Friday, October 30, 2015

On The Other End Of Interviews

I've interviewed hundreds of interesting people over the years, and now, to be on the other end of the questions, is enlightening. The story of my book is intact--how it came about, the inside scoop--and yet I'll get a comment or question occasionally that interrupts my stump speech and gets me to think.

One woman, when hearing that I had a theatre major, immediately connected the structure of my book with that of a play. Of course!

Another journalist spent the first part of the interview speaking of a past divorce and how the book brought some of that back. I, the interviewee, sat and listened.

And one asked me what I hoped my readers would take from the book. I hesitated. I have been grateful for the wide range of responses, with wide encompassing the way that the journalist could work through his divorce, and a friend who lost her father as a teen saw herself. I can simply begin to tell the tale of the book, and people will cry. But did I plan any of this? No.

I wrote it because I had to. The story asked to be told. And I wrote it in a way that would serve that imperative best, not because I wanted to make people cry. I never wanted to exploit this tragedy; indeed, I was ready to pass on the project for fear that this would happen. And I'd never manipulate my readers.

But I do want you to think. I won't tell you what to think, but I'll put things out there, frame them in such a way that will force you to confront what it is you believe.

Here are how some other writers view my latest project:

recent newspaper article on FRAMES

a church denomination's website

And if you've read the book and want to tell me what you think, please visit and like the FRAMES facebook page.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Temporary Bodyguard

The principal called yesterday.

When your kids are in elementary school, preschool, you know that building. You know the teachers' names, even the ones your kids don't have. Heck, you know the lunch helpers and that one woman on the playground who makes all the kids start the monkey bars from the same end.

But this guy, Principal Somebody, I didn't know him. I heard "principal," "high school," and "Simon," plus a bunch of other words that didn't spell out "your son is fine."

Meanwhile, he said things like, "Simon has been in my office the past 40 minutes," and I did things like commencing the process of cardiac arrest.

A boy in Simon's Culinary Arts class apparently had approached him about stealing the prescription drugs his parents presumably have. Simon deflected the kid's advances and the teacher noticed, so she asked him to explain after class. That led to questioning in the principal's office, some ratting out of others whom Simon has silently observed these past two months since starting his high school career, and a lingering suspicion that things are going to get awkward around the stove.

The approach was textbook, by Simon's recounting, the making of an anti-drug campaign commercial. The kid would pay Simon for bringing him my alleged pills, and would provide pills to replace them and ease suspicion. Because this kid clearly has a collection of various sizes of placebos, and also adults would never notice when something they take every day has shape-shifted.

Simon, who is tall and bursting with curls, drew from his silent reserve of strength and said, Nah. When pushed for his phone number, he said he couldn't remember. If I know my son, he smiled, politely declined the whole affair, and went back to chopping carrots.

We had talked on the phone right after my heart attack, and again once he came home (my recovery period was short). Listening to him, I was proud and said so. I smiled as he talked about being invited to take part in a drug deal, lamenting that I'd never been offered anything more dangerous than a bong. And I said this:

It's okay to lie. Sometimes. Tell the kid you don't own a phone. Tell him you didn't rat him out, or that others got there first. It's okay to stretch the truth for self-preservation, in situations like these.

It's not always the stranger you need to fear. I'd been taught in our YMCA child abuse prevention program that perpetrators often groom their victims, give them a test run. These folks aren't stupid enough to approach just anyone, because that person might squeal. Instead, they spend some time observing and building a friendship before launching the attack. This kid picked the wrong guy, probably thinking that Simon was too nice not to go along with him. He was wrong. Simon said to me, "You know I would never do something like that." And though I certainly hoped that was the case, his words were a real reassurance.

Always do the right thing. Simon had always felt this kid was shifty, and was not surprised at the turn of events. He willingly went along with the school's questioning, telling them everything he knew. I told him I was proud of him. I told him he did the right thing, not just to protect himself and other classmates but also, hopefully, the kid himself. Maybe, if he gets in trouble in his teen years, it will head off an addiction problem down the line. Maybe it won't. Either way, Simon did the right thing.

Doing the right thing doesn't mean all's going to get easy. This boy was not only in Simon's cooking class, but he was also the head chef of their group. Will he be suspended and absent, or did my boy walk into an awkward situation this morning? Will he know Simon spilled the beans? (Other kids fessed up, too.) Will he seek revenge?

Simon and I have had a ritual since his first day of high school. He comes home and says hello, I ask how his day was, he says great, and then I say, "Did you get beat up today?" (He is a passive young person, as was I, until I discovered boxing--and my strength--in my 40s.)

