Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Presidential Power… after the fact

Last week, Bill Clinton was a guest on Letterman. And when I learned he was in the line-up, I anxiously tuned in.

It wasn’t that I was all excited about seeing the photos from Chelsea’s recent wedding. In fact, I had forgotten even that it happened. (Pardon my lack of school-girl glee.)

No. What I tuned in for was to witness the power – to witness what a man (I promise to edit that word if history ever requires it) can accomplish after he (ditto) has been President of the United States.

I was not disappointed. After proud papa Bill shared with Letterman’s audience two enlarged black-and-white photos from the recent nuptials, our former president described what he’s been up to (besides losing weight), and it seems he’s replaced the French fries in his diet with efforts that might be viewed as “no small potatoes.” (Okay, is that just the worst pun?) But seriously: through his Global Initiative, Clinton is doing amazing things – promoting innovation that has the capacity to make our world a more sustainable place. Through his Foundation, equally amazing projects are underway – for the betterment of humanity worldwide.

Clinton also has some very strong opinions about the nation’s economy and how to solve the unemployment problem. He seems to “get it” in a way that makes sense… in a way that could allow sense to be made.

But… oh yeah, there are people in the way. Elected people. You know the type. They have this knack for standing in the way of progress.

… Several weeks earlier, on yet another broadcast of Letterman, Brian Williams was the headlining guest. (And okay, is it just me, or is he, like, the perfect guy? Cute. Uber-intelligent. Funny as hell. Anyway…) Dave asked Williams about the current state of affairs, which – along with child-rearing – is the topic Letterman discusses with his guests most often these days.

In response to his host’s query, Williams referenced an article he had read that day (or maybe the day before) in a London newspaper. According to that article, Williams shared, Obama may be setting himself up as a one-term President. Williams didn’t editorialize on the article’s slant; he simply shared it.

And, I gotta tell you, hearing of that possibility got me hopeful.

But don’t get me wrong, either.

I am NOT anti-Obama. I think the man is awesome, and when he won in 2008, I felt the same sense of relief that others did. Finally, after eight years of grotesque tyranny, there was this sense that our nation would be restored to a time when individual needs would trump the needs of profit-seeking bullies like Halliburton. There was this sense that our country had collectively come out of a fog. That by voting for intelligence, grace, and compassion, we would be returned, collectively, to a more humanistic national attitude.

But: as the Tea Partiers and general spinelessness on the Hill have made clear, we are nowhere closer to humanism than we were during Bush II’s reign of terror.

Of course, we must acknowledge that the current cacophony didn’t start with that pathetic rancher-turned-baseball-owner-turned-now-do-you-like-me-Dad? president. For decades, the machine behind our nation’s political system has consistently revealed that our country (our alleged “democracy”) is run not by individuals, but by corporations. It’s a disgusting mess, that machine, and a person with a big heart and compassionate visions will likely always be lost within it.

That’s why a part of me likes the idea of Obama being a one-term President. I say, let him out of that trap. Free him to do some real good in this world.

Look at Jimmy Carter. My God, that humble man who had nothing up his sleeve when he entered the Oval Office was completely swallowed up in the pill that is Washington. He didn’t have a chance. But post-presidency? His legacy is mind-blowing. He is an amazing human being, and now in his mid-eighties, he appears to be unstoppable.

Presidential power seems to come from the title, not the term. And I like it that Obama will always have that title in front of his name.

He deserves it. He deserves to do as much as he can with it.

So whether or not Obama is re-elected in 2012, I have hope. Because I believe that this remarkable man – still so young – will spend the rest of his life delivering on the compassion and sense of justice that got him elected. He will never tire of striving for positive change.

And once he’s free of the politicking required inside the beltway, he will move mountains.

I’m not saying I hope it begins in 2013, but I truly cannot wait to witness Obama’s next chapter.

We need more ex-Presidents who genuinely care.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Reruns: Explaining My Relationship to Decision-Making

(original post-date: September 27, 2009)

It’s almost October, and that means I’ll soon be celebrating another birthday. It also means that the Sun has moved into Libra. I realize that, for some people, that solar transition means absolutely nothing. I appreciate that some people do not believe in astrology, and being a Libra, I would never force them to change their tune. But given what I’ve learned about the Libran character, it is difficult for me to disregard how a Sun sign might foretell behavior. In fact, I find the information helpful. In fact, in the realm of decision-making, my being a Libra pretty much explains everything. So I’ll take this opportunity to share what I’ve learned. If you roll your eyes at my reasoning, that’s your prerogative. (And I’m guessing you’re a Scorpio.)

Libras are known for their rather labored approach to decision-making. We’re the sign of the scales, and it is in our nature to weigh all aspects of an issue. It is in our nature to be fair. Extremely, painstakingly, tediously fair.

For people whose workday begins with changing into a judge’s robe, this bent toward circumspect decision-making is probably convenient (for all parties concerned). But for a gal who just wants to go out and do some quick shopping, this weighing thing is a pain in the ass. Once, during my college years in New York, I had some money to buy a new winter coat. It was going to be the first winter coat I ever bought “on my own,” and so it was a rather momentous occasion. I spent quite a bit of time in a relatively small clothing store on Madison Avenue. After more than an hour, I narrowed down my choice to two coats – a navy one and a black one. In addition to being different colors, they were quite different styles, thus bringing far too many factors into the decision-making process.

As I tried on the “other” coat for the nth time, the saleswoman, who had been patient with me up to that point, asked, “Are you a Gemini?”

“No,” I said, sensing – and at that point, sharing – her frustration. “A Libra.”

