Category Archives: writing

A new word enters the lexicon

Look. If Lewis Carroll (the author of the famous Alice in Wonderland books) could invent words such as chortle, galumphing and jabberwocky–words that have now become part of standard everyday usage–then I want my chance at immortality as well.

In that spirit, I offer the following term that evolved naturally out of a conversation with a female friend who is encountering some difficulty in making herself understood. Her opponent in this instance is a particularly implacable and arrogant male authority figure, but in truth this word has many useful applications and could work in any number of contexts.

Here, then, is the new coinage.

Ma-tron-ize |ˈmātrəˌnīz, ˈma-|

verb [requires an obj.]; feminine form of patronize, only better

  1. to treat with an exaggerated kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority
  2. to speak slowly, carefully and in very simple language when conversing with a complete and utter moron
  3. to accomplish the above with queenly dignity, grace and majesty

There’s my contribution to the English language. Long may it live.

Just remember you read it here first.

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Filed under feminism, grammar, humor, Quick takes, writing

In which I confess my shameful drug abuse

This is how a nasty addiction gets started.

The little lies I tell myself. It’s just for today, just to ease the stress a little, just to help get through a patch of bad weather.

I’ll stop as soon as things get back to normal.

They’re only painkillers. The doctor wouldn’t have prescribed them if they were truly dangerous.

Still, he’s only 17 — too innocent, really, to understand the consequences of the choices I am making for him. Too innocent to understand how he might come to crave the hazy euphoria that creeps up on him within seconds of my plunging the syringe deep, deep into his docile, yielding form, while he tries to meet with his trusting eyes my own shifty gaze. And if the demand increases while the supply dwindles, where can he go to get his next fix? To what depths will he sink to score the next hit?

I’m only thinking of him

But hey. What am I going to do? The heat wave of 90-degree-plus temperatures is forecast to hold for several more days, and every time my cat wanders out for even a few moments, he comes back inside crawling with fleas. I swear they must be lying in ambush right by the  door, just waiting to pounce on his  shoulders, where he is unable to reach around and pick them off with his teeth.

Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to insist that he stay indoors until the heat breaks. Maybe by then, the fleas will have given up on Mozart and moved on to some other neighborhood, someplace where pet owners allow their animals to roam a bit more freely.

Still, he would go out, in this heat, fleas or no fleas. He is very insistent about this. He’s even taken to hiding himself under the hutch by the door, poised to make a desperate run for it as soon as one of us opens the door on our way out.

Seventeen years of getting used to things being done a certain way is a lifetime to a cat, and I worry that the sudden change in the order of things might be too stressful for him at his advanced age.

Excuses, excuses

That was why, today, I gave him a dose of the painkillers the veterinarian prescribed for a dislocated shoulder, even though he is no longer limping. I try to soothe my stinging conscience by reminding myself that, including the dose he got that day, this is only his second. It surely can’t do that much harm. It’s for his own good. It’s to help keep him calm. To get him through a rough couple of days.

Even so, I can’t help thinking that if anyone ever got wind of my behavior, this would all look very, very bad in the tabloids.

And I can only thank my lucky stars that, at least up to this point, Mozart has never shown the slightest interest in penning a tell-all memoir about how I led him to a life of debauchery and ruin. 

If he ever does, I’m in deep, deep doo-doo.

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Filed under Articles, Essays, humor, Quick takes, Uncategorized, violation of trust, writing

Curvy schmurvy. I prefer well-rounded

Tell me if you see what’s wrong with this picture that was posted on Facebook from the Women’s Rights News web site: a plus-size model clad only in her lingerie, with this blurb emblazoned in all capital letters and vivid purple ink: “There is no such thing as percect (sic). There is just me, and guess what I’m OK with that.”

Underneath that photo is the text line: “Curvy is fine.”

