Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Remembering Steve Hanlin, one of the finest people I’ve ever known

Last week, we lost one of the good ones, Steve Hanlin. Steve might not have been famous, but to me, he is a legend.

If I think of my friends as a baseball team, he was a utility player who breezed in to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Like the best of the all-time greats, he had the gift of anticipation, a talent for knowing exactly where to be and what to do without ever having to be asked. I detailed some of Steve’s most spectacular feats of friendship in this post I wrote nearly two years ago. At the time, I didn’t refer to him by his real name because, even though my blog wasn’t on his radar –he had lost his eyesight before that, and a multitude of other health issues had caused significant cognitive decline –he wouldn’t have wanted me to shine a spotlight on him for just doing what he thought a friend should do. Steve prioritized his close relationships. He didn’t need a 75 year-long Harvard study to tell him that’s what really matters in this life; he knew it intuitively and tended to those relationships every day, never realizing the extraordinariness of his deeds and devotion.

I won’t tell you much about Steve’s professional life because he wouldn’t have, either, but I know he was very good at his job as Director of Client Services for a software company. He had great business acumen, read people well, worked hard, and took pride in his work, so of course he succeeded. But he didn’t live to work; time in the office fueled the things Steve loved to do outside of it, like take pictures –he was a skilled photographer whose powers of observation translated into beautiful compositions, including a shot of the oculus of the Pantheon in Rome that graced my wall for years –travel, go to sporting events, and laugh.

It was easy to make Steve laugh, just one of the myriad ways his generosity manifested itself. He also loved to make other people laugh. That love, along with a healthy sense of adventure, led my pal to enroll in an improv comedy class years ago. If you’ve never seen or done improv, you might not know that one of the cardinal rules for participants is to say, “Yes, and…” to whatever comic scenario their partner has initiated, no matter how absurd. “Yes, and…” says you’re in this together and that you’ll go to any lengths necessary to help keep the proverbial boat afloat, even if the boat consists of more holes than wood.

I remember going to Steve’s graduation show at the Improv in DC, cracking up at my friend’s exploits, and thinking, If ever there were a person responds to life with “Yes, and…,” it’s Steve.

Life handed Steve the ultimate absurdity in the form of his health, and it wasn’t funny at all. It was hideously unfair, in fact, yet still my friend seemed to give it the improv treatment.

I knew Steve for nearly twenty of his 46 years on Earth and never once heard him gripe about the lousy scene he’d walked into. To the blood disease he had for decades, to the loss of his sight, to lymphoma, to all of it, he said, “Yes, and…” He never gave up. Steve wouldn’t have wanted praise for his bravery, nor would he have seen his fight as heroic, but that’s what it was, and that’s who he was. Steve was a wonderful husband to Dawne and father to Ava, giving them everything he could for as long as he could. And Ava and Dawne did the same for him. Speaking of Dawne, I don’t think she ever tried improv, but she would excel at it, too. As unselfish, brave, warm and funny as Steve, she always stayed in the scene with him, no matter what awful or dark turns it took, and she made sure their little family found the laughs wherever they could along the way.

I struggle not to focus on the injustice of it all, struggle not to cry and shake a fist at the sky in anger for my friend who didn’t get the life he deserved. But Steve would want me to be better than that. He didn’t think life owed him anything; he was glad and grateful for everything he had. The way he lived, in quiet and constant service of the people he loved, set an example that leaves a powerful and enduring legacy. I carry that with me, and whenever life hands me something lousy, I will think of my beloved friend and try my very best to say, “Yes, and…”

Steve and Dawne

One of my favorite moments with Steve and Dawne





My funny Valentines

I regard Valentine’s Day with a bemused detachment that borders on apathy.

It doesn’t make me feel any differently about my relationship status –like most days, it has moments when I wish I had a partner and moments when I’m glad I don’t. It doesn’t make me wish someone would buy me flowers; I buy them for myself every week because I like having them around. And it doesn’t impact my chocolate consumption, because I make heroic efforts to keep that consistently high. But there is one thing I look forward to every Valentine’s Day: the writing of the annual poem for the Roommates.