“Oh, God, that’s worse,” she said. “Take the black one!”

“Thank you,” I responded, realizing how desperately I appreciated the intervention. “I will.”

I put the black coat on the counter, and she began to ring up the sale. At that point, I felt she was my new best friend, and so I confided, “You’ll notice how no one accompanies me shopping.”

It was an observation I had made over the preceding years, and it was one that my family joked about. I really am impossible to shop with. I act as if every decision were going to change the direction in which the earth is spinning. But it seems I can’t help it. The stars have made it that way…


In the mid-90’s, when I was working at a nonprofit in downtown Los Angeles, I had a co-worker named Robert. Robert, who was several years younger than I and who had married recently, was also a Libra. Having not looked at his astrological profile as carefully as I, he was intrigued when I began to describe some of the traits we shared. When I mentioned the shopping thing, he laughed, nodded, and indicated that he understood.

I told him about the time I was in the Woolworth’s in New York, selecting a shower curtain. I went into one of those Libran shopping trances, I told him. Each $2.00 shower curtain had a unique pattern, of course, and each featured different colors. So I had much to consider. As I picked up one shower curtain package after another, I was reviewing, in my mind, the colors of the towels that my husband and I had. I was considering the colors of the tiles in our bathroom. I was re-assessing the shower curtains’ patterns themselves. Did I want fish? Were flowers too girly? God, the questions!

The strange, strained look on my face caught the attention of a Woolworth’s sales associate, a man sporting a blue smock that featured a friendly name tag. He approached me and regarded the eight packages of shower curtains I was holding (these were the finalists). “Lady!” he said, “How many shower curtains do you need?”

Where was the Madison Avenue saleswoman when I needed her? Where was the person who might say, “Just get the blue one with the fish! It’s a fucking two-dollar shower curtain, for God’s sake!”

I probably also told Robert about the time when I was at a department store in a Los Angeles mall, and I tried on so many pairs of sunglasses that a security guard began hovering behind me. The guard probably reasoned that the exorbitant amount of time I was spending trying on an exorbitant number of sunglasses was all part of a plan to pocket at least one pair. But, I wasn’t looking to steal. And, in fact, the decision-making was so daunting that I just walked away. No new sunglasses for me that day. I was just too overwhelmed by the options.

Robert enjoyed my anecdotes, and I learned the next morning, when he came into my office, that they had provided him with some enlightenment. “I told my wife about the Libra thing and shopping,” Robert said, referring to a conversation he had with his new bride the previous night. “You totally hit the nail on the head! She hates shopping with me! I drive her crazy!


Robert and I continued to bond over our common idiosyncrasies, and one day, when I went into his office to see if he had a dictionary, I learned how clearly he had come to understand the burden we Libras carry. I was looking for a dictionary that day because our boss had edited a grant proposal I drafted, and she suggested, in her edit, that the word “reexamine” should be hyphenated. Being the stickler I am, I wanted to consult an almighty reference book before making the change.

Robert directed me to his dictionary, and as I opened it, I told him why I was needing it. He continued about his work as I looked up the word. When I found the entry for “reexamine” and learned that, according to that dictionary, the word could either be hyphenated or not, I really felt the onset of a quandary.

“Oh great,” I said in a frustrated tone that was driven by playfulness.

“What?” he asked.

“It could go either way,” I let him know.

Robert sighed for both of us and looked at me with matter-of-fact concern and a gleam in his eye. “Well,” he said, “There goes your day!”


My next staff job was at a higher ed institution, where I was the Rob Petrie of the three-person proposal writing team. Our administrative support came from Lisa, who prepped all proposals for final packaging. Lisa, who was quickly becoming a friend, knew of my decision-making dilemmas. And, often-times, she was more in tuned to them than I was.

One day, she wanted to consult with me about a budget page that she had completed. I was standing in the middle of the writers’ room when she approached. She gave no hint of being anything other than professional as she held up the sheet and pointed to the bottom line number. “This grand total,” she said, quite seriously, “Should I bold it or give it a double-underscore?”

She then watched my face as it took on an extremely pained look. She watched the busy-ness that was taking place therein and amused herself as she imagined what considerations I could possibly be entertaining. When it was clear we might miss the deadline waiting for my answer, she smiled her broad smile. “GOTCHA!” she said, as she ran off to make the decision herself.


So there I’ve been in life. Deliberating for minutes and hours-on-end about shower curtains, sunglasses, hyphenations, and the appearance of fonts.

And yet there have been other decisions that seemed to take no time whatsoever: Should I get married? Sure! Move to California? Why not? Quit my job? Absolutely! Quit this job, too? Yup. And this one? Face it; it sucks. Even though I don’t have another job lined up? When has that stopped you before? Buy a new car? Gotta drive!

When I drove my 1998 Honda Civic off the lot, it had seven miles on the odometer, and I was committed to five years of car payments. I could swing it, I knew, and I wasn’t bothered by the commitment. But I was struck by how quickly I had made the decision. I would recount the adventure later, telling friends, “My God, I chose a car faster than I choose a parking space!”

Which is when it dawned on me: It’s the small decisions I cannot seem to make…

It took a few years, but I have finally reached a place where I can apply that discovery to everyday life. I have learned that if I can’t make a decision quickly, then I just don’t care. What a freeing revelation this has been! I have a formula now! When a question is asked of me, I either answer immediately or I volley it back to the person who posed it. “Surprise me!” I say.

As I’ve come to understand my relationship to decisions, and as I have freed myself up by letting others make the smaller ones, I also have come to appreciate my ease with the larger ones. It’s about intuition. It comes from the gut.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Fourteen

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read the book in its entirety, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).


