Browsing Tag



Turtle Talk (and other stops on my road to being a writer)

August 31, 2016

How the hell did you become a writer?” an acquaintance inquired during a stalled start to the morning meeting.
“I mean, how does anyone choose their profession?” I thought, but instead replied, “I just always liked it.”
“Yeah, but like, no one really becomes a writer. Like, unless you write books, right?”

You never think something about yourself is odd until someone else flags it as odd. That’s what makes it official. You mean everyone doesn’t leave the last tissue because they like the design on the box so, so much? I don’t think the way I earn a living is particularly noteworthy, but I’ll entertain almost any question for the sake of content. I can trace the roots of this one all the way back to a little majestic dot on an elementary school map, called Turtle Town.


While others were known to dabble, I made a career out of having an awkward phase. The beginning of my climb to peak unpolished adolescence arrived at age 10. In the fourth grade, I had spacey, jagged teeth and mousy blonde hair with bangs that easily flipped and frizzed at the slightest breeze or rush of activity. My lips were always chapped. I wore a rotation of sweatshirts with assorted appliqués over turtlenecks in contrasting shades (they never matched exactly because I liked to embrace my rebellious whims). My boyfriend, who wore hammer pants, was 2 inches shorter than me, and I was a meager 3 feet in stature. Things ended abruptly when he placed my Pound Puppy, which I had gifted to him against my mom’s wishes, in a sad, semi-rain-soaked brown grocery bag on top of my desk with a note that read simply, “Itz over. – Jon”. I knew nothing of myself. I was a sheep. A follower. The full extent of my ambitions for the foreseeable future consisted of marrying Dylan McKay, having a smile like Julia Roberts and moving like Penny from Dirty Dancing. (The fact that my parents allowed me to watch sex-tinged programming with prostitutes and “knocked up” resort performers is not for any of us to judge.)

What I didn’t realize was I had something going for me; A hand to gently guide me toward fate. I had Mr. Johnson for fourth grade and Mr. Johnson was the shit. In the midst of sleepovers where we made girls pee their pants and call their parents at 1 a.m. and clammy, sweat-soaked hand-holding, and the arrival of Gushers, Mr. Johnson went and turned our classroom into a microcosm and just waited to infiltrate our tiny, ignorant little brain saplings.

Every year, the students in room 23 would decide the name, mascot, and basic government and judiciary system of their pretend city. In 1993, the name was Turtle Town, the mascot was a fox – just kidding – it was a turtle, and the government was comprised of a collection of pinheads who liked to show off their turdy friends and make fart noises in the middle of films about migrating birds and what have you. But it was cool. We had elections and town meetings and learned all kinds of important life stuff without realizing we were being taught (such suckers). I can’t remember if it was my idea, or the teacher’s, but at some point, it was decided that Turtle Town needed a newspaper. It would be called Turtle Talk and I would be the editor.

I went to my parent’s office and took a giant accordion-style file folder and labeled the slots with sections – sports, front page, government, etc. I carried around a small spiral-bound notepad and pen and pleaded with my classmates to write fake pieces of news. “So, like maybe you left the town hall meeting with a stomachache because you ate bad porridge at the Turtle Top Tavern. Huh? Whatdaya say?” In the end, I discovered a truth that followed me for the next 23 years and counting: If you have the vision, and you want something written, it’s best to just ask the right questions and write the damn thing yourself. And so, I did. I slapped on my Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper chapstick and got to business writing horrific headlines and cheesy photo captions and exposés on Turtle Town’s public officials (the majority of which never made the cut). I fashioned that fabricated content into a true, tangible newspaper, piece by piece. Of course no one really gave a crap. How do you compete with an unstoppable TGIF lineup and Beanie Babies for Pete’s sake?

Followers be damned, the seed had been planted. I loved to write. I loved coming up with ways to tell stories and talking to people who’d done things I hadn’t and working with words until they formed the perfect linguistic cadence. (This last sentence may be a bit overkill for the work I was turning out at this time.)


Where Mr. Johnson left off, my high school journalism and English teacher (one in the same) picked up. This woman was a dead ringer for Miss Geist from Clueless. She had a sarcastic wit Amy Schumer would envy, sobering honesty when you really needed it and a hands-off style that just made kids thrive. She didn’t reach all of the kids in the school, but the ones she did, she changed. We were like a gang comprised of rejected members of the Breakfast Club. There were intellectuals, athletes and “outcasts”, but when we entered that corner classroom, tucked away from the social hierarchy, the subtitles dissolved entirely. We ate boxes of Lemonheads and troughs of Cheetos while we brainstormed story ideas and layouts. We made McDonald’s runs to clear writer’s block. It was an editorial-induced euphoria that kept me high for four solid years.

