Tag Archives: life

One Bad Mother

Me and my fabulous mom.

Me and my fabulous mom.

My mother loves to tell the story about how, when I was a newborn, she left the house and went shopping, and when she got to the store realized she’d forgotten to take me with her.

It was no big deal, she’s always assured me. As soon as she remembered, she went home and got me. I was fine. No harm done. She was sure I hadn’t even realized she’d been gone. I was an infant, so she’s probably right. But I always wondered how a mother could do that. I mean, doesn’t a mother’s world revolve around her children? How could she forget me?

Then I had a kid.

For what it’s worth, I’ve never gone shopping and forgotten my daughter at home. Well, not that I remember anyway. There was that one time when I was at the mall, and I was looking at some shoes that were on sale, and when I turned around realized my daughter had disappeared. In a panic, I started calling her name and searching among the racks. Finally, I ran out into the mall and spotted her a few stores away, calming walking along with a young couple, chatting nonstop and regaling them with tales of her imaginary friends.

She was three years old.

My failures as a mother weren’t limited to losing my child while bargain hunting. One time, I was dressing her while getting myself ready for work. We were late, and I was trying to do ten things at the same time. I didn’t realize that her little jacket had gotten caught on her shirt, and that the zipper was now lying against her bare skin. As I rushed around trying to get myself dressed and get her dressed and then get us both out the door, I quickly zipped the jacket, taking a strip of her soft belly flesh with it.

She cried. I cried harder. She had a scab for weeks. I’m still scarred. Continue reading

Back from Erma, flu-free

erma workshop logo

I awoke slowly, a tiny ray of light peeking through the curtains as I tied to open my eyes. The dog was breathing in my face, his wet nose crammed into my right eyeball. My eyes hurt, but I don’t think it was from dog slobber. They felt itchy and irritated, and when I finally hauled myself out of bed and looked in the mirror, I could see they were also red. I panicked.

Uh oh. Do I have pink eye again?

I’d recently gotten back from the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton, OH, where I spent four days socializing and eating dessert before dinner. The sessions were instructional, the keynote speakers inspirational, and the message one of encouragement and embracing one’s mission. We all left feeling empowered.

And for some, nauseated.

What do you get when 350 women and 9 men check into a hotel for a weekend-long humor writing conference featuring top notch guest speakers, dessert with every meal, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

You get the flu, that’s what you get.

Prior to the conference, most of us had joined the Erma Attendees Facebook group, taking time to learn each other’s names, discuss packing lists, and admit fears about attending the premiere workshop for humorists.

After the conference? The talk was all about who caught what from whom and when.

Patient Zero clearly brought the dreaded virus with them to Ohio, because a few attendees were struck down the first night and didn’t recover until it was time to head home. A few others got sick over the weekend; as I left the hotel on Sunday morning, I saw several people who looked like they might not make it out the door.

And then as people returned home to their corners of the country, like a giant domino chain of nausea and fever, one by one others fell. Someone even started a Facebook poll to track who was sick, since so many people were posting “Me, too” in the comment sections of other people’s posts.

Me? I got lucky. My stomach was upset, but that could have been from all the cheesecake; I don’t usually have dessert at every meal. I checked my temperature every hour, just in case I was burning up and didn’t know it. Nope, no flu here. But my eyes were killing me, and I was afraid that in addition to my business cards maybe I’d also passed out pink eye. If the next discussion thread was about who caused the painful temporary blindness, all fingers would point to me.

Not how I want to be remembered. Continue reading

Plucking words from the universe and dancing with my muse

radiolab muse elizabeth gilbert

Click the photo to go to Radiolab.org and listen to the podcast.

I just got back from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, OH. I attended in 2004, 2006, and 2008, and then last summer, while at St. David’s Writing Conference, I met three women and talked them into going with me this year.

I’ll write more about the actual conference later, when I’ve recovered from four days of cheesecake, teaching, and social interaction. It was, as expected, fabulous. But I wanted to share one thing with you now.

As I drove from Rochester to Dayton, I binged on past podcasts of RadioLab. One in particular stood out: “Me, Myself, and Muse.”

If you read my blog, I often lament about having great ideas that I don’t follow through with, or about book ideas that I don’t write and then see someone else has written them.  I get stuck, and overthink, and talk a lot about things I want to do but don’t, and it’s been going on for while. Too long. Like, if this whining was in a plastic container of leftovers in my fridge it would have not only gone moldy long ago, it would have sprouted a civilization that developed a cure for cancer.

