Friday, May 29, 2009

Fifty Blogs and Still Breathing

This is Blog #50 and yes, I am still breathing. I wasn’t always doing that when I started. It felt a little strange and often uncomfortable in the beginning. Hitting that publish post button and making that leap from my computer into cyberspace was a bit rattling. Now that I look back it was after all, the first time I had put my words out there to the world. That is cause enough to stop breathing for a moment.

Each day since I have left my corporate job I feel farther away from that life. Creating this blog, sharing with you what my observations are has helped me to do that. What at first felt uncomfortable, is starting to become a groove. A groove I fell out of these last weeks, as I found myself selected as a Jury member on a trial that went on for 13 days.

Don’t get me wrong. I took my civic duty seriously. In fact, I think everyone should have this experience. It is watching the system in action, and while not perfect, it does work.

But it got harder to write, because the time was just not there. And often at the end of the day, I was just too drained. There was little space for me to write a page in my novel, much less a blog that made any sense. It reminded me of how I was always squeezing my writing in when I was still in Corporate America. It was never easy for me to just shift from one mode to the other. It reminded me that I like it better the way it is now. I found myself missing my groove.

The trial was a civil one which involved determining whether there was a breach of contract. The irony for me was that the two parties’ business relationship began in 1997, which coincidentally was the year I moved back to NYC and started my last corporate gig. While they parted ways in 2003, the entanglement continued until this month and this trial.

Listening to dates of letters and incidents being reviewed, I found myself reflecting in those moments as the lawyers searched through the 350 odd documents they had brought in to find the one they wanted, to where I was at that time, what I was doing, and with whom. In some bizarre twist of dates and fate, I found some sort of new closure. I felt, maybe for the first time, that that part of my life was behind me and it was time to move fully forward.

I ran into a few of the people I used to work with today at lunch. I was reminded that for a good long while we had a great run. But now, I am on a different track. Like the trial I bore witness to, that part of my life is now recessed. And I am still breathing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

It’s hard not to think of my father on Memorial Day. He served in the 34th Division of the 133rd Infantry during WWII, inducted into the Army on December 3, 1942 and honorably discharged on November 9, 1945. He managed, unlike many of his army “buddies” and friends, to survive his time in active combat with only a shrapnel wound that got him a Purple Heart. But the internal scars of the time he spent in Africa and Italy never left him.

Like much of his generation he did not like to talk much about “The War”. He would wake himself up from his nightmares yelling, his words not clear but without a doubt frightened.  I wanted to ask, what was it like, what did you see that has not left you? But my mother, as if anticipating my questions, would just look at me and whisper, her finger over her lips, “It’s from The War.”

I learned more about that time after he died. My Aunt Jean gave my mother an old cardboard box, stuffed to  overflowing with all the letters my grandmother had saved that he had written home during that war. The letters were intended to make Nana feel better, to keep her protected from what he was witnessing and engaging in and to assure her and the rest of the family he was safe and would be home soon.

But behind the words he wrote, in between the ones that had been cut out with a sharp edge by the censors, in case they got into the hands of the enemy, I learned of the young, carefree, idealistic, twenty year old man my father had been when he was called to duty. In those letters I saw the boy grow up more quickly than he had intended or wanted to.

My father was never a supporter of the Vietnam War, but he was always a supporter of the troops. His time overseas taught him that war, anyway you looked at it, was not a good thing and something to avoid. But he supported, unwaveringly the people who put their lives on the line so we can enjoy the freedoms we do.

I believe he would feel the same way today. No matter what his feelings might be about the wars we engage in, he would support the troops and he would be concerned with what their lives would be like if and when they are lucky enough to return home. 

My father kept his internal wounds to himself. That was how his generation dealt with their horrors. 

But I know if James John Tombrakos knew there was a better way he would be supporting it. He would be behind organizations like whose support goes beyond the physical to the psychological wounds of war. Dad, always my hero, would be asking how we are giving thanks for those who gave their lives so we can live ours. And he would want to know what our government is doing to support the soldiers who do get to come home.  And if it's enough.

(this was originally entitled  Memorial Day 2009. It has been updated for Memorial Day 2013.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Exercising Your Vote

The right to vote is part of what it means to be an American. We take it for granted, often thinking it is not important or our vote isn’t going to make a difference. Sometimes we rely on others to do our voting for us, forgetting that there are, at this very moment, places in this world where the individual voice is not even allowed to be heard.

Now this may seem like an odd topic to be writing about in May, but I have been in jury duty for nine, yes, count them, NINE days now so I am a bit consumed in civic duty.