That afternoon, Evelyn and Claudia are team-building in the kitchen. Evelyn had come across a recipe in the Sunday newspaper, and its middle-eastern flair whetted her appetite. When she realized that all of the exotic ingredients were already somewhere in her kitchen, she decided it was fate.

Because their rhythms are common, Evelyn and Claudia enjoy being quiet together as much as they enjoy chatting. In this way, they both share the unspoken understanding of introverts: the presence of more than one person in a room does not always necessitate conversation.

Evelyn is at the kitchen’s center island. She is tending to the beguiling array of ingredients that will create a deepdish casserole’s marinade: tahini, cumin, curry, cinnamon, garlic, dill weed, black pepper, honey, lemon, hot sauce.

Claudia is at the stove. Having just checked the chicken in the oven, she is now stirring the rice on the front burner.

Suddenly, their quiet, meditative ritual is interrupted by a strange and emotional sound. Mournful music, coming closer.

It is Davy.

He has retrieved his saxophone from its resting place in the corner of the living room. And he is playing it like the musical genius he once was.

Evelyn stops crushing garlic, and Claudia holds still the wooden spoon with which she has been stirring the rice. They both look toward the doorway, where Davy stands, swaying with his sax. A perfect melody coming from somewhere within his soul.

Evelyn is dumbfounded by the capacity he is showing. She knows he can’t name the instrument that he is holding, and to her knowledge, it is the first time in years that he has touched his sax. But that doesn’t matter. He is playing now. And it is beautiful.

His melodic one-man jam lasts for three minutes, maybe more. And then Davy drifts back down the hall, riffing quietly.

When he is out of sight, and the musical interlude has stopped, Claudia approaches the center island, stands next to Evelyn, and looks up into her face. “Evelyn,” she says, with a loving smile and a hint of her trademark sarcasm, “I know onions make a person cry, but I didn’t know about

“Go figure,” replies Evelyn, her voice breaking slightly.


Evelyn and Davy eat dinner together that night. The chicken and rice dish, which spent the better part of the late afternoon in the oven, is tantalizing and comforting at once. And although they have no dinner conversation to speak of, Evelyn enjoys sharing this meal with her husband.

* * *

to be continued on October 2nd.

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It’s All in the Practice

I posted my very first blog on September 22, 2009, which makes today my “blogoversary.” And today, one year after entering the ‘sphere, I am more than pleasantly surprised. In addition to finding a community and being incredibly humbled by the writing of others, I’ve realized that there is tremendous personal value in this process.

I believe it has made me a better writer.

In his insightful book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell wrote of the often unplanned criteria that lead to success. Among that criteria? 10,000 hours of practice. (As he pointed out, it’s what the Beatles ultimately got from all the time they spent in Hamburg.)

I understand Gladwell’s point when I read my own work. Before publishing my novel, The Somebody Who, I must have read that manuscript 40 times. I edited and re-edited and then edited again. And I was quite sure, when I signed off on its “done-ness,” that it was as good as it could possibly be.

… Now, though? I see things (minor things/word things) I’d like to change.

Was it something I missed? Nope. It’s just something I’ve learned.

The same is true for my blog postings. When I read my earlier posts, I occasionally wince at a phrase I wrote. But I don’t wince because I missed an edit in the moment; I’ve simply become a finer technician.

I’m growing. I’m getting my practice. And I’m loving every minute of it.

I don’t have a timeclock by my side. For all I know, I hit the 10,000-hour mark a few years ago. (Or maybe it’s six years away.) Doesn’t matter, though. The more I write, the more I am able to write well. And I appreciate blogging because I no longer write in a vacuum. The words actually go out there. And somebody – often a few somebodies – actually read them.

Beginning this coming Monday (September 27th), I am introducing a new feature to my site: Monday Re-runs. I am doing this because, in addition to growing as a writer, I have learned something as a reader. From having followed the blogs of others, I’ve realized that – no matter how much I love a person’s voice, style, or content – I am unlikely to back up by more than a few posts. And so… I certainly don’t expect my new readers to back up too much.

My Monday re-runs will bring the backing-up to you.

(And I won’t edit them, either. Even though I know I’ll be tempted!)

I realize it isn’t Monday yet, but it’s still my blogoversary. And what better way to celebrate (i.e., reflect) than to repost the first essay of this experiment. It follows below. You may glean some negativity. Some ‘tude. And if you do, you’ll not be wrong. Perhaps I haven’t only grown as a writer during the past year. Perhaps I’ve also grown as a person. I’m cool with that.

Drinking the Virtual Kool-Aid
(originally posted, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009)

A few months ago, Kevin Spacey was a guest on Letterman. Several minutes into the dialogue, Dave asked the actor if he “did the twitter.”

From watching Letterman’s show fairly regularly, I have gleaned that Dave is adverse to online social networking, and while there’s curiosity behind his questioning, he’s not likely to change his attitude. Perhaps, when he asks a question about twittering, he’s looking for someone to explain – in terms he can genuinely understand – why everyone is so engaged in this new tweeting-and-following phenomenon. Perhaps he just likes to initiate a dialogue that will afford him several opportunities to look bemused and perplexed.

Spacey’s answer did, in fact, lead to some classic quipping from Letterman, and that amused me. But what stayed with me – and what has motivated me – was how the actor introduced his response. I am not claiming to quote him directly (though it’s possible I’ve remembered it verbatim); regardless, Spacey said this: “Yeah, I was resistant for a long time, but my business partner told me I had to, so I drank the Kool-Aid.”

…He drank the Kool-Aid.