I wrote sappy editorials about saying goodbye to upperclassmen and being single on Valentine’s Day. I spent a solid week sipping sugary gas station mochas and pouring my emotions out for the intro page copy in our yearbook my senior year. My Miss Geist doppleganger, who by then was like a second mother, encouraged me to make a last-minute change of college for a better Journalism program and a leg up down the road. I followed her advice.

In 2002, Sex and the City was a female institution. You knew if you were a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or, God forbid, Miranda. I was studying Magazine Journalism in the Midwest and, culturally, could not be farther from the Big City storylines I relished so intently. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) was a student at a small all-male college a little shy of 2 hours away and they were looking for a female columnist for their newspaper. One sample article later, I was committed to pen a biweekly editorial on life through a woman’s lens. From the Hip ran for 3 glorious years. It was the closest to Carrie I would ever get. And while most of the questions submitted came from lonely independents who just couldn’t understand why the weekend lady visitors weren’t feelin’ their flavor, we did venture into some heavy early adult topics. If nothing else, writing that column made going to the bars super fun. “Hey, aren’t you From the Hip girl? Whoa! Wussup?” “Hey, you know what you should write about? Why girls don’t make any sense.” “Hey, you were wrong. That girl totally called the next day.” “Hey, you know what you should write about? [Insert late night radio show topic].” “Hey, your article cut into the football feature. I’m not mad though. I’m just sayin’ it was long.” Those were good times. I sincerely loved those times.

And those were the articles, with heavy sexual undertones and ridiculous subject matter, that I took with me to apply for my first job out of school; an editorial assistant at a food magazine. The publisher must have been on heavy pain meds when he hired me. My portfolio was sad, but my rate was cheap and I was eager to work like a typing mule. The magazine had zero money. Paychecks would bounce at least once a month and we were our own cleaning service. But the education I got in the five years I worked there was immeasurable. I went into immaculate kitchens with freshly butchered meats and cheeses I couldn’t pronounce. I learned about wine varietals and molecular gastronomy and organic farming. I was 22 when I started that job. It was a champagne experience on a penny pitcher beer budget. I adored my editor. I still adore my editor and I still call her my editor even though we haven’t worked together in seven years. She had her priorities right and was a sharp wordsmith. She shaped my writing and she showed me how to balance my work and personal life without sacrificing myself. She ran on her lunch hour, knew the best places to grab a beer and believed in the value of a Friday Coke. Every young writer needs an editor like that.

Eventually my writing turned into more of a job than a joy. I made some career turns and strayed from the rich editorial path a bit in exchange for a more realistic salary. It worked for a few years. But I know myself and I knew that I was missing the art of writing. Not just the piecing together of words with alliteration and spot-on syntax to reel consumers in, but the actual soul sharing and storytelling part of it. I started this blog, privately at first, as a way to quench that desire to express myself in that way. I needed an outlet to complement my occupation. And, 3 years later, here we are.


A man that I admire a whole heck of a lot said, “We write so that we can taste life twice.” He was referring to journaling. I think that is what this blog – and truly, many parts of my professional career – are for me. I’ve seen natural springs and traversed the steep hills of a maple syrup farm and flown in helicopters and hiked the AT and survived 7 years of motherhood, and I can relive those days any time I want. I can pull out a magazine or pull up an article and recall those sights and sounds and characters because I’ve shared them and they live somewhere outside of my forgetful mind. That is the gift that writing gives you.

You might love cleaning people’s teeth or educating young children or giving quotes on various goods and services. I love the sound of the keys when my fingers can’t keep up with my mind and the satisfaction of submitting a finished article. For me, it isn’t about showing up in your newsfeed or standing from the tallest podium in a room of screaming grownups. I just want to make people feel something. I want to elicit empathy and contemplation and exploration. I want to write things that inspire and engage people and make us hop off the hamster wheel for a few minutes. Not everything I write is going to do that, but I respect the process, and I respect rare gem you get when the words come together just so and set something off for someone.

From Turtle Town to this Desperate search for Superwoman, there’s just something about writing for me. I’m so blessed to have found it. I’m so thankful you read it. It’s so delicious tasting this life twice. Period.


Being the new guy at work

July 28, 2015


It’s been a month. Four weeks. Thirty-ish days. I am reporting to my new post for a fifth Monday, and I gotta be honest here, change is really, stinkin’ tough. It’s not the people; the people are great. They’re welcoming and thoughtful and many of them actually feel very familiar for some reason. It’s all the other things. The 8 trillion tiny nuances of your work life that are just a tad  off center.

