Friday, February 27, 2009

Which Is Which?

Still no word.

Today is the last day before "hopefully next week" becomes the week after next. How long before I give up? Move on? I don't know.

Looking around me, I see Tanya, who leaped into a good cause with all her might, got involved in improving not only her daughter's school, but the California education system. She has blogged about feeling in over her head at times, about feeling inadequate to the task before her, about succeeding beyond her original imaginings. She has been sick and tired and plagued by failing electronics. She has not given up.

Tanya spoke on a panel on Motherhood and Social Activism for the ARM Conference on Feminist Motherhood, held during the Mamapalooza Festival in NYC. She wrote a guide to Westside elementary schools. On February 23, Tanya's guidebook was featured in Daily Candy Kids, quite a coup.

Her story buoys me, strengthens my "if you build it, they will come" faith in the work I'm doing.

But then, there's the other side. Always with the damn other side.

Last night Katie called, laughing til she could barely breathe. She'd run across a kid from her junior high on myspace, someone we hadn't heard from or about in several years.

Katie sang in junior high choir with this kid. He had a solo in nearly every concert and seemed to believe the entire choir revolved around him. His voice--kind of falsetto in the middle of changing--was sometimes fairly good, sometimes complete disaster. His parents believed in his talent so much they built a complete recording studio in their basement. After 9th grade, the mother moved to LA with him to "launch his career." He recorded a single that got a fair amount of attention on the internet, much of it hateful.

In 2003, he made an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where he didn't seem to recognize he was an object of ridicule. Sites sprang up around the internet with names like I Hate XXX dot com. The kid was about 15 years old.

Now he's almost 22. He maintains a website where you can a) see video of the Jimmy Kimmel appearance, b) view dozens of professional images of him, c) buy a t-shirt or coffee mug bearing his logo. He writes about himself in third person: "ringing true to (his) thirst for perfection and knowledge....

He has worked very hard. He has tremendous faith in what he's doing. He's fooling himself.

So, how do you know? How can you tell if you're determined or deluded?

I really, really want an answer, but I'm pretty sure there isn't one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Not Good at Waiting

Yesterday I had to call a friend to talk me off the ledge. I know I've done everything I can. I know I cannot call or email The Man. I know this is a waiting time. I needed help to act on what I know.

Following great advice in comments from Cheryl and Deb and Tanya, I decided to choose peace, to step away from the macaroni-and-cheese and go for a walk, do something constructive. Cassie and I walked along the Little Blue River and then stopped at Mom's to borrow her new steam cleaner. Shortly after I got home, Mom called to remind me not to open the water compartment when the unit is hot. She described the proper procedure for removing the valve. In. Extreme. Detail. "It's under a lot of pressure, Jerri. Give it time."

After I'd written every word I could make myself type for the day, I got out the steam cleaner and cleaned the big mirror in my entry and the floors in the living room. Then I took the thing down to clean the shower doors in the downstairs bathroom.

You know what's coming next, don't you?

I loosened the valve and waited a minute or two. Impatient as ever, I decided to loosen it a bit more, take it just one little step further. The pressure blew the valve right out of the opening and that little yellow steam unit turned into Mount St. Helens, shooting steam and hot water skyward...faceward.

The steam and scalding water hurt, especially near my eyes, but I was incredibly lucky I didn't get seriously burned.

Patience is a virtue, and I want some.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

About that Slumdog

Yesterday when I wrote about how great it was to go see Slumdog with my family, I told only part of the truth. Another part, equally true, is not so pretty.

As I mentioned, we drove to the theater together. My nephew dropped us off at the door and Mom, Dad, my brother-in-law, sister and I walked in together. Mom and Deb walked to the far corner to wait, as women often do while their men buy the tickets or pay the bill or whatever. I followed Dad and Jim to the ticket line.

In that moment, I felt bereft.

I had money in my pocket for the ticket. I buy my own ticket nearly every time I go to the movie and have for years. But for some reason, it felt horrible. No man to protect me. No man to take care of things. No man to stand in line while I waited with the women.

Dad turned and put his arm around me. "I'll get your ticket, Honey," he said.

Although I appreciated it, somehow, that almost felt worse—like charity for the old maid aunt. For a few minutes, I silently wallowed in sad and bad.

The first few minutes of the movie shook me out of that. Pretty quickly, I was ashamed of myself for being so childish and petty. Perspective is a beautiful thing, even when you find it among images of squalor.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


We went to see Slumdog Millionaire last night.