What an interesting metaphor. Sadly, it began in 1978, when hundreds of people committed suicide together. And from that day in Jonestown, it has become the catch-phrase for buying into a perspective and agreeing to embark on the path of whatever individual(s) or dynamic(s) are leading that perspective. And you have to believe, when someone uses the metaphor, that there’s something rather negative underlying the choice of words. When someone says that they “drank the Kool-aid,” you can’t help but believe that they were led kicking and screaming to the trough.

But I am so grateful for Kevin Spacey’s use of the metaphor. I am grateful because I relate to it. I don’t want to participate in the world of online social networking. I find it inherently impersonal, often narcissistic, and completely overloaded.

On the other hand, I have to face the reality of today: people spend more time online than they do offline. They get their news, their views, and their “bemuse” from whatever they can type into their search engine. So…

I’m approaching the trough, and my intention is to return to it about once a week.

I don’t have a plan (and I’m not sure I’ll ever have one). I’m just going to write and share. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find folks who want to know about the other things I’ve written.

If you don’t know my work, something that relates remarkably to this premiere entry is my Amazon Short, “Too Many Machines.” For a mere forty-nine cents (yes, I spelled that out because it’s so damned quaint as prices go), you can download a copy of a Seussian poem that I wrote in 1987. Once you’ve read it, you’ll understand why I’ve resisted this marketing vehicle for such a long time.

Feel free to let me know what you think.

More to come,
Katie Gates

A little 9/22/10 PS: As some of you know, "Too Many Machines" is something you can read right here on my blog. Amazon Shorts became a thing-of-the-past earlier this calendar year, which is why I reposted the piece on this site.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Thirteen

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read more sooner, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).



When Evelyn heads down the stairs the following morning, she is in a remarkably light mood. Claudia, having arrived two hours ago, is serving Davy his breakfast. Evelyn can hear the routine as she approaches the kitchen.

“But I don’t know what—I don’t know.”

“Just eat, Davy,” is Claudia’s firm reply. “Waffles. You love them!”

“Oh, I do then. I guess. I love them.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I love them, too!” Evelyn comments cheerfully, as she enters the kitchen.

“Evelyn! Just in time!” Claudia quickly replies. “You want waffles? The toaster’s still hot…”

“Bring ‘em on.”

“Good morning,” says Davy to Evelyn. “You’re here now.”

“I am here now. And, as soon as I’ve had some coffee, I’ll be here even more.” She kisses Davy on the forehead—a gesture that makes him smile.

“You’re in a good mood this morning,” Claudia says to Evelyn, her eyebrows raised in a shall-we-talk-later way. “Did you have a date last night?”

Davy, currently negotiating the syrup, is as oblivious as ever.

“I wish,” Evelyn replies to Claudia, as she pours a cup of coffee and looks across the room at her former husband.

“So?” Claudia continues. “Are you going to tell me why you are so happy this morning? Another grandchild on the way? Did you win the lottery?”

“No. Though either of those things would probably make me happy, neither of those things is true. What it is is that last night, I came up with an idea for a project. And it feels settling.”

Evelyn then takes a deep sip of her freshly-poured coffee.

“Is this for me?” Davy asks, holding up the glass of orange juice that has been at his place on the counter for more than five minutes.

“Yes, Davy, that’s yours,” replies Claudia.

While Evelyn feels a little remorse for not being the first to reply, it doesn’t get her. She’s feeling an unusual peace this morning. A peace with her plan.

“So? What is it, Evelyn?” Claudia then asks. “What is your project?”

“Well,” Evelyn begins, with a playfully authoritarian air she has not displayed in a very long time, “I’m not going to tell you.”

“Alright,” says Claudia, crossing her arms and feigning anger. “No waffles for you!”

“I’m not going to tell you,” Evelyn continues, “because until I am well into the project, I cannot be sure I am going to pull it off.”

“Fair enough,” says Claudia, unfolding her arms and crossing to the freezer. “I feel the same way about your breakfast.” She extracts the box of frozen waffles. “Let me get these babies in the toaster.”

“Is this mine?” Davy asks again, holding up his glass of orange juice.

“Yes, sweetheart.” (This time it is Evelyn who answers.) “That is your orange juice. You love orange juice.”

“Okay. I guess I do then.” Davy laughs, oddly. “I love orange juice.”

Davy then downs his entire glass of orange juice in one gulp. And when he is done, he lifts up his tee shirt and pats his extended gut.

“Good,” he says.


When the telephone rings an hour later, Evelyn is well into her caffeine buzz, and Davy, also having had coffee, is sound asleep on the easy chair in the family room. The television is off, which is the position Evelyn prefers, and because the telephone handset happens to be within arm’s reach, she answers it before the machine does.


“Mrs. Bennett?” asks a voice that sounds vaguely familiar.


“Mrs. Bennett. This is Ashley Morgan. I left you a message at the end of last week?”

“Oh, yes. Hello, Ashley. I am sorry I didn’t get back to you yet. You were interested in some of Davy’s art?”

“Yes, for a charity event. It’s on November 10th. A Tuesday.”

“That’s soon!” Evelyn comments.

“Yes, and I’m sorry for the short notice. We’d like to include a few of Dr. Bennett’s pieces in the silent auction. Maybe three or four that could be bid on as a group. I’m thinking about the pen-and-ink drawings of architecture. Do you still have them?”

“I’m pretty sure they’re around here somewhere. I’ll have a look. Of course, they aren’t matted or framed. Is that something you would want me to do, or will the charity cover that expense?”