New technology.
I never thought I would be that girl. The one who desires that distinguishing fruit on her laptop and operates by a handful of apps. But I am all the same. Earning my paycheck in the digital sphere has me married to luxuries like a sizable monitor, Evernote and mobile machines that sync and allow me to set up shop wherever I land. The way your devices speak to each other is a language you learn to live by, and changing that setup is like finding yourself at a dinner party in … say … New Orleans. You can follow the conversation but every now and again, you feel completely disconnected.

New secrets.
Offices have secrets. They all do. One of the most charming things about finding yourself on the veteran end of a corporate position is being one of the keepers of the secrets. Who stocks ibuprofen and StaticGuard. Who lets you “borrow” stamps. Which bathrooms smell like lavender and which ones smell like lavender mixed with unpleasant things. Where to find boxes. How to ship things. Where to score a cup of the best coffee and who is kind enough to serve up a splash of their creamer. Who comes in early. Who stays late. Who has the best candy bowl; You know, the one with the stuff that really makes it worth the calories. All of these secrets make your work day just a little easier to swallow, but I’m still drinking the crap coffee and couldn’t ship my pants if I had to.

New digs.
Office space, and cubicles in particular, are very tricky. You have to strike a balance between color and conservative. Inspirational and efficient. Cute and corporate. No one wants to stare at vanilla corkboard 40 hours a week, but you don’t want a mammoth shrine to your posse at home, either. I find it best in a situation like this to introduce my obsession with my children in small, digestible doses. First, a few Stickgrams, followed by some of their finest artwork and then a few quotes for good measure. It’s like planting mint in the garden. It starts as a few sprigs and sprouts into a sweet, overgrown garden.

New paperwork.
I just can’t. I’m pretty sure that everyone with dealings in insurance, retirement funds and your assorted additional benefits got together in a large room and decided to throw a smattering of complicated, indecipherable jargon on a binder of papers and then tell you to make copies of all of it to store in a file folder for, like, forever, until referenced in some obscure way 18 months from now.  Stupid. Just so stupid.

New crew.
There are folks who have a masters in networking. They’ve studied the art of small talk and flattery. Put them in a room of bees and they’ll leave with barrels of honey. I am somewhere a step below those people. I love a good conversation, particularly when it involves something I know about, or want to know about, but going in cold usually just leaves me feeling frozen. Typically, one familiar, friendly face can thaw and save any social situation, but when every face is a new face, I tend to resign myself to an awkward smile and excessive coffee drinking. I miss the days of a stranger being the exception and water cooler conversations about more than the weather. We’ll get there. Rome wasn’t built in a day.


Tune in Today

A great perhaps

June 18, 2015

Tune in today to see if she can … quit a really great job.

This Friday will be my last at the place I’ve worked for the past five years. Correction: precisely one day shy of exactly five years. I already shared an exhausting post about the dilemma this decision presented and, in the end, the cards fell in favor of the fresh start. [Gulp]

I have loved this job. Particularly the part where I got paid to write and hang out with a group of folks who humor my analogies and get rowdy at the Christmas party. This is the job that brought us back to our hometown. It’s the job I had when we welcomed both Spike and Sloppy Joan and found our house. I have shed tears of both grief and laughter in those offices, on more occasions than I can count. It feels like a corporate urban legend, but it happened to me: Somewhere between my first Halloween (where we dressed up for and performed a white trash wedding) and my last 3pm ice cream surprise, these people from work became a second family. Maybe it’s the sheer amount of time we’ve spent together, or maybe it’s just really good recruiting. I don’t know. But I know I got super lucky.

So, if I’m so damn happy, why leave? I have been so comfortable, and to me, that comfort is a blessing as much as it is a crutch. It’s a settlement in some ways. I imagine when that comfort is napping on the couch, and sees a challenge standing expectantly over it, it stretches its arms way above its head, rolls over and falls back asleep. It makes monotony seem so sexy and whispers that the unknown is simply “an inconvenient mess.” Truth be told, I just came to a point where I felt like getting off the couch. Starting over is practically paralyzing for a girl like me, but it’s better than lying down and spooning with a life unexplored. I am a creature of routine, 100 percent, but the routine can be numbing. And when you’re numb, everything starts shutting down. Am I scared? Hell yes. But the fear makes this whole thing really kind of great. But the people … that part tears my heart out.


While making myself and everyone around me insane with the excessive weighing of pros and cons, I was simultaneously listening to and loving “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. In the book, Pudge, an adolescent young man, goes to boarding school “to seek a Great Perhaps.” It was one of those art-imitating-life moments where I decided to take it as a sign (I needed a sign) rather than just a result of my number being pulled at the local library. This was my crossroads: Stay where I was for years and be perfectly content, or entertain the notion of a “Great Perhaps.” I chose the notion.