Click here to see the photo:

Leaving aside the poor grammar and spelling in the blurb … and leaving aside, for the moment, the irony that such an act of self-objectification appears on a web site that purports to promote feminist values … I have to wonder if anyone besides me is bothered by the use of the euphemism “curvy” to mean something it doesn’t actually mean. It implies that all women of ample proportions are curvy, and that simply is not the case. It also implies that no slender woman can possibly be curvy. Also not true.

I prefer the term “full-figured,” which is far more accurate without being pejorative. Better yet, how about “intelligent,” or “talented” or even (and I know this is a radical notion) “human”?

But what’s even more troubling to me is the fact that women feel the need to pose in their underwear to prove something. Because frankly, I don’t choose my friends on the basis of how they look in their lingerie. I’m interested in knowing what books they’ve read, or the results of their latest lab experiments, or what they’re doing to eradicate puppy mills.

And if someone is judging me on the basis of how I might theoretically look in my skivvies–especially considering that the vast majority of the population will never in fact see me in them without the proper street attire on top–it’s probably not worth trying to prove anything at all.

Except perhaps how quickly I can move on to a more engaging conversation with a more well-rounded person.

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Filed under Articles, body image, Essays, feminism, friendship, Misogyny, Quick takes, social change, Uncategorized, writing

Chasing the elusive Chapter 2

Some people devote their entire lives to finding a cure for cancer. Some spend their lives looking for true love. For others, self-fulfillment is a lifelong goal.

The Holy Grail. The fountain of youth. The One Ring. Whatever the object, the quest for something larger than ourselves is what drives human civilization forward and separates us spiritually and intellectually from the animals.

Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah.

For me, I’m afraid, the goal is far more simple. At least it should be. I’d just like to finish Chapter 2.

Time to break the pattern

You see, it’s no problem for me, when inspiration nudges me toward yet another not-too-shabby book idea, to knock out Chapter 1. I have a long and impressive history of producing butt-kicking, attention-grabbing, spine-tingling first chapters. At last count, I had  six Chapters One for various books that never made it to Chapter 2.

Well, it’s time to break the pattern. Today I started working on Chapter 2 of the seventh pretty decent book idea that, come hell or high water, I am going to finish. Now. This summer.

And this time I’m pulling out all the stops, looking at every possible angle, studying every obstacle. And what I’ve discovered, as I think about all the distractions that have prevented me from forging ahead into the rest of whatever book I’ve started, is that my biggest obstacle is me, and how I always manage to get in my own way.

I have met the enemy …

I might call it something else. The dishes piled up in the sink. The papers that need to be graded. Serious questions about whether this is really going to be a marketable idea and, even if I succeed in landing an agent, who’s to say anyone will want to read it?

The reality is, those are all obstacles of my own making. I even understand the basic underlying principle here. If I never really make a serious effort, then I’ll never have to face the painful possibility that my best just wasn’t good enough.

No one has to tell me that this is the classic definition of failure. I already know from firsthand experience that the only regrets I have ever had in life are about the things I didn’t do. They’re never about the things I did do … even when those things didn’t work out as I’d hoped.

I know, too, that by sending myself my own rejection slips before I even get started, I am making sure no one else beats me to it. Unfortunately, in so doing I am also ruling out the possibility that somebody might be interested enough to take a chance on me. And that maybe somebody else–and maybe a lot of somebody elses–might actually be glad I made the effort.

Tell me what you think

Sound familiar? If so, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Please respond in the comments below and tell me what stops you from pushing through your own negative self-talk. And, tell me what tricks you use to get past it.  I’m looking for some good ideas, and there’s a good chance I’m going to try try some of your suggestions. If I do, I’ll write about it here and tell you how it worked out.

So there’s my challenge for my fellow authors out there. What does your negative self-talk look and sound like? What do you do to get past it?

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Filed under Articles, change, Essays, Quick takes, Uncategorized, writing

A paragon of professionalism

Pen poised, wits sharp, I nod in profound comprehension as my brilliant colleague, a science professor, explains the groundbreaking research he and his students have been engaged in. This is all familiar territory to me, having spent the past several years of my career reporting on some of the innovative technologies under development at the Notre Dame nanotechnology facility.