“We can take care of it at this end. The charity is really fabulous, by the way. It’s called the Elder Haven Center for Senior Care and Study. They’re on the Upper West Side, and they do great work. They have a day care facility for seniors, and they conduct research on issues affecting seniors. I, uh, volunteer there once a week.” There is a slight pause before Ashley continues, this time with a more emotional tone. “Um… how is Dr. Bennett?”

“Well, I gather from your message that you’re aware of his condition.”


“Yes,” Evelyn confirms.

“Yes, I heard about it from Gus Michaels.”

“Gus Michaels!?! Jeez, I haven’t thought of that name in a while!” Evelyn smiles as she remembers him. Gus and Davy had been colleagues at Sarah Lawrence. Gus was chair of the music department when Davy retired from his senior professorship in the fine arts department. They had a pickup band that played around town, Gus on keyboards and Davy on the sax.

Interrupting her own reminiscence, Evelyn returns to Ashley. “How is Gus, anyway? We haven’t seen him in years. He moved back to Manhattan, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he’s doing really well. Still with the same partner. As he would put it, ‘just two old retired fags, living the Village life.’”

“I’m glad he’s well. I guess I never met his partner.”

“Ben is great. Lots of fun. They’re both well. Happy and healthy.”

“That’s good to hear. Will you please tell Gus hello for me the next time you see him?”

“Absolutely. In fact, I expect them at the charity event. If you would like to come as well, I could probably get you a couple of comps. Of course, Dr. Bennett would be welcome, but I don’t know if—”

The suggestion puts a dart through Evelyn’s chest. “No, Ashley,” she responds, “he doesn’t really socialize anymore. He just doesn’t know how. And I find that when I try to take
him places, he gets very upset. He’s disoriented enough around the house. The unfamiliar is, I think, actually frightening to him.”

“Oh,” is Ashley’s quiet response, “so it’s that far along.” Then, after a pause, she adds, “I am so, so sorry.”

“I am, too.” says Evelyn, looking over at the sleeping form of Davy. “And you said you were a student of his?”

“Yes, I took several of his classes over the years. I love art, and I would have majored in it, but if I had, my parents would have disowned me.”

“So what did you major in?”

“English lit.”

“English lit, huh? That’s funny, I was speaking the other day with an English lit major who views herself as unemployable. What advice can I give her?”

“I don’t have a lot of patience for people who think they can’t find work.”

Evelyn smiles at Ashley’s response because she shares Ashley’s sentiment. “Where do you work?” she then asks Davy’s intriguing former student.

“I teach art at a private school. I also paint, and every now and then, I sell a painting, which is really exciting. I’m connected with a gallery in Soho that represents me.”

“That’s wonderful!” Evelyn comments. “And you certainly must be doing well if you can afford to live in Manhattan!”

“I can’t afford not to live in Manhattan. And, oh my God, I just looked at my watch. I’ve got a bunch of kids waiting for me in the art room. I’ve got to run. So, what should we do next regarding the drawings? Could I come up there this weekend to retrieve them? I’ll need a little lead time to have them matted and framed.”

“This weekend sounds fine. That’ll give me a deadline to find them!”

“Excellent. I’ll call toward the end of the week to zero in on a time and confirm your address and directions and stuff. Anyway, I’ve really got to go. Thank you, Mrs. Bennett, so much. Those drawings should bring in a nice donation for the Center.”

“Thank you, Ashley. I’ll look forward to seeing you next weekend.”

“Great. B’bye.”



It is Davy, awake from his nap and slowly rising from his chair.

“What are you going to do now, sweetheart?” Evelyn asks.

“The pants.”

“The pants?”

“In there,” he says, pointing quite emphatically toward the kitchen.

“The pants in there?”

Davy then shakes his head in exasperation and pads out of the room.

I guess I just don’t get it, Evelyn thinks, raising her eyebrows. But she really doesn’t mean to feel so flippant. Because she believes—and she has for a while—that Davy’s exasperation is probably every bit as real as her own.

* * *

to be continued on September 25th.

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Passing Along A Bit of Lovely

Last week, a wonderful blogger whose icon is a ladybug delivered a LOVELY BLOG AWARD to me.

Patricia is the woman behind the ladybug, and she has become a delightful supporter of my creative endeavors. Her blog – – exposes her spiritual side, her recipes for joy, and her love of carrots. (And you may feel quite envious, by the way, when you learn about what she gets to look at while she eats those carrots!) You should visit her. (I don’t mean in person, of course, though based on what I’ve read about her physical environment, I certainly wouldn’t turn down an invitation!)

Anyway, as the recipient of this Lovely Blog Award, I was asked to do a few things. One of them is to link you to some worthy bloggers. Although I am supposed to provide 15 links, that request overwhelms me. I tend to take responsibilities – particularly those I am not paid for – quite seriously. I didn’t want to just toss out the names/sites of the first 15 bloggers who crossed my mind. So, I decided I’d shoot for five.

I also tend to take words seriously. And the word “lovely” really resonated with me. (So much so, in fact, that if my criteria for “loveliness” had been applied to Patricia’s choices, I’m not sure I’d have made the cut!) So… I thought “lovely.” And then I just sat there. Awaiting the arrival of some ideas. I also decided that whichever ideas arrived would have to make another cut: these bloggers would need to have shown me more words than imagery. I didn’t want to compare words to pictures or vice versa, and since I tend to default to words, I felt I could speak more adequately about word-oriented blogs.

That being said, here are five writers I’ve targeted for


Deb Shucka: Her mastery of the language and her capacity to discover metaphor – in nature and elsewhere – amaze me. I invariably head to the comment arena thinking, “Beautiful!” – only to see that several others have already shared that word. Her prose is poetry in motion. A resident of the Pacific Northwest, Deb gently embraces her readers with her enchanting gift. I never tire of it.