By "we" I mean my mom, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and MY DAD.

My nephew drove and dropped us off at the door with Dad. We paused inside the main doors, when we got to the right theater, when we got to the ramp and in the middle of the stairs. He gasped for air at each stop, but he continued.

Dad has outlived doctor's predictions for more than 30 years. He describes himself as a "tough old bird."

I reckon.

He loved the movie, by the way. Me too, especially because I watched it beside my Dad.

Monday, February 23, 2009


A body in motion tends to stay in motion.

A body at rest tends to stay at rest.

A body that can't decide between the two turns to assault eating.

In this waiting time, I'm trying to rest, but it's not in my nature. I keep thinking, circling inside my brain, looking for one more thing I could do to tip the pendulum my way. Put in another marathon session over the weekend on "one more thing." Also baked chocolate cookies, made macaroni and cheese twice, and ate an entire pizza over the course of two days. We won't talk about the bag or Doritos or the half box of Triscuits.

And, Lord save me, I've turned to the hard stuff. No...don't make me say it.... Yes, it's true: I've been drinking Coca Cola. Let me assure you, things do not go better with Coke. High fructuose corn syrup is not the answer.

I've hit "Refresh" on my email so many times my beautiful new computer may blow up.

I wish the Buddhist part of me could get the rest of me to sit down and shut up. Even when you believe in faith, faith is a hard thing to believe in.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Waiting Time

For 7 days, I worked nearly non-stop—more than 20 hours most days. By turns, I was excited, frustrated, disappointed, exhilarated, exhausted and energized. It was intense: the work, my feelings, the impending deadline.

I delivered the finished proposal to The Man on Tuesday afternoon as though crossing the finish line of a marathon. I wanted a shiny space blanket and a cup of yogurt, you know?

What I got was such flat acceptance it broke my heart. "That's nice. Thanks." And a promise to look at it next week.

This is business and I understand The Man has no idea what it took (and how many people helped me) to complete that proposal. Honestly, I wouldn't want him to know. Even so, "That's nice. Thanks." broke my heart.

I drove home to Kansas City on Wednesday. On the way, I thought of one more thing I could send The Man and got to work almost the moment I walked in the door. Put in about 26 hours between 5:00pm Wednesday and half an hour ago, when I sent off this new project.

As of this moment, I cannot think of anything else to do. Not a thing. Now it's time to rest. Time to wait. Someone noteworthy, I can't remember who right now, suggests that when you've done everything possible, you stand.

I've done everything possible. It's time to stand. I feel you all standing with me, and I'm profoundly grateful.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Today will be a whirlwind of meetings and interviews and coffee. Lots of coffee.

I've been in Minneapolis so much longer than I expected that I had to find a laundromat yesterday. Now, you can add a working washer and dryer to the list of things I'm super thankful for this week.

Yesterday in a gift shop, I saw a sign: Miracles happen to those who believe in them. That's it, isn't it? You can't sit inside waiting for lightning to strike. If you believe in the possibility, you go out in a storm with a kite and a key.

Got to go fly my kite. Updates later.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Just nailed down the last interview I need.

Deep, loving thanks to all who helped and all who offered support and encouragement. If I get this done, at least half the reason will be the kindness and smarts of the folks I'm lucky enough to know.


Changes Afoot

Yesterday I cold-called a 68-year-old woman whose name Michelle found in a article on a group of cookie-baking grandmas in Minneapolis. I asked if she knew anyone who fits the description of the people I need to interview for the-project-for-which-I-have-such-hope. She did.

Later, I walked up to a complete stranger in a restaurant, gave her my card, and asked if she knew anyone. Her answer was yes, too.

I swear I walked out of that restaurant half an inch taller than I walked into it.

Later, I met Lee Wolfe Blum a simply fabulous woman virtually introduced to me by GoMama. Lee gave me several possibilities, too.

This crazy thing I'm doing may change more than my work. It may change my life. I've gotten so isolated in my red leather chair facing the pond, retreated so far in my cave. This work requires going out into the world, requires boldness and confidence. Whatever happens with the project, these are good things.

Late yesterday afternoon I got very close to locking down the last interview I need. I'll hear back today. If it doesn't pan out, I'll wander the streets til I find someone if I have to. The power of connection, the power of intention have never been more clear.

Ask and ye shall receive.

Maybe not the first time you ask, but if you keep asking...and asking...and asking....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

10 Things I've Learned This Week

Two-thirds of the way to my goal, and I've learned a few things this week.