And then of course there was last night’s finale of Dancing With The Stars. In case you missed it, I have been a Gilles and Cheryl fan from the beginning, and not just because Gilles is hot and sexy and arguably has one of the best male physiques on the planet. He, in my opinion, was the best dancer. And since I took dancing lessons faithfully for almost three years with Alex Tchassov, I consider myself a bit more qualified than the average viewer to assess.

I vote. On Election Day in November and every week that DWTS is on. I get on line, sign in to and place my votes.

People have made fun of me when I tell them I vote for my DWTS favorites. But I consider that part of the fun of my indulgence of watching this kitschy show that completely entertains me. Plus, when given the opportunity to vote, why not seize it?

So at 11PM last night, after the winners had been announced and the phone rang I knew it was my friend Nancy Moon, calling to commiserate over what happened. I was sure it was simply that Shawn’s fans were more vocal. They took their right to vote more seriously. They knew that every vote counts.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Having A Plan In The Face Of Pink

I’m still a little obsessed with why the “pink slip” as in the one that is not some sexy Valentine’s Day gift, but as notice that you no longer have a job, is the color pink.

I did a little research on the significance and meaning of the hue and this is what came up.

Pink is traditionally for girls. It is also the color of romance. The message of a pink carnation is I will never forget you. It is soft and calming. Studies have shown it to be a tranquilizing color, one it is hard to be angry in the face of, one that saps your energy, literally creating physical weakness. Some believe it can neutralize disorder and violence. And of course as we all know, pink lighting, especially in the boudoir, is less harsh than white.

This doesn't explain much, especially as boys get pink slips too. Perhaps someone thought the color choice might make it easier than if it was some color that made people angry, but it's doubtful. My guess is it started as just an old three part carbon in which the pink copy just happened to get stamped employee.

But what if you got THE pink slip today? What would you do? People traditionally think the axe falls on a Friday. For me it was a Monday. And judging from the news reports and unemployment figures any old day of the week works in these times to let people go.

When my day came, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I had my plan in place for quite some time. And because of that plan the discomfort was less severe.

Don’t get me wrong. These types of things are never easy. Psychologically speaking they are considered traumas up there with death and divorce. But a plan puts it all in perspective. At least it did for me. I was certain I was not going to look for another plot to plow in my field, but instead go to a different field. I had my plan in place. I knew what I wanted to do next.

Do you? Do you love what you currently do so much, you would go out in search of a similar position in your industry? Or is there some dream you have been harboring, maybe one you haven’t yet dared to say out loud? Maybe you’ve got your very own “pink slip” on file already and found yourself without a plan. What did you do ?

Tell me. It’s Monday and I’m curious. I’m also about to be sequestered back in the jury room.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Not About Time

So while jury duty may have given me time to read the whole newspaper, it seems to have left little time to write anything, much less get a blog out. At least I thought it was about time.

Yesterday was Day 6. I woke up to rain and damp that made it feel more like New York in October instead of May. It’s been quite a while since I have had to be anywhere early and on time for consecutive days, so Thursday I was longing for the warmth of my apartment, my comfortable chair and my computer as I stood waiting on the security line at the courthouse on Centre Street.

Someone told me recently that I can make almost anything seem appealing. I wasn’t convinced they were right as I stood in the queue that was much longer than usual, frustrated that I had not blogged in days much less written one more page in my novel, annoyed at the time I seemed robbed of.

But being sequestered all day and disconnected from my email, Google reader, and social networks, I felt the need to use the time when there was still a working connection and I was not yet in the jury box to check in on Twitter via my iphone. My eyes zeroed in on a tweet from @QuipsandTips : Met with my writers' group last nite - what a source of inspiration & information! Do you meet with an in-person writers' group?

Of course I have a writer’s group! I cannot imagine not having that safe haven that meets every other Tuesday in which to test out my words. In fact I am not sure I would have ever finished my first novel without them. I rarely miss a meeting. It is part dedication to the process, part therapy. Really, what would I do without this group of people who remind me every two weeks that I can write, who can’t wait to hear what is happening next with my characters, who offer suggestions, ideas and most of all support to keep on writing.

I love my writer’s group. has been asking to hear who our hero is. There is a big list of heroes and heroines in my life. My writing group is on that list.

As I got through the line, and prepared to go into the locked jury room, reminded again by the judge not to discuss the testimony, it occurred to me that the reason I have not been writing that much this week is not because of time. It is from exhaustion from curbing my conversation, an extension of having to be careful about what I share that has seeped into my fingertips and the keyboards. So careful have I been not to discuss the details of the trial with anyone, to keep it all to myself, I have stifled the flow of my words.

