend encouraged me to “Escape the Weakday”–GREAT slogan!–and be a rebel. I must also admit that I was drawn to the idea of a lot of mud, an obstacle course (I have been lifting, after all), and the free beer that came with the entry fee ($60). I am also a sucker for trail running.

Now, let’s talk about the six ginormous bottlenecks that took place over the 5K course: One at race’s beginning, one almost immediately after the race start, and the four that were peppered over the rest of the mileage.

You promised me a race and a free T-shirt and a free beer. $60 for a 5K race is about $20 per mile. I figure I did not get to race for about a half-mile. Also, I did not drink your free beer because it was a Bud Light and I am almost 100% sure that is not actually beer.

Plus I had to pay $10 to park. All told, I figure you owe me about $18 (Bud Light being $5 at a bar, tops). But I bought the race with a Groupon, so you really only owe me about $9. Please donate that amount to a real race.

Thank you sincerely, however, for the opportunity to spend the day with friends.


Part II: Hideous Clearing Out

Lara and Peter and I have challenged each other to give away, sell, recycle, or discard one item a day for the next three months or so. (I think that’s right. Guys, weigh in if I’m wrong.) This is because we are pack rats and need a little help from our friends.

I got a little excited and stated eBaying stuff the week before Lara got back from her trip, which is cheating. But here is what I have given away (or have listed for sale on eBay) since the Monday we started, which is the 16th, a full week ago.

  •  Rollabind/Circa punch: I have had this thing since 2010 and I have never gotten the hang of the Circa system. I believe this is solidly because I am just not that organized.
  • Levenger Junior notebook: I know, this is in the same listing as the punch, but I am giving it to myself as an item because damnit, I can.
  • A big stack of books: To my neighbor Kathlyn, who loves to read and who is a librarian.
  • A big pile of nail polish: Lots of mini-bottles whose colors weren’t right for me. I freecycled these. 
  • A spice rack with glass jars: Jim bought this for me ages ago when we were first living together IN TWO THOUSAND TWO OMG because he knew I liked to entertain, but it was prelabeled and we no longer see the point of buying spices only to re-fill existing jars.
  • Some half-empty bottles of facial lotion: My cabinet was a wreck before, cos sometimes you buy things like facial lotion and you think they’ll work, and they end up not working at all, or causing gigantic blemishes. Anyway, this was my cabinet before: And this is after:
Okay, so I’m a couple of items behind. Yargh. I have already sold FOUR pairs of shoes on eBay! So THERE! Gack! And given away something like 12 T-shirts!
Meh. This paring-down stuff is hard. And oh shite I just realized I will be gone for nearly a month all told between August and September, so I’d better start counting every book and every T-shirt. What? No? Is that against the rules?
Part III: A Short Trip to the Airport
In reality, it was not a short trip at all. First we stopped at the deli to pick up a sushi lunch that we could all enjoy. Then we were stuck in traffic. Then Mr. Gooddirt got angry at the &$*(! driver in front of us. Finally we got to the airport, and wandered around looking for stuff and guessing at where we should be, until I fielded a phone call:
“Hi, Dad.”
“We are at Terminal 3, check-in.”
More wandering. Then another phone call.
“I did not mean what I said before. We are at Terminal 3, east side, ticketing, door CRACKLE FUZZ FRIZZITY BLOOP.”
More wandering. Then asking of harried airport employee. Then finally, playing a hunch and looking outside, there were my parents, fresh off a flight and onto a four-hour layover at our worst airport.
Then there was looking at vacation photos and sharing of sushi lunch and complaining about one’s daughter’s haircut, and then an hour and a half later, two hugs from each of them for each of us goodbye, and then swatting of Mr. Gooddirt by mother, just for good measure, and then off they went, two figures smaller then I actually remember them, through the security gate and away for their flight back to California.




Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A Phone Conversation

Me: Hello?
Mr. Gooddirt: Hi. I just thought I’d tell you that I qualify for extra life insurance.
Me: That’s fantastic! Congratulations! They approved you even with the extra layer of pudge around your waist from our trip to Taiwan?
Mr. Gooddirt: Yes. Especially because of the extra layer. They said it would protect me from impact injuries.


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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A brief intermission and a public announcement

Aside from the basics off eating breathing, drinking water, I’ve never done anything for 30 days straight. Not in my recent memory, anyway, and not anything that I’ve known would be good for me. Maybe in my angsty college years I kept a daily diary for 30 days straight, but that’s hardly a challenge when you’re angsty all the time.
So, inspired by an acquaintance and a fellow writer, I’m challenging myself to do a few things over the next month, the next 30 days. They are things that have eluded me, and although I’m not up to challenging myself to doing something every day for a year, like the kid in Brenda’s story did, I think I can manage a scant month’s worth of time. And who knows? Maybe that month will lead to a year. But let’s not get ahead of myself. Here’s my list. I invite you all to either check in with me or make up a list of your own. Leave your lists in the comments below, if you like.

1. I will go the gym or do something physically strenuous every single day.
2. I will write a diary entry in longhand every day. It only has to be a page, but it can be more than that.
3. I will start each day with a glass of water.
4. I will make our bed each morning.
5. I will read at least the headlines of the first section of the newspaper that arrives each morning at my door and often goes straight to the recycling bin.

Okay, that’s my list. Now I’ve told you all, and I have no excuses, really. Some of these things are so simple! Who knows? Maybe this will be the start of something great.


Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

I think I have survived

What is there to survive, you want to know? None of it was bad. It was all very good. But it was completely and totally draining. If I were the type to keep scrapbooks, I’d now be staring at a pile of ticket stubs, napkins, photos and things to paste into said imaginary scrapbook. But I’m not, so here’s a digital photo dump.

Monday the 10th our good friend Audrey came into New York for the evening, and Jim and I went down to see her by train. At the Hawthorne station, I spotted these awesome steelworks. There’s a whole series of them, from hobos to women waiting at the station for people to come in on the train.

We had some lovely sushi in midtown. It was so nice to see her.

I miss Audrey. We used to see her a lot, and w are only lucky that she comes into New York quite a bit for business. Otherwise, the distance between Chicago and New York would seem a lot bigger.

The following Thursday morning, I went for my first jog with a group in forever. But the group didn’t show up. So I slogged around on the Bronx River pathway for a little half an hour, and then I went home and prepped for my morning meeting in Irvington, New York, where I was reminded of how much I like the river towns and their sharp slope downwards to the Hudson River.

You can just see the Tappan Zee bridge in this photo. I liked living there, back in the mid-90s.

Later that day, my friend Nic, another ShelterBox Response Team member, came to visit me. It was Nic’s first time in New York, and after being stuck in traffic for sometime, we finally got back to my place and hot-footed it down to the Big Bad in time for Nic’s hair appointment with an acquaintance of mine. I had a pedicure in the meantime. (I am shocked, by the way, to realize that almost a month later, they still look pretty good.)

Spotted this building advert on the way over.

Later we went to see a friend of Nic’s art exhibit. It is art of the type I call stupid good: You don’t have to know anything about art to know it’s just damned good work. Damien Hirst bought two of the ones on exhibit, and although I’m not one for picked cows, I do trust the man has good taste in art.

We’d met Robert and his girlfriend Sarah at the exhibit, and then we went off to get Nic some good old-fashioned eats at Katz’s Deli. Yum.

Good haircut, right?

Nic was with us for a week. It was really nice, and pretty whirlwind, but it was immediately comfortable–Nic just sort of fit into our daily routines. She could have stayed for months and we’d not have cared one iota.

We took her to part of the Appalachian trail and the woods by us and in general had a great time. The day after Nic left, my parents dropped in.