10. If you stand up after sitting at the computer for six hours without a break, 54-year-old legs creak and wobble in protest. You have to move around every hour or two.

9. Coffee shops are wonderful meeting places, but three or four meetings for coffee in one day can alter your brain chemistry. Best to switch to tea after the first meeting, or at least the second.

8. No one cares what you're wearing if you've got a good idea, especially one that might help them make money.

7. The world is a very small place. A friend in LA probably knows someone you need to know in Minneapolis.

6. Keep contact information for every person you know or meet. When someone reaches out, do everything in your power to help.

5. Written records lead to resolutions. If you've got an issue, keep the name, ID, and contact info of every customer service person you speak to. Faced with hard facts, it's easier for a company to do the right thing.

4. Apple is one of the best companies on the planet. They make excellent products and stand behind the word of their employees. (I'm typing this on the brand-new MacBook Apple gave me to replace a nearly two-year-old MacBook with persistent problems.)

3. Few things in life are better than laughing at a Japanese game show with your daughter at 2:00 am.

2. Every project is a building block for the next opportunity. Your work is your calling card to the world.

1. You don't have to be brilliant if you have brilliant friends.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Baby Steps

Yesterday was one of the longest, most discouraging days I've had for years. I googled, emailed and called relentlessly and to very little effect. Despite my early morning words about stubbornness, by late afternoon I was ready to fold my tent and go home.

Fortunately, I have very, very smart friends. I reached out to several remarkable women, each of whom offered stellar ideas. Each idea led to another idea. And another.

Somewhere along the google trail, I landed on a page that provided my horoscope. I don't know how the page knew I'm a Taurus, but I've learned not to delve too deeply into technical mysteries. It works because it works.

Things are about to equalize in all aspects of your life, so get ready to enjoy a healthier period that will give you a stronger sense of security and confidence. You're standing on a firm foundation again, which means you can reach higher and try harder for the things you want. It's time for bolder action and bigger stakes. You are feeling totally in control and it looks like no one is standing in your way. Ignore your fears and move ahead at full steam!

"Reach higher and try harder. Bolder action. Bigger stakes." Sounds good. That control thing, though. That's not happening. I have no illusions of control--just riding the dragon's back over here, trying to hang on and keep up.

I've got a full list of calls to make as soon as the rest of the world wakes up. With any luck, each one will move me a tiny bit closer to the goal.

Thank God for friends.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What Happened Next

Inside the office of TPTB, I was greeted by a pleasant woman who happened to be passing through the reception area. She welcomed me warmly, as though my presence there was something other than an interruption, and went off to find the man with whom I had an appointment.

The Man showed up in moments and ushered me into a conference room. He set a timer on his watch and waited for me to speak. I could barely breathe. The Moderate Control Garment was only part of the problem. The larger issue was the enormity of the opportunity before me. A good friend told me not to worry, that getting into the room was the hardest part.

He was wrong. Getting the first sentence out was the hardest part.

The Man mostly looked at the table or toward the far corner of the room. I looked over there too, wondering what was so fascinating about that empty corner. Nothing I could see. Absent any facial clues from him, I said what I'd came to say and stopped talking. It took less than 2 minutes.

TM pronounced the idea good and timely and worth taking to his boss. He said he'd get back to me with her response. I thanked him and offered him the stack of my books I'd brought along and a DVD of a video for which I recently wrote the script. TM accepted the books with thanks. And then he mentioned some research that needed to be done to clear the idea.

I'd already done that research and described what I'd done, how I'd done it, and what I'd found. "It might seem kind of obsessive," I half-apologized.

TM looked straight into my eyes for the first time. "That's not obsessive," he said. "That's what it takes."

He paused then asked if I was willing to take the next steps toward the goal.

I looked straight into his eyes. Yes, I said. Yes.

Since Tuesday at about 10:45 am, I have been working like a maniac at something I have no idea how to do. I have this chance because I sat up into the wee hours, night after night, doing something else I did not know how to do. I did that thing only because it was the one thing I could think of that might help. It did. It got TM's full attention and moved me from the wanna-be square to the much smaller square of people who are willing to do the work.

Last night, Michelle sent me a link to a talk Elizabeth Gilbert gave about genius. Elizabeth says we're not responsible for whether or not genius arrives. Our job is to show up and do the work, to simply be stubborn enough to keep going no matter what.