As regular readers know, when I was getting divorced in July of 2011, I moved in to my sister Lynne’s house and spent nine months living with my her, my brother-in-law, and their two kids, whom I affectionately dubbed the Roommates. Emily and Timothy, who were eight and six when I moved in, not only didn’t mind having their aunt as a boarder but saw it as a familial upgrade.

As an expression of my gratitude, I tried to lend a hand with the kids when I could, meeting them at the bus stop, helping with homework, or chauffeuring them to their activities, but no amount of pitching in for Emily and Timothy could come close to the support those two gave me. They helped me unpack and decorate my room, ran errands with me, and always kept me fully stocked with hugs and laughs. When I was at my lowest, they made me feel important and loved.

So when Valentine’s Day rolled around in 2012, I decided to show them some love: I wrote a goofy poem –an inside joke-laden riff on “Roses are red, violets are blue” –and taped it to the mirror in their bathroom so their day would start off with a happy surprise. A year later, I had moved into my own house but kept the tradition going, and it continues to this day.

Over time, the poems have seen a slight increase in structural, if not thematic, sophistication, migrating from “Roses are red” to limericks, to this example from 2015:

Ode to the Roommates

Roses are red (although some come in yellow),

But Cupid, he’s always a fat little fellow.

He flies through the air wearing wings, but no sneakers

Nor pants, shirts or socks, like some weird pint-sized streaker!

He shoots, a crime that would get both of you grounded

But not him. And his bow? Not so much as impounded.

Hearts are the things that he’s trying to hit

But I’m here to report that his aim, well, it’s ….(not the best).

He’s shot me a dozen times right in the gut

And arrows have left scars all over my butt.

But you’re not in his crosshairs, and I know the reason.

You are loved every day, every month, every season.

So while Cupid is out acting all totes cray-cray

Just relax, have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

I decided to up my game this year and introduce the kids to a classic by writing a version of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was a great idea until I realized that poem really puts the “long” in Longfellow, so for my and the Roommates’ sanity, I abridged it. The kids know I’m a few stanzas shy of a full poem, anyway. So without further ado, and with apologies to Longfellow, I bring you “Cupid’s Ride,” featuring a guest appearance by Buddy, the family dog. Oh, and if you find parts of it sophomoric, that means I overachieved, because the kids are in middle school.

Cupid’s Ride

Listen up, Roommates, and you shall hear

Of the antics of love’s puppeteer.

On February 14th of oh-seventeen

From north to south and in between

Cupid planned to careen, zip, and veer.


He said to his friend, “If lonely hearts stay

At home or go on the lam tonight,

Or snapchat or just fight against tooth decay,

Shooting my arrows will set it all right:

One in the can, or two in the knee,

Then I, high above in the soft clouds will be,

Ready to strike with a dose of my charm,

Through every street all about Franklin Farm,

Breaking in to those houses that have no alarm.”


“Now I’m off!,” he said, his iPhone in grip,

Ready to fly and to just let it rip.

With clouds creating a bit of a haze,

He decided to leave all the mapping to Waze.

To Wildmere he went, seeking Em Bem and Tim-o

(It might have been faster to hire a limo.)

His arrows were marked: one “her” and one “him-o,”

He prayed for light traffic – love dislikes delays!


Meanwhile, Buddy, through backyards and street,

Wanders and watches with eager ear

Till in the silence he can’t help but hear

A blunder –someone at the garage door,

The sound of cursing, the trip of feet,

And the sound of a cap, pried free of a beer

Ready to ease down a throat, with a pour.


Buddy climbed up the sofa, took his perch

On its nice cushions, made of soft thread,

To the top, on which he could rest his head;

He felt ready to snooze, then to lurch,

As the sounds around that nervous him made,

Who’s there? Dad? Mom? The cleaning brigade?

Atop those luxe pillows, all fleecy and fluff,

He thought, “Uh-oh, I’ve gone far enough.”

There he paused to listen and look down

Wait, has that pillow always been brown?

Oh look! Moonlight flowing over stuff!