Paragon …

One of the things I like to reassure my scientist sources about right up front is my comfort level and professionalism with the subject matter. I want them to know they’re in good hands. That their prized investigative research  will be handled with the utmost sensitivity and intelligence. That they can entrust to me their most complex and advanced concepts, knowing that I will distill them into simple, easy-to-understand explanations without altering a single subatomic particle of their sense and meaning. I may be a journalist, I may be an English professor, I may be the writing center director, but I also have a head for grasping  complex scientific subjects and translating them into everyday language for a variety of audiences. (You can check my LinkedIn profile. I think it says almost exactly that.)

So here I sit, nodding knowingly, laughing appreciatively at his brainy-scientist jokes, scribbling furiously to get down some of his better quotes.

Heck, I even smile sagely when our interview is interrupted by a call on his cell phone and he carries on a brief conversation that goes something like this on his end:  “Pronto. … Sì… venti minuti … ” and a few other phrases I forget now but the point is I understand every word.

When he hangs up, I say, “Parli italiano? (Do you speak Italian?)” See? I even speak the same second language he speaks.

Yep. That’s me. Ever the consummate professional, right down to my high-powered demeanor and my businesslike attire: chic red sheath dress accented with pearl jewelry, ivory peach-skin jacket and  elegant ivory pumps.

… or paradox?

And, for the pièce de résistance, a big glob of spinach left over from lunch, wedged prominently between my front teeth. So every time I smile at him, which I do engagingly and often to demonstrate that I am right there with him, he can’t help but see it.

And which I myself don’t discover until I happen to glance in the mirror, several hours afterward.

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The strawberries

A trip down memory lane to a brief but powerful long-ago epiphany

We are sitting around the table: my parents, my two older siblings and I. My brother has possession of the bowl of strawberries, which means that it may or may not be heard from again. Judging by the way he keeps shoveling them onto his plate, I suspect it’s probably going to be Choice B.

Not that I care, really, one way or another. I hate strawberries. Still, it’s a golden opportunity to make a sarcastic remark about his unbridled gluttony, a subject that has made for some pretty easy shots since he turned 12 and his growth spurt kicked into high gear. He is constantly hungry, and constantly eating. Who could resist such low-hanging fruit?

As I watch the mound of strawberries pile up on his plate, my mouth curves into a mean smile.

“You gonna climb that or eat it, hog?” I blurt out finally. Then I sit back with my arms folded, gloating. Got ‘im.

He gives a small guilty motion and looks at me down the table. The whole world freezes around his eyes, large and blue and stunned.

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Simple pleasures

“Sssshhh; we need to use our inside voices,” I caution my students primly as we leave the sunlit campus courtyard to head back inside the building.

This is met with a burst of raucous laughter from my twenty- and thirtysomething students before we settle into a tasteful silence as we enter the hallways. Our decorum lasts mere seconds before we break into fresh merriment. They’re a witty group, and no one is exempt from the gentle barbs  … including the professor. (Lest anyone think we are using the fine weather as an excuse to goof off, I will add that the students have been sharing with one another their rough drafts for a final project, and the fresh air and green space helped to sharpen their mental faculties. Their comments on their classmates’ work are detailed, respectful and astute.)

“This is the best English class I have ever had,” Kaytlyn chuckles. “I’ve been telling everyone they need to try to get you as their teacher.”

I live for simple pleasures like this. A day warm enough to hold class outside, laughing loudly enough to disturb everyone  in the classrooms inside. An afternoon at the farmer’s market, chatting with the rosy-cheeked, suspendered Amish (Mennonite?) vendor about the absence of GMOs in the food he gives his chickens. And he shows me their picture: fat, glossy and smug, strutting around among patches of bright emerald-green grass. A simple meal of fresh, local, organic food in season. And a tree so beautiful on my afternoon walk it takes my breath away.

Spring took forever to get here, but today made it worth the wait. Well worth it.

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