I'm grateful for that reminder. This morning I've run out of ideas on how to accomplish this next goal. It feels like I've hit a brick wall. Listening to Elizabeth, I remember I can always find one thing, even one tiny thing, that might work. The trick is to find one tiny thing and one more and one more.

I've got your stubborn right here, Elizabeth. The one thing I never run out of is stubborn.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Up before 6:00 am, I dress in the dark: black turtleneck dress, jean jacket, colorful scarf. In Katie's dimly lit bathroom, I put on makeup and slide red dangly Our Lady of Guadalupe earrings into my ears. I wrestle myself into a "moderate support" undergarment that permanently alters my respiratory system. Seriously, it's an iron band around my midriff, restricting my ability to breathe. Heck, it's restricting my ability to think. But as my friend Deb Karnes says, "Beauty is pain."

I can't find my black socks in the dark, but the dress is long. I grab white gym socks and step into kicks for the trip to the car. Paula sits in the parking lot across the street, cold and forlorn. I dig around in her back seat for my boots and the black slip I almost forgot and had to go back for Sunday morning as I was leaving KC. It turns out to be a short slip rather than the long one I meant to grab. Oh well.

Standing behind the open car door, I step into the slip. When I sit down in the driver's seat, my dress settles onto my legs, revealing a ridge where the moderate control garment ends and my unrestrained flesh bursts toward freedom. And blood flow.

Stopping at Kinkos to make some copies, I step into black-and-red cowboy boots and stride toward the door. Below the Fed Ex logo, the reflection reveals that the dress is neither as long nor the boots as tall as I thought. The white gym socks shine like a thousand suns with every step.

Next stop: Target. I buy black tights and go into the restroom to put them on. Not wanting to put my bare feet on the floor of a public restroom, I stand on the discarded gym socks to slither into the tights. I'm relieved to find that the lycra tights smooth out some of the sausage-bursting-from-its-skin effect of the moderate control garment. Progress.

At the sink, I look up and really see myself for the first time. Horrors! The makeup I used was my summer color. My winter-pale face looks like it's been painted with orange Kool-Aid. After a few moments of desperate consideration, I pull the white gym socks from my purse (yes, the same ones that so recently protected my feet from the floor of a Target bathroom) and buff away a layer or two of orange. I may catch some dread disease, but surely the pustules won't erupt until after the big meeting.

I drive to the office complex and sit in the parking lot, watching minutes tick down to the appointed time. I would sigh, but my ribs can't expand that much. Instead, I huff and drag myself from the car.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The News Is Good

To all who have kept me and the-project-for-which-I-have-such-hope in your thoughts and prayers: Thank you. The story of this day is absurd. The news of the day is good. The road ahead is long but opening up before me.

Blossoms of blessings, folks. Always falling all around us.

More soon.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Hope...and Hair

In the morning, I take off for (not so) distant lands in pursuit of the-project-for-which-I-have-such-hope.

When I read the email inviting me to meet with TPTB, my first thought was to call the friend who has worked so hard to help me on this. The second was what to wear. I'll spare you the endless internal discussions about whether to color my hair. You know I caved.

I kid you not, I've spent most of the last two days getting my nails and feet buffed and polished, my hair colored, my eyebrows done. I've shopped in two states, buying new duds from the bra out.

Tomorrow morning I'll set sail on a new adventure. I've always loved the Andre Gide quote about be willing to lose sight of the shore, something like "People cannot discover new lands unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore for long periods."

I'm surrounded by nothing but water here. But heck, I've always loved the ocean.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Unlikely Dreams

Someone else's dreams are being delivered to my psyche.

Last night I was coaching a small group of runners. Or...maybe people who wanted to be runners would be more accurate. Anyway, we trained in parks that look like a park near my old office in Eden Prairie. We ran up and down small hills surrounded by ponds and trees and grassland. I was always at the head of the pack, urging the others to catch up. (I hear you laughing, B.) Then my band of runners was in a race. I was near the sidelines, cheering and calling to them. Near the end one guy bogged down completely--stopped with his hands on his knees and his head down. I could tell by his posture that he was giving up. I jogged over to him and held out my hand. He shook his head and turned away, but I stayed put. Slowly, reluctantly, he put his hand in mine and we started walking, then running. When the finish line came in sight, he smiled at me and dropped my hand. He ran the last 100 yards in full sprint and crossed the line alone. As he kicked it into high gear, I felt a satisfaction so solid you could hold it in your hand like a polished stone.