As I occupied my time and my thoughts with something other than the trial, my creativity had a moment of unleashing. A little social networking, a quiet space for a few moments, my thoughts to my inspiring writing group of heroes and heroines opened up the space. Turns out, my lack of writing this week has not been about time at all. But then, it never really is about time, is it?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why I Like Newsprint

One of the benefits of jury duty is that I get to read the whole New York Times, cover to cover (sports section excluded), the old fashioned way, on paper complete with newsprint on my hands as proof. That’s right, for three days now, my newspapers have not been used as a doormat, to stuff into wet shoes, to wrap broken glass or to clean the mirrors. They have been fulfilling their primary purpose. To be read.

I read a lot on line. Newsletters, articles, blogs, tweets. I consider myself pretty computer literate and am a big fan of Facebook and Twitter. But the truth is that I still would rather sit down with a cup of coffee and newsprint. I prefer to turn real pages that rustle instead of scrolling down and trying to make pop up windows advertising something I could care less about go away.

I am convinced that I get more out of my reading like this. When I am holding the paper in my hands, I scan for what hits my eye as interesting. I am not just open to one window, with one article on it. I am not only looking for what my former colleague, Pat Kiernan has suggested in his In the Papers segment that morning, but also to those obscure tidbits I might never have found out about otherwise. Those little nuggets hidden in the sidebars, the bizarre court case, the restaurant about to open, or these days, about to close, the news items that never see the front page. People have always asked me how I know so much and where I find my information. I read alot. I like the newspaper. It’s what I was taught to do.

In my early days of draw against commission sales I was told to get all the papers, big and small and keep my eye open not just for the advertisements that might be leads, but the stories on business that might direct me to the next big prospect.

Even before that, back in the olden days at P.S.186 in Bellerose they not only taught us how to fold the New York Times properly for easier reading on buses and subways and so it would not hit the person sitting next to us, but also how to digest all this information. You were taught never to believe everything just because it was in print, but to read, think, critically evaluate and form our own opinions.

If there is a way to do the same thing reading electronically, I have yet to figure it out. When I read on line I am choosing what I want with little chance to happenstance upon something new. Sort of like wandering into the bookstore as opposed to ordering on line one specific book. When you’re wandering you’re more likely to find something you might not have even known you wanted.

Maybe there is a way to do this electronically and I just don’t know yet. Maybe one day I will break down, buy a Kindle and my view will change.

Or maybe I don’t want to. Maybe this is just one of those things I want to hold on to, with fingers covered in newsprint.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Life In The Slower Lane

I was asked yesterday if I missed it. It being my corporate job. The question was coming from someone who was not just a former colleague, but also a friend. My reply was easy. The expense account, yes. IT support, often. But besides the friendships like the one we had, the ones you only get if you are really lucky. The kind that get you through all the corporate craziness and help you to put perspective on things. Besides that, no. I don’t miss any of it.


Her next words were more a suggestion that life must be slower.

I paused for a minute, at first a little rattled. I have lived in a world for a long time where slow was a bad thing. Slow meant you weren’t getting anything done. Slow was not exciting. Faster had to be better. And yes, as recently as a few years ago I would have wondered the same thing. So caught up in the fast lane of what my life was, slowness scared me.

My response? Yes, my life is slower in that I can work on my pace, not one set forth from above. But I get more accomplished in a few hours than I was sometimes able to in an entire day. I am without the distractions of someone else calling a meeting just to have a meeting or being asked to put out a fire someone else created.

While the pace may be slower, my days are more full. I am navigating how to get in all that I want to. A blog. Pages in my novel. Networking. Ideas for other projects. Sketching out a coaching program.

I am still on the highway but instead of in that fast lane over to the left, I am in a slower lane. Still moving forward I am more apt to notice the dogwood tree in full bloom on the side of the road or take a detour off to see what other possibly better route might be available. Because I am not in such a rush to get somewhere I have time to savor and enjoy the ride.

I can see the fast lane from where I am but I am no longer so curious about it. I am not convinced anyone there is any happier or any further along their journey than me. The slower lane is less crowded but it still moves forward.

Monday, May 4, 2009

My Nissan 200SX

Yesterday morning my little red Nissan 200SX popped into my head while I was reading the New York Times, watching Stephanopoulos followed by Meet the Press and sipping coffee.

I was hardly making enough money to buy that new car in 1985 so I didn’t. I leased it. Leasing was still a relatively new concept then but made perfect sense for salespeople like myself who were going to put lots of miles on an automobile and need a new car every 2 or 3 years anyway. Plus it didn’t require a down payment.

I needed a new car. I had been driving a 1977 Chevy Camaro with no air-conditioning. Yes, NO air-conditioning. Sounds a bit like the Stone Age now, but at the time I bought the Camaro, air-conditioning seemed an unnecessary luxury, one I could do without to save the money.