I’m even on deadline, right now, right this minute, for a book I’m contracted to write that is just completely stalled, and I’m spinning my wheels creatively.

One of the reasons I was back at the Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop was to get my creative self back into alignment. Some time ago, I went from a very successful stint as a music blogger, with regular paying freelancing gigs, and lots of paid blogging and writing, to walking the dogs and binging on Netflix and bemoaning the fact that I offer nothing to the world. To be fair, things had changed in the music and publishing industry, and magazines and newspapers I’d been writing for were sold, which meant those paid writing gigs were gone. And I got jaded and lost my passion, for life and writing. (And there was also that stalker, too, who caused me no small amount of aggravation and was the last straw in the camel’s backpack that led to my taking a break from regular, serious writing for a while.)

The last few years have been a process of stopping, starting, reevaluating, doing well, crawling under a rock, taking stock, and emerging with wings that aren’t quite unfurled. Other parts of my creative life have emerged – improv and, most recently, stand up.  But the writing is now in a different climate, from a different perspective on life, and amidst a great deal of disorganization in my creative life. I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk wondering if I have any words left and, if I do, where I’d find them under this pile of folders and books and notes and dog toys.

So the message of this podcast has really stuck in my head and heart, particularly the part where Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“I kind of believe the world is being constantly circled as though by Gulf Stream forces, ideas and creativity, that want to be made manifest. And they’re looking for portals to come through in people. And if you don’t do it, they’ll go find someone else. And so you have to convince it that you’re serious and you have to show it respect and you have to talk to it and let it know you’re there.”

It haunted me the entire drive. And then the first workshop session I went to at Erma was with Alan Zweibel, who among many, many, many things, was an original writer for Saturday Night Live. He told us that the secret to writing is to write, and that we should focus on the process, not the product. There there are words out there, he said, and they just need to be plucked out and put down.

There it is again.

I’d never thought about my ideas or creative inspiration being something outside of myself. I always felt like creative inspiration was supposed to be inside of me, and if I wasn’t feeling it, it was because I didn’t have any.  But what if ideas and creativity are constantly swirling around me, like bits of the universe that I can reach out and catch, if only I open my hand? Well, that’s another story. Because then, what I’m lacking isn’t the creativity. What I’m lacking is the work. And I have total control over that.

So the takeaway, from the podcast and the sessions and the whole conference? It’s all there for the asking. All of it. ALL OF IT. The only thing that’s required of me is the work. The muse will join me in this dance of creativity once she sees me out on the ballroom floor and believes I’m going to stay there for the entire song.

Food for thought I wanted to share with you.

There’s so much to say about the conference, which is still digesting in my soul, and I’ll write about that in a separate post. But right now? I’ve got some work to do.

The first true test of my new Honda Fit: hauling shrubs

Old jeep new honda 016 resized

So there’s been quite a bit of news here at the Funny Farm the last few weeks. I’ve been on the hunt for a new car, since the Jeep dogmobile was in need of repairs and it was looking like it might be a case of throwing good money after bad. To make a long story short, after much shopping around, crunching numbers and test driving cars, we traded in the dogmobile for a 2015 Honda Fit.

There was much weeping as I handed over the keys to the Jeep. Saying goodbye was also a little like saying goodbye to a period of five years in my life I’d just rather not revisit. But there are some good things; there was probably a lot of Scout’s dog hair in there. But I just kept reminding myself that I was trading 13 mpg for 35 mpg, and gaining the ability to get on the road and take a trip without having to rent a car.

I opted for the Fit because 1) it’s a Honda and it’ll last me 200,000 miles; 2) the price and terms fit our monthly budget, including the savings I’ll get in gas and insurance; and 3) it’s super fun to drive.

Old jeep new honda 021 resized

I like it. Darling husband likes it. And the dogs, who have only had a short ride in it, seem to like it. Bailey can bark out the back window more easily. Bandit seems to like his new ride in the front seat.

What I didn’t plan on was what would happen when I had to haul stuff around. Today was the first challenge.

I stopped into Wegmans and saw these amazing peony plants, along with blueberry bushes for just $5 each.We planted two blueberry bushes last year, very small plants, but with the winter cold, and probably mostly because Bandit peed on them, they didn’t make it. These blueberry plants at Wegmans were big and lovely, and would surely survive even my inability to grow anything. Since you need to have at least two varieties of blueberries to get fruit, and since they were only $5, I grabbed three varieties and one peony, just for fun.