"No." He laughs.

"Shoved into a locker?"

"No." Or sometimes he'll say, "Just for a little while."

The reality is that now, since Simon did the right thing, there might be some consequences. I assured him that the school staff is on this the best they can, and that he's safe on the bus home. If the kid comes here, he has me to deal with.

"I'm your bodyguard," I said, meaning it, but knowing that there's only so much I can do.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

the ebook is here! plus other one-stop shopping links.

Lots of FRAMES links for you today.

CLICK HERE for the KINDLE version.

HERE for the PAPERBACK version.

OVER HERE for the facebook event invite for LOCAL AUTHOR NIGHT (Grand Rapids).

AND ESPECIALLY HERE if you haven't yet "liked" the FRAMES facebook page.

Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. (Visit the links already.)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fashion by MY MOM

THEO: Don't wear your hair in two ponytail things.
ME: Why not?
THEO: You're like a two-year-old girl whose birthday is today.

THEO: I am deeply disturbed by the holes in your sweatpants.
ME: At least I'm not like those guys who wear their pants hanging down.
THEO: But those guys aren't my mom.

THEO: Those pants make your butt look big.
ME: I want my butt to look big.
THEO: But it looks really big.
ME: I want it to look really big.
THEO: It's "all about that bass."
ME: Right.
THEO: But do you want to look like that? [points to large, elderly woman walking past]

THEO: I don't like the pink streak in your hair.
ME: Why not?
THEO: I'm not sure.
ME: Because it looks like I'm trying too hard?
THEO: Maybe.
ME: Like I think I'm 20?
THEO: Um...yeah.
ME: Like I'm a girl who spends all day at the mall?
THEO: Just... don't do it again.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Warning: You May Die


"Let me ask you something," the man on the stool said. "You understand that putting a drill bit through your hand would really suck, right?"

The boy giggled and nodded affirmatively.

"I trust you to know things like that," he said, running a hand through his salt and pepper mohawk. "I know you're smart. I'm going to train you on other important things you need to know, but other than that, I'm just here to make sure you don't die. My main job as president of this company is to make sure people don't die."

He swiveled around to face the rest of us. The seat looked like a shiny red bottle cap. "Any more questions?"

We had just completed a tour of the Geek Group, a Grand Rapids maker space with rooms full of wires, bolts, volts, and giant robots. There is a vehicle hoist for changing your oil, and a tesla coil. There's a machine shop, a woodworking shop, an electronics lab, and a high voltage lab. If you're a member, you can use any or all of this, even if you're 5, with some restrictions. The energy of the place, and of their skinny president, conducted through our group at lightning speed; by the end of the tour, even the non-science-minded among us wanted to try a hand at a 3D bust of Carl Sagan.

The president's t-shirt:

Math is hard.
So is life.
Get over it.


The unassuming trailhead, with swings for kids and people at picnics, revealed nothing of the difficulty ahead. I had found the mountain biking trail on a forum and marked it down as good for me, a beginner. A gorgeous start, with a wide path through the green woods, led me to believe I'd be on a beautiful ride with moments here and there of challenge and risk. Almost immediately, I met up with one of these: a slope down to a narrow wooden bridge, a wall of dirt to the right, and a steep dropoff to the left. Directly after that, a climb. I looked--metaphorically, peripherally--for a sign. Where's the warning? My bike had been a gift, and I had hopped on not understanding that trails could be both manageable and dangerous at the same time. Surely I wasn't the only one silly enough to miss the mountain in mountain biking. They needed a sign here, something for people like me, surely.

The trail would ease up at times into moments of glory: riding through eight-foot corn, no view beyond the nose of your bike and a narrow keyhole sighting of what was ahead. The corn suddenly opened to a view of rolling hills below, and because the path was relatively flat, you could look around as you went, a treat. For that is the beauty and terror of mountain biking: there is nothing but what is in front of you. Look to the side, compose a facebook update in your head, you'll probably go down.

I was sure I had passed through the worst of it. The corn was a break I had earned; the trail gods had built in this restful, meditative patch as my reward. There was no reason to believe any of this, and I was proven wrong. Once again, the shift from carefree to panicked was sudden; but though the treacherous patches were no longer a surprise, they ceased to appear manageable. This view, like the others, had no basis in reality, but fear had seized me, the tired amateur, and I stopped. A narrow swerve to the right needs to swing quickly back to the left, pop over large, embedded stones, climb an ascent. I sat off path and stared at this S in the road. I would dream about it that night. And yet there was no warning, not there.