While I had managed to survive the first summer driving around the Philadelphia metro area selling ads for the country music station, with only the breeze from the window when traffic was moving fast enough to create one to keep me cool, another summer seemed unfathomable. I was supposed to look and be my best when I showed up at my clients. I was there to close a deal, not to look like I needed emergency care. The Camaro sans air-conditioning was not going to cut it. While a new car was not in the budget, my fledgling career seemed dependent on it.

The philosophy of those I worked for and around was to overextend yourself financially just enough to make you stretch. While they never called it the Law of Attraction the idea was the same. Envision yourself making more than enough money to afford what you want and it will happen. Which in my case was a brand new fire engine red, Nissan 200SX with a little voice that told you when the fuel gauge was low. Then go for it.

I don’t remember the sticker tag on that car but I remember my monthly payment was $250.16 which seemed a ridiculous amount for what I was making. But not only did I need an air-conditioned car, I had my heart set on this one.

My father, while he never said it, thought I was crazy. He had that same look he had when I told him I was leaving teaching to go sell radio ads. The one that said, I love you, but do you know what you’re doing and why are you just not getting married and having children. Despite the look that said a thousand words, he drove with me to pick up the car and did agree to co-sign the lease. I had no assets in those early days, except my enthusiasm and willingness to go for it.

This is what came to mind Sunday morning as I was multi-tasking and half listening to a conversation about the stimulus bill.

My little red Nissan.

My reminder that sometimes we need to spend money we are not really sure we have. Be it the stimulus bill or the Aeron chair I bought so my back does not hurt when I write. We have to take giant leaps of faith that the money spent is money invested and it will pay off in the future. I wound up making more than enough money to pay for that car. In fact I went on to have a very successful career in advertising sales. Although it was not at all clear at that moment I was signing the lease for the red Nissan 200SX that would be the result.

I never got to see what my father’s face would look like as my career and income grew. He died in September of 1986. I imagine he would have a big grin and laugh to go with it and tell me he knew I was doing the right thing all the time.

(the Nissan in the photo is not MY Nissan, but the closest I could find to the one I had)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Transparency As The New Black

Last Friday I attended the NYCIP Round Table Writers' Conference. My friend Laura Dawson who was speaking at the Saturday session had suggested I was probably ahead of what the conference was offering, but it wouldn’t hurt to network. She was right.

And in fact it felt good to be reminded that I have learned alot about my new industry and know more than I often give myself credit for. Especially since today marks nine official months of leaving behind corporate life.

But really, the best thing about me deciding to attend Friday’s sessions was the keynote speaker at lunch.

I remember seeing her name, Lee Woodruff, and thought, oh, yeah, she is married to Bob Woodruff, the ABC correspondent that almost died in Iraq. But that was all I knew about her. That and what the blurb said about her writing, which for the most part appears in magazines like Redbook and Country Living, neither of which is delivered to my door or which I would feel qualified to write in. And oh, she contributes on family and home related topics on GMA. Being single at the moment, with no children these are not features I gravitate towards. But she has just written a new book, Perfectly, Imperfect. And I am all for being in the presence and listening to those who have done what I am working towards doing. Getting published.

My mom says I cry pretty easily anymore. I tell her I went to therapy to learn how to cry. My energy healer tells me the more open your energy the more you feel. So I am not sure what was responsible, maybe a combination of both, but I think it was mostly this funny, bright, poignant woman speaking so openly and so transparently about her life, her family, her husband and what their journey has been thus far. I was moved, yes to those tears that well up in public and you hold back for fear they might be noisy ones if let loose.

I had the privilege of speaking with Lee before she spoke and I can tell you that her talk was no contrived show. It was her. Transparent and real. Which is exactly what you get if you read her new book.

Yes, I bought a copy. I am pretty fussy about what I buy in hardcover anymore and yes, I bought a memoir about the life and family of a married, mother of four. And I read it. I laughed. I cried. I was moved. Exactly as I was when I heard her speak. Her writing is as open and transparent as her conversation. And while on the surface it appears all I would have in common with this woman is we are both writers and both close in demographic to age, her writing resonated with me profoundly.

There is a lot of ruckus out there about privacy in the age of the Internet, Facebook and Twitter. Some days as I blog I am challenged by it as I am by my friends who are bewildered that I am engaging in it at all. But the way I see it a real benefit of all this new technology and social networking is allowing us venues to be more transparent, as people and as a society. And that I believe is a good thing.

Listening to Lee Woodruff I was inspired. In her book, she has a chapter entitled Money Can’t Buy Me Style. That might be, but as far as I am concerned, the woman has a great deal of style and she is leading the trend to make transparency the new black.

She is on book tour, coming to a city near you. Don’t miss her. And buy her book. It’s the perfect Mother’s Day gift.