Several nights in the last couple weeks, I've dreamed of smoking. Cigarettes. I inhale deeply and feel the rush of nicotine through my body. My shoulders drop and my muscles relax and I am so very happy to be smoking. I can feel the smoke in my mouth and nose. I do that fancy blow-smoke-out-my-nose thing and feel very satisfied. It's a filtered menthol cigarette I'm smoking. I love how the end of the filter feels against my tongue and the way the paper sticks to my lips. I love the feeling of inhaling and exhaling deeply, smoke rushing through my mouth. That's the whole dream: an in-depth, up-close experience of smoking a cigarette.

Crazy thing is, I smoked part of one cigarette, 36 years ago. WTF do I know about smoking or how cigarettes feel or taste? For that matter, it's been 10 years since I ran seriously, and even then I can assure you no one turned to me for advice on running or any other sport. Ever.

Like I said, someone else's dreams.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Mathematics of Love

Backed by 100s of unknown contributors, 20 people working 5 hours each can feed and clothe 832.

Driving into the church parking lot, I notice the words on their monument sign: "Our hands are God's tools." I may not be a big fan of organized religion, but this is something I can get behind.

We load carts filled with home baked cookies and cakes and head to another church in a run-down area of town. They don't have much other than a big space and a decent commercial kitchen, but they're smack dab in the center of a population with needs. It works. We unload the cookies and cakes and carry them down a freight elevator to the basement.

John* directs the loading and unloading processes. One of his eyes is completely covered by a bandaid-like patch. The other eye is a shiny blue beacon magnified by the thick lens of his glasses. Total baldness earns him an exemption from the "everyone wears a hat" rule.

Dave looks like he just rolled in off the farm: work boots, t-shirt, farmer's cap. He's the wheelhorse of the outfit, the one who knows exactly what to do and how to do it. Later, when he pours grease from the pans of baked meatloaf, his hands shake so much it takes a 3-gallon can to provide a big enough target.

Joe has a smart remark for everyone and everything. His laughter is big and loud and welcome in the kitchen. He's the leader of the meatloaf crew, mixing without measuring but getting nearly the exact same proportions in each batch. During the second mixing session, he bumps his arm slightly and we watch a hematoma the size of a grape develop. He laughs it off.

Erin wears a ball cap from a park in Colorado. She moved to KC five years ago, shortly after her husband died two months into their retirement. One of her sons lives here, and the grandchildren were an irresistible magnet. She leads the potato operation. When we finish, she's going to dinner with the widow's support group from the church. The newer members need the older ones, she says.

Janet's white hair glows beneath a white tennis visor decorated with crosses in primary colors. A clear phone-cord-like thing holds the "hat" on her head, a clear violation of the "hair must be completely covered" rule, but no one rats her out. She's a meatloaf mixer, and her white sweatshirt seems a questionable choice once she's up to her elbows in hamburger and tomato sauce. "It looks bad now," she laughs. "But I wear white because I can bleach it."

Eleanor works hard all day, but she steps aside when the hot stuff comes around. The tremors in her arms don't let her judge distances well enough to get near hot grease, but she can judge within half a scoop how much tomato sauce it takes to cover two giant logs of meatloaf, including the minor dribbles to and from the pan as her hands shake.

There's a formula for everything: mix two cans of drained corn with three that still have their juice; 10 eggs in every batch of meatloaf; one cap of bleach in a sinkful of hot water for sanitation; rubber gloves at all times.

Janet saves the egg shells for a woman who used to help cook. That woman is too sick to come any more but misses having the shells for her compost.

Erin flattens the cans from the corn and the tomato sauce and carries them to her car. She brings along her recycling each month and takes the whole load to the recycling center on the way home.

John leaves as soon as the last pan of potatoes goes into the oven. He's on his way to take a church member to chemotherapy.

As we head out, the serving crew begins to arrive. They will carry food to tables, serve drinks, and ask about clothing needs. Everyone who comes to dinner receives a good hot meal and clean clothes if they need them.

God's tools, indeed.

*All the names have been changed.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Stone Soup

Dad is doing a bit better. He got out of bed for almost an hour yesterday, the longest he's been up in several weeks. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.

More later. Right now I've got to get a few things done before I head off to cook at the shelter. I've been looking forward to this so much. President Obama (you just can't say that enough, can you?) says we've all got to do what we can. I can peel potatoes.

I'm in, President O. Heart and soul, I'm in.