About three miles in I saw it. A paper sign covered in a sheet protector, with colorful, plentiful fonts, push-pinned to a tree. I got closer and realized it was not a warning for me.

Broken glass
Protect your Pet

When the path finally opened up and the parking lot was in view, I crossed what appeared to be the finish line and saw some signs that weren't readable from my direction. I circled my bike back around for the message.

You would see this sign only if you made it, which I did.


"You can't learn this in school," the man said, tilting the microphone stand. "You need to do it in the joint. In the grease. In the greasy joint."

He gestured toward the young man with a saxophone, and the tall lanky kid standing behind the bass.

"They know what I'm saying. You get up here, you try, you mess up. It's okay. You come back next week and do it again. This right here is your classroom of jazz."

The young people who sit in on his second set each Sunday night are new to the twists and turns of jazz. No music is passed around; these musicians step onto the stage of the SpeakEZ Lounge and off a cliff. The genre is forgiving of amateurs, and yet those with a real spark can shine. The others, whose enthusiasm outweighed their talents this night, grew larger in front of us, as they soared without fear through the shadows of the room.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sitting With The Secret Service

originally posted July 13, 2011

Seeing former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Betty Ford's funeral in the news this week reminded me that I've been near the woman myself. Here's the story.

Where we lived in the late 90s was a morning's drive from Plains, Georgia, the setting for a small, unassuming rural church with avocado green carpeting, where Jimmy Carter taught Sunday School.

I summoned a friend to accompany me there one Sunday morning with the sole task of this: securing an autograph on a photo of Carter riding through my Pennsylvania hometown. My father, who collects presidential memorabilia, took the photo and had proudly displayed it in the decades since. He was the person who had alerted me to my proximity to Jimmy's church; he was sure the genial former president would sit down with me and swap stories.

The church was not hard to find; the tour buses occupied more space than the building itself. Janet and I were ushered into what turned out to be an overflow room. He'd walk through here on his way to the sanctuary, but that, we gathered, was the best we could hope for. We'd have to take in the lesson on Blind Bartimaeus via the large screen television, whose volume was just loud enough to hear, if you leaned. I thought I made out something about no autographs after the lesson, but figured it was a way of telling people not to make a fuss during the church service. It was difficult, after all, to remember that this was a church and not a tourist site.

After the walkthrough and the lesson, we were surprised to hear that a busload had left, and room was now available in the church pews for the morning service, which Jimmy attends but does not lead. Janet and I quickly nudged into the line of elderly southern folk, eventually finding our way into a front pew next to a young woman sitting alone.

Christy was one of the few longtime church members, as would be demonstrated shortly when anyone who was not a first-time visitor was asked to rise. Only a handful, including the president and his men, would stand...right next to me. For after Janet and I met Christy, we were joined in the pew by the Carters and their Secret Service. This was their pew, it turned out; we hadn't seen the Reserved sign posted at the other end. Rosalynn slid in next to Christy, then Jimmy, then one of the Secret Service at the end. The other agent bookended the row, sitting next to Janet. When we'd reach for our large purses on the floor, he'd move with us.

Church went on, and we tried to play cool the fact that we singing hymns mere feet from a former president. When the service concluded, we were led outside and into a line, where we were told that no autographs would be given; pictures with the president only. Disappointed, I decided if I couldn't have an autograph, I'd settle for a picture of the picture--with Jimmy.

I fished the frame out of my bag and left it to the side of the line as we waited. "Ma'am," a Secret Service agent said, "Please pick that up." I did.

On our turn, we handed our cameras to a church member. I showed the Carters the picture and said, "Beaver Falls, 1980!" We flanked the couple and smiled. The camera was returned and we were immediately ushered away, at which point I heard a wife nag her husband.

"Jimmy," Rosaylnn said. "You can sign that one, can't you?"

I didn't dare look back. But moments later, I heard the Secret Service calling me again: "Ma'am?"

I turned. He asked if I was in a hurry. Not at all. He told me to play nonchalant near the rear fender of the president's limo, pen in hand. "We'll get you that autograph."

I dug in the large bag once again. Jimmy finished smiling for the rest of the line and walked with his entourage to the limo, where I stood, nervous. I handed him the pen and picture and said, "To Dave." He never looked at me or said anything. He leaned the frame on the back of the vehicle, signed it and handed everything back to me. The Secret Service opened a door and whisked him inside.

The limo windows were dark, but I like to think that had I been able to see inside, I would have caught a wink, one woman to another.