Looking Alaska
So, with a pocketful of treasured friendships, I’m turning in these keys I’ve used to write so many words and moving on to a brand-new adventure. And even though the air is thick and heavy, with familiar feelings of finality – like college graduation or that time a dear friend moved to Florida – people, throughout the whole process, have encouraged and empowered me to move boldly in the direction of my dreams. I always hated when folks said a career change was “bittersweet.” Seems so cliché and canned. But oh, how perfect the word is. The call for celebration is muffled by the exchange of melancholy goodbyes and promises to stay close; promises from the faces I’ve looked at in conference rooms and girls’ lunches, some for the past 4 years and 364 days.

This team has tenacity. It has amazing human beings, with talent and wit and heart. They are the people you want holding the scooper when shit goes down and the kind of people who pop up in the stories you tell for a lifetime. And the crux of this change is, and always has been, it’s tough as hell to leave a team like that. It’s so sad to walk away, but their astounding support has moved me along. And that, my friends, is the definition of “bittersweet.” It’s so freaking bittersweet it makes me want to throw up every time I think of that last walk out the door.

Hank and I are taking Emma and the kids and going off the grid for a week before my first day at the new gig. I wouldn’t want the fifty of you who follow me here to worry about where I went. Thank you, sweet friends and family, for humoring my insane introspection over the past few months, and Hank, for buying boxes of wine and building Excel spreadsheets with bars full of boring benefits crap. Stay tuned for this Great Perhaps, or perhaps, just something kind of great.

Until next time …



A deep post about decisions

June 14, 2015

How do you make a difficult decision? It’s a dilemma as old as freewill itself. You have one choice in your left hand and one choice in your right hand and, even though one might be heavier than the other, or prettier or more beneficial, it’s hard to see the answer when you’re holding the options too close to your heart.

I recently found myself in a two-month internal battle that began at a fork in the road. Contemplating a career change, I spent my waking hours jumping from prong to prong, second-guessing and weighing and over analyzing, until my head throbbed and my stomach ached. (It’s amazing what stress can do to your body.) A dear family friend said simply, “You need to walk, and you need to pray.” So I did. I strolled and I looked up to the clouds and tried to let my heart be as open as possible. I settled in to a guided meditation where you were instructed to ask yourself over and over, “What do I want? What do I want?” When my inner voice responded in a whisper, it merely said, “a cheeseburger.” Not the insightful nudge I was hoping for.

There was this great post by Lysa TerKeurst – who writes wonderful lifestyle pieces from a spiritual perspective on her self-titled blog – about decision making. She suggested, when analyzing a crossroads in your life, you take a walk along the banks of a hypothetical river. It’s important, whenever possible, to follow the flow of water to see what you will pass and where you will most likely end up, for every available option, and then compare the different journeys. Once you jump in the water, you don’t have nearly as much control, so it’s important to know where the current might take you. So, I tried to follow Lysa’s advice, and walk the riverbanks.


I waffled, almost hourly, between, “Get over yourself, this isn’t that big of a deal. People have much tougher decisions to make with much greater consequences every day, all around the world.” And the opposing, “Oh my gosh, if you pick the wrong job you could trigger a surge of misfortune so powerful your great grandchildren will feel its wrath.”

I love a good old-fashioned pros and cons list as much as the next gal, but with someone as hyper-analytical as me, it simply falls short and, in this scenario, the options were nearly equal. I reached out to my ghosts of managers past and gave them the details in exchange for council. I have to say, I have been blessed to work with some seriously kickass women. The kind of women who say things like, “Proceed with confidence,” and “Make it matter.” The kind of leaders who make you want to start a business with only the name picked out, or go braless just because it makes your dress look better and you don’t give a shit what people think. Those kind of women. And they all said it was time for a change.

The worst part about making one of these gut-wrenching decisions is that, the second you pick one option, the other slowly starts to look like that old boyfriend. You know the one. He chewed like a horse and the conversation was dull as children’s scissors, until he got a new girlfriend. Then he looked all shiny and sharp.

But the truth is, no matter what decision I made in the end, it would (and will) inevitably transform into my “what got me here.” A person’s retrospect is typically seen through rose-colored glasses. We justify things with, “If I hadn’t picked this, then I would never have done that …” And it’s true, to an extent. Every choice ignites a plot twist, or a freshly paved path or an unexpected stop. We embrace our present  because we know no different and it’s impossible to go back in time and see the alternate storyline. We can send a “what if” out into the great abyss, but it seldom responds. All of this suggests it’s best to just avoid tripping over the things left behind, and focus the eyes forward. So that’s what I’m working on.


I’m now nearing the tip of the prong I picked. I made the decision, ugly cried to make it official, and am training my neck not to look back. It is time to proceed with confidence, and to jump into the roaring river and let the rapids take me where they will. Let the plot twist begin.