Sam Liu: This 15-year-old from Liverpool gives me hope for the future. Wise beyond his years, he is equally comfortable and engaging whether sharing a profound poem or a personal account of his experiences in a local theatre company. When I get a positive comment from Sam, I feel validated. (So, Sam, where were you 32 years ago when I started this venture in writing? Never mind. It’s an obviously rhetorical question!)

Deborah J. Barker: Another wonderful Brit in the blogosphere, Deborah will take you on a boat, into a fabric store, or to the park with her dogs. And when she does, you will be there. You will see everything she sees and feel everything she feels – clearly. Her descriptive style is remarkable, and going along on the ride with her is a consistently relaxing (and often amusing) pleasure.

Claudia Schlottman: “CJ” is probably the most visceral writer I’ve come across in the blogosphere. A widow since June of ’09 and a nurse whose calling is evident, she never shies from sharing her feelings and her personal processes. Whether through honest prose or eloquent poetry, she extends her heart into cyberspace and immediately feels like a friend. She hails from Macon, Georgia – which, occasionally, has a middle name that children should not hear.

Lora Neely: “Fever” is the appropriate title of Lora’s blog. And that word makes me think of Peggy Lee’s sensuous sounds. And jazz. That’s the type of writing you’ll find on this site. Lora’s narrative style is often reminiscent of musical riffing, and it can go deep. “Fever” posts can make you feel as if you’re in a cyberspace speakeasy. Rhythms, candor, and sometimes a wicked sense of humor take center stage when this resident of Philadelphia hits the keyboard.

Please visit these amazing writers if you have not done so already.

As for my message to you, you amazing writers? I am supposed to copy here the criteria for “accepting” your award.

1) Borrow some baubles from Harry Winston.
2) Prepare your talking points for when the E! folks throw a microphone in your face.
3) Rent a limo.
4) Show up in time for the televised red-carpet bullshit.

Oh, jeez, sorry… Totally wrong list!

Following are the official criteria (and see why I don’t consider myself “lovely” all the time?!):

1) Announce the award, including the name of the person who gave it to you and a link to her/his website. (Note, my instructions said “Post the award,” but I didn’t find a button to copy. Hence, the lack of iconography accompanying this post!)
2) Pass the award on to 15 blogs that you have newly discovered (if possible).
3) Contact the bloggers to notify them they have received the award.

My responsibilities now met, I say: Scroll up. Hit the links. And read some truly awesome writing.

You won’t regret it.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Twelve

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read more sooner, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).


Evelyn stands before a closed door that once was the portal to Patrick’s room, and it strikes her how this door’s fortitude has changed over the years. In the mid-70’s, it stood between her world and the world of her teenage son. She dared not enter without permission. Now, it stands between her present and her past. She doesn’t want to enter, and yet she knows she has to face the spoils of her pack-rat self.

Once filled with a boy’s life—an unmade bed, dirty clothes strewn about, trophies and certificates modestly displayed among a few posters from Charlie’s Angels—Patrick’s former room is now an organized storage facility. Filled with clearly-labeled boxes identifying family members and their ages, the room is all about clothes.

Relieved to see an unoccupied wooden chair, Evelyn sits down, and she stares in self-conscious amazement. What was I thinking? she wonders, perusing the clear descriptions on the side of each box. Why didn’t I give these away? Why are these still here?

Evelyn remains in the chair for a few minutes. On the one hand, she is overwhelmed by the stacks in front of her, by her inexplicable desire to keep so many articles of clothing. On the other hand, she is impressed by how extremely organized she was at one point. How she labeled everything so accurately—as if doing so had a purpose.

Knowing the risk in channeling a mythological Pandora, Evelyn nevertheless stands up and approaches a box marked MARILYN, AGE 7-10. She carries the box back to the chair and places it on the floor. She takes a deep breath before opening it. It isn’t that she doesn’t know what to expect. She knows there will be clothes in the box. She knows they will be clothes that Marilyn once wore. She knows furthermore (because this is why we label boxes) that the clothes will be those Marilyn wore between the ages of seven and ten. She knows all this. But, at the same time, she doesn’t know what to expect…

The first pattern her eye catches is a blue and white liberty print, and she doesn’t need to unfold the piece to remember the beautiful cotton dress that Marilyn, then in the third grade, wore to her piano recital. She unfolds it anyway. And while Evelyn’s memory of the recital itself is dim, her memory of the post-mortem returns with clarity.

“I ruined it!” Marilyn cried, unconsolable. “I was awful!”

“Honey, no. You were not awful. You were beautiful up there.”

“But, Daddy, I made mistakes!”

“Sweetie,” Davy responded, cradling her in his arms, “ you can’t think of them as mistakes. You can’t. It’s music. Music goes wherever it wants to go. You hit some notes that weren’t in the script, but that’s okay! So much of music is improvisation, and it should be.”

“What’s improvisation?” Marilyn then asked, her nose running with her tears, her blue irises a contrast to the redness surrounding them.

“Improvisation,” her father explained, “ is making it up as you go along.”

“But, that’s not what my teacher wanted me to do!”

“I understand that, sweetheart. But, is your teacher here right now?”

“No,” Marilyn said.

“Is your teacher going to tuck you in tonight?”


“Then I don’t think we should worry about your teacher. Your mother and I thought you were fabulous today.”

“Did you really?” she asked incredulously, using part of the beautiful dress to wipe away the remnants of her self-doubt.