We took them all over, too, and Dad took a bunch of pictures, but I’m convinced they’re all still on his camera. He still has photos on there from my brother’s wedding. That was at the end of January. Storage cards are a bad thing for some people.

My mom wanted to go to Bergdorf’s. I took her. We saw these. I want some.

They are salt and pepper shakers. More important, they are eggs with legs on them. Most important, they are hilarious.

We took them to Rhode Island. They liked it. I liked that my mom has always wanted to go there and never has been, and now she can say she did that.

My parents were in town for a week. Two days after they left we drove to Rhode Island again, for a wedding. But this trip was far more casual. We spent Sunday at Bluff Point, which is probably one of the prettiest places int he world. I could totally live there, maybe in this house:

Sprocket was happy, too:

And we saw lots of gorgeous flora:

Actually, all of these photos were taken at Hadley Farm, neighboring Bluff Point.

And then later we did actually go over to Bluff Point, which is a state park and at which you can mountain bike, ride horseback, stroll and swim if you’d like.

And fish, obviously. I like this picture. It has a Winslow Homer quality to it. But of course I flatter myself.

I love the fractal quality of these ferns. So pretty!

If you’re wondering why I’m taking photos of what looks like  a plain old gnarly root system, it’s because not three minutes earlier I watched a little girl, no more than 8 years old and wearing Crocs, kick ass down this section of trail. She just rode it, like it was nothing. So cool.

Here we are at Bluff Point. It was a nice day.

Later on that evening we went back to Narragansett, not far from where we’d taken my parents to see the Newport mansions, for my friend Tom’s wedding.

As usual, my head is enormous. But the dress, which I bought at a second-hand store in Pittsburgh, actually turned out OK. I had it taken up a bit. For $45 plus the $25 for the alteration, it was a steal. And I’ve always wanted a vintage cocktail dress…this one is from the 50s and has these stiff sized panels at the hips to give me more shape.

It was a really awesome wedding. Tom is Jewish and Sabrina is Brazilian, so their huppah was constructed of branches Tom had found after a windstorm in Central Park and a beautiful tropical cloth. It was adorned with tropical flowers. Gorgeous. Their declaration of intent was Buddhist, we recited a Shinto prayer of happiness, and their song choice was “Time After Time,” performed by two of their friends. Way cool. And we met some really nice people.

We drove home the next day and plowed through the workweek, and then we went to York, PA yesterday for one more wedding.

York is an interesting place. It clearly had had its boom time, but it’s a little downtrodden now. We stayed at the Lafayette Club, and that was interesting.

The portraits you see lining the walls are all of presidents.

The building itself is awesome. Definitely a little run down, but the historical details were fabulous. The price was right and the location–across the street from the reception site–was terrific.

Perhaps the best detail of all, though, was the old communication system.

It looks very muppet-like.


Anyway. That is why I am tired. Now I am sitting here in my living room, realizing that I really must commit to more blog posts so things like this photo dump don’t happen again. My fingers are tired. I have bored you for 1150 words. I must stop.

‘Til next time,

Your friendly local airhead


Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled ‘blog

Hi there.

Coherency will now fly out the window as I update my life to my three followers.

First, some photos and a small comment on friendship:

I have known Kelsey since October 2008, when we went through our ShelterBox 3-day assessment together. Our paths diverged from there, but we stayed friends, mostly because we have the same sense of humor. Kelsey has since lived in Texas, Hanoi, Budapest. This September she will be studying in London; this summer she will be stateside again, in Boston, I think. I am lucky to have such friends through such a tenuous connection. Kelsey came to visit just before I left for Haiti.

When I returned, spring had happened. All of the trees were green and budding, and the flowering trees and shrubs were in full bloom. The park across the street from us has these gorgeous flowering cherry trees. They make lovely carpets of soft pink petals all over the ground.

Here is a gratuitous Sprocket photo.

There are lots of other pretty flowering plants in this park, including this purple one.