Outside, in the garage, lurked the sprite,

Cupid, that is, not the stuff you drink;

Wrapped in silence and a bad stink,

Regretting that burrito last night.

With a most ill wind, off he went,

Creeping as if from Hades sent,

Not pausing to whisper, “Mind the smell!”

Next moment, Buddy, he felt the spell

Of the place and the hour- it wasn’t right;

Would he be blamed? Just maybe he might.

Then suddenly all his thoughts were bent

On a chubby angel inches away

In the spot where Buddy liked to play,

Wearing white, bow and arrow in hand-

Did he have some sort of nude attack planned?


Meanwhile, impatient to take aim and shoot,

Cupid had had it with this galoot.

Right in the door then walked Tim-o and Em:

The true targets of the pudgy brute,

Who gazed on the kids and said, “Ahem.”

Then, for flair, he stamped the earth

And turned to suck in his extra girth;

They watched him whip, then watched him nae-nae,

But when he grabbed his bow, Em said, “Hey, hey,

Could you put that down? You’re making me sweat.”

He said, “OMG, this ain’t nothin’ yet.”

And lo! Near the angel and off to his right

Came a fur flash blacker than the night!

Buddy sprang to action, without snarls or grins

And grabbed the arrow, then ran out of sight

With his new toy, thinking, “Hooray, love wins!”

What ‘good grief’ really means

Like most people, I loathe funerals. And as regular readers know, I’m not very good at them.

It’s not that I don’t know what to do or say: I give great hugs and I usually know the right words (sometimes I even sing them). But I just can’t make my upper lip stiffen, no matter how how hard I’m trying to avoid putting my grieving loved one in a position of having to comfort me. I blow it every time, and Saturday was no exception.

My friend T’s younger sister Gina passed away suddenly, just over a week ago, and her funeral took place on Saturday.

I became friends with T several years ago through work, where she’s as strong, successful, and poised as sales executives come. T’s one of four sisters with whom she’s close, and she’s not much older than I am. That makes her far too young to lose a cherished sibling, in my book. The pages of my book, in fact, depict a dreamy fairytale landscape where siblings are always around. I need those pages to look like that because my brother and sisters are my best friends. They make me laugh so hard my face hurts, they stand ready to hug me at my happiest and saddest times, and they love me no matter how badly I screw up (something I have tested, alas). I simply can’t imagine life without them. Until Saturday, I had refused even to let such an awful thought enter my brain. Saturday morning, however, that thought saw no need to ask for permission; it just barged its way to the front of my mind and heart as I approached T at the funeral home.

One look at my friend proved that absorbing a staggering loss on a balance sheet is one thing and in life another altogether. No kind of training prepares you for the latter, not even intellectual awareness that big love sometimes means big pain. The sorrow on T’s face telegraphed the enormity of her grief. I hated what it meant for her, and what it might mean for me someday. Overwhelmed, I was in tears long before I reached her. So much for putting my friend’s needs ahead of my own.

Then the ceremony got underway and I learned about Gina, a woman I’d never met but soon wished I had. Everyone who spoke mentioned her generosity of heart, the way she loved unconditionally and her capacity to love people through flaws most of us couldn’t abide. Her family members poked gentle fun at some of her quirks –evidently she loved to plan events, which meant you’d better head for the hills when she started writing the to-do lists–but to a person they painted a portrait of someone who was a nurturer by nature, a superwoman who took care of anyone who needed it. Gina didn’t let her loved ones get away with any crap, but they knew she always had their backs.

In describing Gina’s steadfast loyalty, no matter the circumstances, T’s son said, “I could be dead wrong, and I knew she’d be standing right there, being dead wrong too.” I laughed with the crowd while thinking that’s exactly the kind of aunt I aspire to be (minus the event-planning part). So whether she ever set out to or not, T’s sister set an example, even for a total stranger like myself.

(Speaking of setting great examples, I give very high marks to the way the family structured the service. A few relatives and friends had been selected to speak about Ts sister, and according to the program, had been allotted two minutes apiece. But we all know emotions can make it easy to lose track of time. So in a nod to one of the more redeeming feature of the Oscars, the minister notified the speakers that, if they were still talking at two minutes, the organist would begin to play. If they kept going, well, so would the organist, and he was gonna crank up the volume. I can only hope T starts to run meetings this way.)