“Yes, we did,” her father answered, squeezing her more tightly and kissing the top of her head.

“Really? Mom?”

“Yes, honey, we did.”


Evelyn carefully folds the pretty recital dress and places it back in the MARILYN box. Hmm, she thinks. Marilyn. I wish I could help her. I just don’t know how.

She sits back and cradles her wineglass, perusing the stacks of boxes. As her eyes settle on the names—PATRICK, MARILYN, JOY, ADAM—she begins to think about what she might do with all these clothes. Yes, they are old—most of them, very old. And while the teenage entries might appeal to the interest in yesteryear among twentysomething waifs, what about the kids’ stuff? Do children today look for “vintage?” Probably not.

Such a waste. She should have donated all these clothes years ago. What was she thinking?

Then, Evelyn remembers her spontaneous purchase at the bookstore on Friday. The book about quilting. She again peruses the room, but this time she does so with a smile on her face.

“Hmm…,” Evelyn says to no one. “That’s it. I think I’ll make a quilt.”

* * *

to be continued on September 18th.

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Tribute


This coming Saturday is September 11th.

An "anniversary.”

Hmm... I take issue with that word: I think it is too often associated with something quite positive. When it marks the loss of one life? ...Okay, I suppose -- the day can be a celebration of that life. But when thousands have been killed? I'm just not sure that "anniversary" is the right word.

Regardless, it occurred to me – probably around ’07 or so – that I had spent several years going through the various stages of grief. It didn’t debilitate me. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying life and love. It just was.

Five days after that morning of standing before the television, in disbelief, I was able to get some thoughts down on paper. I’d like to share them with you today. Here's what I wrote, back in mid-September, 2001…

Since Tuesday

I'm starting to get used to the routine. I'm learning to expect that every day, something will make me cry. An image on the television, a paragraph in some newspaper story, a radio interview – there will be that instant when I am brought back fully into what happened, and my sense of sorrow and powerlessness will give way to sobs.

For some reason, though, the sobs go as quickly as they come. And when they have passed, I pick up where I had left off. I return to the newspaper or my coffee or the website work. I think again about that damn boutique owner whose check I can't deposit for fear that it might bounce. I think about those family issues that I thought, two months ago, I was done thinking about. I feed the cats; I avoid cleaning; I calculate the days until I really, truly have to do my laundry. I realize my fridge needs to be defrosted again. I plan to walk; I plan to read; I change the litterbox; I feed the cats (again).

And then it's time to cry. Again.

I've lived in Los Angeles for eleven years, but I lived in New York for fifteen. There is still the New Yorker in me. I guess she'll never go away. And even though I wasn't there this week (and I am selfishly relieved that I wasn't), I still feel such a strong connection that it's difficult to distance myself from the surreal pain and anguish that must be floating through that incredible city right now.

At Albertson's tonight, I picked up the People magazine that covered this week's tragedy. Generally, my picking up People at the grocery store has everything to do with how long the checkout line is and how slowly it is moving. Which is to say, I don't buy the magazine; I just borrow it. This issue was different. It was a sad souvenir, and I bought it. And when I got home, I tossed it on the kitchen table with no intention of reading it. I didn't want to. I had seen and heard enough. Besides, I had the website to work on. Besides...

Hours later, I opened the magazine, and I began to read stories that reiterated the news I had been watching and hearing about since Tuesday. I read every word about what happened in New York. I didn't read every word about the Pentagon tragedy. For some reason, it wasn't as newsworthy to me.

Growing up in Virginia, I was more exposed to D.C. than I was to New York, but D.C. never drew me in. I always felt it was too manipulated by its builders. It didn't really have an energy of its own -- only a purpose: to perform its duties as the nation's capital. A city with a job. How dull is that?

Then there was New York. Beckoning me with its diversity and spirit, and with its blessing that I might grow at my own pace, befriending – or not – anyone who stepped in my path. And I could live any way I wanted there – shyly or raucously (and I did both). The city would give me something beyond the space I needed; it would give me resilient perimeters.

I was able to grow and mature in New York because I always felt that, no matter what else was going on, the City was watching over me and would make sure I got home safely. It had power that way. And I can't help but believe that other New Yorkers felt the same. When such a formidable place is also so beautiful and so alive, you can't help but feel that it has the upper hand – that it has a connection to something bigger than yourself; that the City will make sure you get home okay...

And now there are rescue teams working around the clock, standing on several stories of rubble. Trying to believe, against all hope, that there's someone there. Someone still breathing, someone still believing that as long as New York is there, they'll get home okay.

But there's a part of New York that isn't there anymore. And that's what makes me cry.

Katie Gates

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sneak-Peek Saturdays: Excerpt Eleven

A NOTE BEFORE READING: I began sharing weekly excerpts from my novel, The Somebody Who, on June 26th. If you want to begin at the beginning, go here. If you want to read more sooner, head over to Amazon and purchase a copy. (There’s a button on the left that will take you there).


The drive back to Westchester is inexplicably bumper-to-bumper.

Evelyn, sensing Judy’s behind-the-wheel exasperation, tries to throw some sarcasm into the mix. “This would be a great time to have War and Peace on tape, huh?”

“Only if it’s narrated by David Sedaris.”

They laugh.

“You know, Evelyn, I’ve been thinking about something for the last quarter mile.”

“Oh my God, that’s a long time. This had better be good!”

“And maybe it’s just me getting all full of myself because I finally closed on a house last week, but have you thought about selling your place and buying something smaller? It might be easier on you—”

Evelyn doesn’t answer right away.