I wish I knew what it was. Is it wisteria? I don’t think so; somewhere my visual memory tells me that wisteria is much more delicate-looking.

Elsewhere in the park, there is a dogwood. The blooms were hanging too high for me to get a good photo. There are also dandelions.

Shortly after I got home from Haiti (and after my meander through the  park, taking photos that I have to explain because they are too bad to be explicit), I realized that I needed to write a column for the newspaper, and that my credit card bill needed to be paid, and that I had missed the deadline for registration for the MFA program I’ve enrolled in (yes, yes, more on that later), and also that…oh, God, I have to drive to Pittsburgh.

Kara got her doctorate recently, and her family and I went to see her walk. We almost missed her; there were many many students. But before that we had a day to mellow out in Pittsburgh. I bought a vintage dress to wear to a wedding later this year; and we had lunch at Enrico’s on Ellsworth, where I took this photo:

I liked the light. It didn’t seem to come through in the photo, though. Kara’s had this camera bag for awhile, and it just gets prettier with age.

Also there was this:

I really like these metal flames. There is something very primeval about it (I know, duh), and I just like the idea of an Italian joint with wood-fired pizza having an oven covered in flames.

I also liked this:

This is probably the best-tasting BLT I’ve ever had. It was very, very messy, but the taste made up for it. Alas, it was too big for me to eat all at once.

We also saw this curious substitute for a guard-dog. Hey, if you could have a dinosaur guarding your home, wouldn’t you?

The next day we putzed around the house, and we went to see the marathon go by, which has inspired me to Do Another. I love race day. I get all teary.

Then there was this:

And then there was this:

and that is the end of Kara’s long journey to her doctorate degree. V. V. exciting. Our Pittsburgh journey would take me 18 hours of driving altogether. It was not pleasant. But I got to eat Cracker Barrel meatloaf, and I also managed to leave only one peg remaining in that idiot game they have at every table. It is the first time I have ever done that (I am usually a two or three or even four-pegger), and here is the proof:

I can never duplicate this, because I was listening to Kara saying something and I wasn’t really paying attention to what I did. [Insert left-brain/right-brain commentary here.]

Ohoh. Also in Pittsburgh we saw an awesome exhibit featuring artists’ renditions of teapots. Yes, teapots, that wonderful form that instantly evokes comfort and prettiness. No, not beauty. Teapots are not beautiful. They are pretty to within inches of beauty. But they are not usually striking. These, however, were:

Tea set made entirely of cockle-burrs. Called “Tea for Sudan.” Owtch.

And I like this one. Total polar opposite of “Tea for Sudan,” it is comforting and very very easy on the eyes.

Er. I think that might be it, except ohOH on the way home I received this e-mail, as a comment on a book review I’d done earlier:
Hello, I’m [Txx Nxxxxx] and I’m a Student i need some information about Elijah of Buxton , i need background information, conflict, Rising action, falling action, climax and the Resolution. (THEME)! Thanks

First of all, student, you are lucky I am kind and am not revealing your name and e-mail address here. Second of all, you need lots of help with your capitalization. Second of all, hell, call me old-fashioned and whatever, but dude. Read The Book. And then sit and have a good think about it.

Third, man, I really have no idea what you’re asking me for here.

So here’s a neat little segue: I am not going to get my MFA because I want to teach students like Txx. I am going back to school so I can be a better writer, specifically in long-form fiction. Eventually I am sure I will teach, but I would like to publish first. And when I do teach, I would like it to be older students, who have lived a little and who need a little push. I will probably end up engaging in some kind of writing coaching, if there is such a thing.

So I’ve chosen the Whidbey Island Writer’s Association for my school of choice. After much waffling and back-and-forth, I am happy to report that I am very very excited about this. Learning things is always good. Learning things that will help you to become what you have wanted to become for years is incredibly exciting.

It is going to cost me an arm and a leg. I am a little bit worried about that. But life has been busy lately and I see no reason to slow down, really.


Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

An Open Letter, to Do-Gooders

No photos, no brain dump. Just a plea to those who want to help Hait.

I know your hearts are in the right place. And while this note isn’t intended to reflect the views of the wonderful organization I volunteer for, I’d like for you to know that it comes from good experience on the ground. For those who are late to the game, I’m a volunteer for a disaster-relief organization. We’ve been in Haiti since January 14th, and I’ve just recently returned from three weeks on the ground with my team.

I know everyone wants to do good. Giving is never wrong. But please, please consider the following:

1. HOW you can give.

When you demand that an organization earmark your money for Haiti, it doesn’t help the organization. In fact, it might hinder it, and your funds might never get used if that organization has done what it can in the field. Please consider that the organization you’re giving to likely has been operating in the field for some time, if you’ve done your research, and that they’ll know best how to use your generous donation. There is an interesting movement afoot to pool all funds earmarked for Haiti, and I’m for this cause.

2. WHAT you can give.

Folks, if you’re thinking of going to Haiti to offer emotional succor and nothing else, please consider that there is a lot of real, tangible work to be done. I’m not saying that religious services and prayer aren’t needed, it’s just that there are a lot of well meaning people on the ground already. This is not the place to clog up with wandering missionaries.

Also, if you are taking up a collection, please ensure that you have someone on the ground to receive and distribute the materials. A box of random FA goods addressed “To the People of Haiti” is not going to go anywhere. It is going to sit in the airport warehouse, blocking the way to the goods that can be delivered to actual populations that professional organizations have targeted. Likewise, the pros have the means to distribute.

Haiti’s airport and its shipping warehouses are stretched to the limit. They are not used to managing this much stuff. Part of the backlog has to do with inexperience and simple lack of space. Please don’t let my goods sit out on the tarmac because yours are going to be in the warehouse forever.

Likewise, if you are on the ground on behalf of an organization and planning to “beg and borrow” from organizations already on the ground, please don’t. Please come with either your own aid, ready to operate, or don’t come unless you can get all of your ducks lined up before you come. Orgs already on the ground are also likely already stretched to their limits.

3. WHO you can give.

This sounds weird, but it’s not. Folks with celebrity status: Please stay at home, unless you are planning to come WITHOUT your entourage of 5,000 people. If you really want to do good, please do so from the comfort of your homes, where you can host fundraisers for the organizations that are already cleaning out their coffers and closets for aid. You can do a massive PR push just as well from your couch or from your favorite restaurant.

Your PR people are in the way. Often, they make curious demands of organizations that we are just not in a position to fulfill while we are in the field.

If you are coming quietly, by yourself, and want to just get dirty and help, welcome. No one will recognize you anyway, and your hard work will be appreciated.

That’s it for now.


Your friendly local humanitarian volunteer


Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Oh, look, I’ve gone and disappeared again.

And now it’s almost the end of the January. It’s been a remarkably busy few weeks. While I’ve been gone from these pages, I’ve been very busy taking care of a little project I’m so proud of. Most of you have already heard me speak about this, but I’ll say it again: I think ShelterBox is the best thing that ever happened to me. Well, aside from Jim and Sprocket, anyway. And my friends. And, um, being born and stuff.

I was telling my brother, in somewhat of a dazed state after a ton of activity, that I finally understood what it meant to him that he was a Peace Corps volunteer. No matter what happens, no one can take that away from him. He walks taller because of it. When I am wearing the ShelterBox shirt or pin, I walk taller. I know that.

These past few days have been incredibly taxing. We’re literally in the middle of a huge earthquake that I think did even more damage than the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that leveled Taiwan. Haiti, which had no real infrastructure to begin with, is buried in rubble. ShelterBox is there helping, and we’ve got a ton of attention now because of it. Because our goods are so tangible and so easily trackable—do you see a big green box here? Yes? Well, that’s your money, at work—CNN is following a big shipment from Newquay until they get to their destination in Haiti. It’s my hope that they’ll follow the shipment until it gets delivered into the hands of the Haitians. Our tents are now being used as medical tents in a makeshift hospital, so that amputations and treatment can be carried out in more sanitary conditions than they have been previously.