No matter how hard you try to smile through the tears, it hurts like hell to say goodbye to someone who set an example like Gina clearly did. It’s like losing the coach who not only knew how it was done but taught you everything you ever knew, the one you counted on to keep you motivated when you faltered. The minister acknowledged that pain while exhorting all present to use Gina’s example to examine our lives and repair any dysfunctional relationships we might have.

I liked that call to action. I heard it as a reminder to live well not because life could end at any moment –we all know it could –but rather to honor the beautiful example someone left us by doing similar good works.

I left the funeral home in tears, but glad to have been there. Though I absolutely stink at funerals, I go because I believe it’s important to show up for your loved ones whenever you can. Never once have I regretted going, and every single time I walk away having learned something important. In getting up close to a loss that terrifies me, I realized T’s sister will live on not just in memory –a fickle and increasingly unreliable thing as the years pass –but in the actions of those whose lives she touched.

May we all live, and leave, so well.

When I saw my sister Lynne last night, I told her about the funeral. In an impressive display of sibling rivalry, she assured me she's going to go first.

When I saw my sister Lynne last night, I told her about the funeral. In an impressive display of sibling rivalry, she assured me she’s going to go first.




Moving on after losing true love: maybe it’s like riding a bike, because it sure isn’t like driving a car.

Last June I wrote a piece about how hard it is to let go of true love, especially when the relationship hasn’t gone sour.  Compounding the agony of what feels like a needless parting is the knowledge that what you’ve lost really can’t be replaced. You move on because you have to, but you’re pretty much just going through the motions and it’s hard to get excited about it.

And that’s exactly how I felt last June when I gave my wonderful 16 year-old nephew my 2004 Acura RSX. (Type S, six-speed, in case you’re wondering. A moment of silence, please.)

My friend Mary Ellen had read about my beloved car in my book and called to tell me she could relate only too well. She had owned a slightly earlier version of my car –she’s a stick-shift junkie like I am – and had also fallen in love with it. Offering fun, reliability and style, it was the total package and it kept her happy for years. Though Mary Ellen and her love had parted company quite some time ago, it sounded like her grief was still fresh.

“Have you moved on?” she wanted to know.

“I pretty much had to,” I told her. I can walk to the things that are vital to my existence, such as the beer garden; however, beer doesn’t buy itself, so I need a car to get to work. I explained to Mary Ellen that, because I had some time to plan for the loss of my car, I’d gone test driving months before the hand-off to my nephew and knew what I wanted. Sure, it felt a bit heartless to have a replacement lined up before the driveway had even gotten cold, but I forced pragmatism to override emotion.

When she asked, “So what’d ya get?” I knew she was really asking if I’d found anything that could possibly compare to the love I once had.

“I joined the Old Farts Club and bought a grey sedan,” I said with a sigh.

“Four doors,” she said, her tone appropriately funereal. “Do you like it?”

“It’s nice,” I said, my enthusiasm a little forced. Then I started pointing out its many great qualities, as I would if I were trying to defend choosing a banal boyfriend. “It’s still six speeds, but it makes so much more sense. The kids don’t have to cram into the backseat, it’s nice and comfortable on the road, and…”

“But do you love it?” Mary Ellen is a litigator, so she knows how to cut to the chase. She also knows you can’t talk yourself into romance. As I thought about how my new car, while roomier, didn’t have a front seat the Roommates could launch themselves forward with or a hatchback that accommodated my Christmas tree perfectly, I knew it didn’t stand a chance. We could never hope to make the same kind of memories my old love and I had, and it would be pointless even to try.

“I’m not in love,” I said, “but maybe it will grow on me.” I thought that sounded good, because plenty of old women had told me similar things happened with them and their husbands. But I know better. Numerous failed attempts have me convinced that love doesn’t slow-grow on me like a fungus, it hits me like a tsunami.

“Oh who am I kidding, Mary Ellen,” I said. “I settled.”



At least it's not a minivan.