Feeling quite pleased with myself, I headed to the car only to realize … crap, I don’t know how I’m going to get these plants into that tiny car.

0526151254 Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #23 Confessions of a non-recovering introvert

This post originally appeared in 2013 on my Heavenly Creatures blog at Patheos.com. I generally write about animals and faith and God on that blog, but when offered the opportunity to read and write about this book for a Patheos roundtable, I jumped at the chance. Turns out it wasn’t only a good read; it profoundly changed the way I view myself, making it a must to include in my “5o thoughts on turning 50”.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Quiet-book-imageI’m an introvert. When I said it to friends a few times over the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten responses like, “You? You’re so talkative” or “I remember you as so outgoing” but almost always, “You’re not an introvert.”

Really? How would you know?

You probably base your idea of who I am on what you see on the outside, without knowing what’s going on inside of me most of the time. Sure, I can put together a party and play the happy hostess. But inside, I’m usually freaking out, because I have a difficult time talking to lots of people at once. You see me as talkative because I try to go out into social situations only when I’ve built up enough social energy to carry on a conversation; you don’t see me in my alone times, just me and the dogs, walking in the cemetery and recharging my batteries.

I can talk at length, and even in front of a crowd, about a topic dear to my heart. But it’s impossible for me to speak when I don’t believe what I’m saying. Want to talk about human trafficking or positive dog training methods? I’m all about it. Which girl should get a rose on “The Bachelor”? I’m out – or rather, I end up musing about why women would value themselves so little that they’d compete for some guy on a game show and throw their emotions around so trivially; usually everyone else wants to talk about which girl is the biggest bitch.

I’m always asking questions to strangers, like “why do you believe that” and “how did that make you feel”, surrounding myself with gads of acquaintances but few real friends, avoiding conflict and loud noises (and people who wear copious amounts of perfume or cologne), always aware that there is a social line that, once crossed, can throw me into panic or drain me to the point of physical exhaustion.

I get it. I sound cuckoo. In fact, for years (and years) I thought there was something wrong with me. Let’s face it. In our culture, we revere the outgoing, bold, confident risk takers, those who set goals and go after them with wild abandon. Those of us who spend a lot of time thinking and wondering but not always doing are viewed as weak.

That’s why I was so relieved to read Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The book could have been subtitled “Joanne: An Owner’s Manual.”

For the first time, someone has taken the side of the introvert and shown how important they (we) are in an American culture, dispelling the myth that all introverts are recluses who avoid human interaction or that extrovertism is the ideal. And she uses neuroscience and research to back it all up.

Newsflash: there’s nothing wrong with me. Continue reading

A reader gives me feedback – and the bat goes free

The bat escaped ... this time. Fly free, Mr. Bat. Fly free.

The bat escaped … this time. Fly free, Mr. Bat. Fly free.

When you’re a writer, reader feedback is always welcome, whether you’re telling me that you enjoyed something I’ve written or you think I’m an idiot.

In the July issue of Refreshed Magazine, I wrote about hearing a critter in our attic and darling husband’s brave battle with a bat. The bat lost. One reader sent this comment about the killing of the winged rodent:

“I think the article Bats in the Belfry by Joanne Brknow [sic] was disgusting! There was no reason to kill the bat!  Bats are good as they eat tremendous amounts of insects. How could you print that? And under the heading That’s Life!”

Yesterday, we found a bat in our basement. In honor of the reader, we set it free.

Well, if I’m being honest – and you know that honesty always makes for the best humor pieces – we trapped the bat between the front door and the screen door while we debated whether to whack it or let it go.

It must have been listening, because as darling husband inched the door open, the bat escaped. But as it flew away – and then circled our house, and the neighbor’s house, and the street for about 10 minutes – I cried, “Be free, Mr. Bat! Be free!”

After eating bugs in the backyard, I fully expect Mr. Bat to return some night this week for another midnight round of Critters In The Attic. We’ll be waiting … with the bat whacker …

50 thoughts on turning 50: #22 Flowing with the river of life

life is a river

For most of my life, I’ve been consumed with finding my purpose in life. I believe that I’m here for a reason – that God created me for something and that I’m not here by accident. And yet I’ve never really felt like I could put my finger on what that reason and purpose was.

Then a few years ago, I stumbled on a quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which reads in part:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

I wrote about it in this post, 50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain. But I wanted to take that thought a bit further today, after reading an article last week written by local sportswriter Scott Pitoniak, in which he looks back on forty years spent working at his dream job. Continue reading