“I mean,” Judy continues, “you’ve got like, what, five bedrooms upstairs? And I know you have help with all the housework, so that’s not an issue, but it might be easier for you somehow if you weren’t living in such a big place. It might also be invigorating and healthy for you to set up a new place.”

Evelyn appreciates what Judy is saying, and she recognizes that Judy is not just talking about area-space. She is talking about history-space. Judy is thinking of Evelyn. But, what Judy doesn’t know is that two of those bedrooms are not simply rooms abandoned by their former owners. They are storage spaces. And they are absurdly and obscenely full.

“Evelyn?” Judy speaks again, somewhat timidly. “I haven’t said something inappropriate, have I?”

“Oh, no! Oh my God, no! It’s not that at all! Your suggestion is smart. And valid. And kind. It’s just that… Well, Judy… I’m a bit of a pack rat.”

Having made her confession, Evelyn looks over to Judy, whose right foot is so accustomed to the brake pedal, that routine, in itself, is becoming comical. But, the look on Evelyn’s face—as if being a pack rat were equivalent to selling crystal meth to kindergartners—puts Judy completely over the punchy edge. And when she begins to giggle uncontrollably, Evelyn does, too.


It is 7:30 when Judy finally drops Evelyn off at home, and Evelyn knows that Mrs. Krosky, who generally ends her Sunday stint at 7:00, is going to be displeased.

When Evelyn enters the kitchen, The Krosk makes no salutation. “Your husband is asleep with the television,” she says instead, as if the affair might be worthy of tabloid headlines.

Evelyn moves her glance toward the family room where, indeed, Davy is asleep, and the TV is very much on. “That’s fine,” she says to The Krosk. “Did he eat?”

“Of course he ate! Chicken and rice. Good protein. A salad. Good roughage.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Krosky. And – I’m very sorry I’m late. The traffic was ridiculous.” Evelyn wanders to the stove to see what leftovers might still be there for her to enjoy later. She opens the lid of a pot that is on low simmer. The smell is relaxing. She thinks yum, but she doesn’t express it. She doesn’t want to give Mrs. Krosky quite that much credit. “Good,” she says instead. “There’s more for me.”

“Yes. Don’t forget to eat, Mrs. Bennett.”

“I won’t,” Evelyn says, her tone revealing a certain amount of defensiveness at what might be condescending, or judgmental, on Mrs. Krosky’s part.

“Good. Then I’ll see you next weekend.”

“Next weekend. Thank you, Mrs. Krosky.”

Evelyn does not walk Mrs. Krosky to the door, but rather walks partly there with her. And when The Krosk is heading in the direction of the front hallway, Evelyn is heading to the dining room, where she pours herself a glass of wine. And before heading upstairs to one of those rooms that Judy made her think about, she checks in once more on Davy. He is still sleeping with the television. Positively scandalous! Evelyn thinks to herself, bemused and also sad.

* * *

to be continued on September 11th.

In the meantime, if you want to read a short piece about the back story, click here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And the BON Goes to...


We see a virtual ballroom in Hollywood. The crowd gathered and filling the seats is represented exclusively by little square-shaped icons. In some cases, a single face occupies the square. In other instances, it is a pair of faces representing two generations.

There’s also a tree (or the top of one).

A ladybug.

A bicycle.

The face of a dog.

THE ANNOUNCER calls out a name that not everyone hears (because, at the moment, not everyone is online). One of the squares appears shocked and surprised. Maybe even a little flustered.

Shaking her imagined forearms excitedly, she (the icon; the square) races to the stage. "Jeez!" she begins, clearly excited. "I didn’t even know my category was coming up, and here I am! Yeah, so, …uh, I wanna thank the academy. … my producers. … my agent. Oh wow… … Oh and yeah, Griffin! Vesta! Lotto! You cats at home… Go to bed already!"


What a crock of a fantasy.

Cats sleep 18 hours a day.

It is absurd to imagine any moment – no matter how lofty or ephemeral – that would justify telling cats to go to bed.

… I also belong to no academies.

I have no producers.

As for getting an agent? No one can say I haven’t tried.

But I still have something to thank: The First Amendment.

If you haven’t read it lately, you should.

But, if you haven’t read it lately, you also shouldn’t feel like a slacker.


Me? I just found it online (had to, since I mentioned it). And so – just now – I read it fully for the first time in God knows how long.

Not only did I read it, I copied it for all of us.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So there you have it.

… I had a grievance for many years. (Actually, I wouldn’t normally call it a “grievance,” but I’m trying to do a segue here, so work with me.) I was despondent at times because, although I love to write, no one in the world of ten-percenters seemed to care.

I entered the blogosphere reluctantly, my grievance on my shoulder.

I have since discovered a peaceable assembly.

It is called Words of Wisdom (appropriately, WOW), and the website, which was launched by two wise women named Pam and Sandy, celebrates blogs of substance.

Today, I am WOW’s Blogger of Note (BON), and per the BON tradition, I will share with you links to three previous posts.

I hope you have the time to take a look. And if you don’t have the time now, I hope you’ll come back.

*Technology is a subject I cannot get away from, and that’s because it concerns me… The technology is developed, after all. Us? Not so much. Here’s a piece I wrote after watching footage of a community parade: The Subtext of Texting.

*Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Click here.

*Alright then, Ikea?

I chose those three posts intuitively. Now, as I look at what I just typed, I fear you might think I’m all about shopping.

Don’t even go there.

There’s really not that much about shopping in those second two posts. They’re more about life… and the words that go into it.

I am grateful to the First Amendment for letting me share my life in words.

I am grateful to WOW for peaceable assembly.