It’s incredible, how fast we mobilized. As a result, I am completely knackered. Here’s the schedule since the earthquake happened:

Tuesday evening. Earthquake happens while I’m at a meeting with Adam Stone, publisher for the Examiner newspapers, for whom I’m doing some copy-editing.

Wednesday. I spend all morning and the early afternoon organizing efforts to get ShelterBox top of mind with Rotarians and tweeting about our efforts, just in case anyone else is watching. My girls at Rotaract of the UN spend some time organizing a fast happy hour, to take place on Monday. I send a quick note to a buddy at Pepsi who knows some folks who live in the city who might go to the fundraiser. I go out Wednesday night and drink too much, feeling a lot of pressure and not believing that such a horrible thing could happen to such a defenseless country. I get a note back from my buddy saying that his Haitian friends at Pepsi have taken an interest. The thing begins to take form.

Thursday. Our teams arrive at Port-au-Prince. I wake up hungover to an e-mail from Pepsi asking if I’m available for the next week to demonstrate the box at Pepsi headquarters. Jim calls to tell me that it’s actually going to be a whole week-long promotion, with bake sales, raffles, and presentations. I go to do a taping for the middle-school kids across the street. I get home to urgent requests for a conference, a phone conference at least, the next day, to arrange all the details for this promotion.

Friday. Conference at Pepsi. Interview for the Examiner’s Business of the Week feature. I get notice that the Westchester Tweetup Group is planning on making the following Thursday’s Tweetup a benefit for ShelterBox. I get a lot misty at the thought of so many people rallying around. I finish up my personal statement for an MFA application and send it in. One step closer to being done. I also file my story.

Saturday. I wake up to a tweet from a local green enthusiast who does cooking demonstrations with local ingredients at the Katonah Farmer’s Market. She wants to make one of her demonstrations a benefit for ShelterBox. We agree on the following week. I spend the rest of the day editing The Examiner. Jim and I head to a friend’s house in New Jersey for the evening—some good conversation and much-needed decompression occurs, although, as we’re walking the dogs on the beach, I’m taking phone calls, trying to arrange coverage for the Farmer’s Market.

Sunday. I can’t remember Sunday. At all. I only remember that Jim and I went to Aileen’s for BACON EXPLOSION. Have you ever had bacon explosion? It is a veghead’s nightmare. For me, pudgy little post-Ironman me, it’s not so good, but it was OH SO GOOD. Anyway. Oh, right, I also did a lot of editing on Sunday.


Monday. More editing. And a happy hour. Some long-lost friends came out. I was all verklempt to see such support. And really happy to hear that we’d raised enough money for a whole box. Awesome. All that from a $10 open bar and passing the bucket. Fricken awesome. We go to a sushi dinner with friends to celebrate.

lookit my new double chin! wow!!

lookit my new double chin! wow!!

Tuesday. Big, big day at Pepsi. People were in awe. I was in awe, as I am every time I unpack the tent. Probably the crowning achievement was hearing the cafeteria manager say that she and her crew were taking up collections to help Haiti and that we were going to be it for them. The chef came out. I almost cried.


Wednesday. Big day at Pepsi R&D headquarters. Full presentation this time. Awesome to hear all the questions; great to see peoples’ faces again as they saw the tent. They did a raffle. The company matched. We had donations from $10 to $750 that day. I almost cried, again. I went home and struggled to pack and work on my critical essay. But I’ve been very disjointed lately.


Thursday.  I’m away from my desk, of course, but still tied up in ShelterBox stuff. I have a feeling I’ll be tied up in it for quite some time, don’t you?


Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.