At least it’s not a minivan.

Ninety percent of friendship is just showing up

[Posting the Aug. 29 entry a day late because I wound up without wi-fi…]

I try to live by the principle that ninety percent of friendship is just showing up. But I come up short sometimes, and that’s been particularly true with respect to a friend I’ll call Dave.

We met in the late 1990s at a birthday party for my dear friend LC and we’ve been pals ever since. We did typical friend stuff—grab dinner, go to the occasional concert, catch a ballgame –but he also showed up for me and all of his friends in ways that weren’t typical.

For example, when an on-and-off boyfriend broke up with me for the umpteenth time in 1999 and then left the area, Dave arrived bearing hugs and adult beverages. Instead of being praised for his kindness (something he certainly deserved but never expected), the only recognition he got on that occasion came from my cat, who left a hairball of gratitude on Dave’s shoes.

A few months later, when I’d been exiled to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for a three-week course, Dave again came to my rescue. He gave me frequent flyer miles so I could meet him in Chicago and pal around for a weekend. (Dave is a big baseball fan, so we found it necessary to sneak in to Wrigley Field during that trip.)

In September of 2002, Dave was among the crew who helped me load up the contents of my one-bedroom apartment into a U-Haul and move it to my parents’ basement and my friend LC’s house. Few acts will land you in my friendship Hall of Fame faster than volunteering to assist with a move. You earn extra points if you make me laugh while you’re at it, which Dave did by taking a recliner we were moving, plopping it in my parents’ front yard and taking a load off.

A couple of years later, Dave met Ann, a warm, kind, caring and hilarious person who made my friend happier than I’d ever seen him. I adored her, too, as much for her epic personality as the way she embraced his circle of friends.

Dave and Ann gave me a chance to show up for them in 2006 by asking me to do a reading at their wedding. I was so honored that I straightened my hair for the occasion. A few years later they became parents to a beautiful daughter and I took huge delight in their joy.

They took equally huge delight in mine in October of 2010, beaming at me as I spoke my wedding vows. When I left my husband less than a year later, they felt my heartbreak and were among the first to offer support, consolation, and wine.

Just as I was trying to piece my life back together, theirs began to disintegrate.

First, a blood disorder Dave had wrestled with his entire life claimed his sight, one eye at a time. Then came the pulmonary lymphoma, which my friend battled and beat, with Ann at his side the whole time. His bravery, her dedication and their determination astonished me.

Not long after that, what I believe would be labeled a neurological event (they’ve endured so many medical calamities in such a short time that I struggle to get the details right) landed him in assisted living in Loudoun County, where he remains and is likely to remain.

Ann shows up there every day. I hadn’t shown up at all.

I changed that today. Finally.

I was excited to see my friend but also a little nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I also worried that words might fail me, either because I didn’t have any to say at all –it doesn’t feel quite right to talk about your very normal life to someone whose existence has been turned upside down — or because the wrong ones might come flying out. “This is so unfair!” seemed particularly likely to break free of the thought bubble it’s been floating in for quite some time. And then I got annoyed at myself for making this visit more about me than him.

This jumble of thoughts may explain why, when I went to sign in, I identified myself as a resident instead of a visitor. On resolving that minor error, I headed up to Dave’s room and knocked on the open door to announce myself. Because he couldn’t get up to greet me, I asked if it was okay to hug him.

Dave still being Dave — which, selfishly, came as a huge relief  –he welcomed my chair hug and everything else about my visit. We covered comfortable subjects, like my family, our sports teams, and some of my travel adventures, and then I asked about his health. My questions came out clumsily, but Dave didn’t seem to mind. He seemed to know I wanted to understand as much as possible, and he wanted to help me.

Even though my friend now struggles to get out of a chair, he can still teach a master class in the art of showing up. And he reminded me that late is better than never.





“The One” might keep songwriters and Hallmark in business, but it makes me lose my mind

When I was in my early 20’s, I believed in soul mates—that person who connects with you profoundly on every level and seems to be your perfect complement –because I thought I’d found The One.

Chris and I met at UVA in the fall of our fourth year, and aside from being attracted to each other, we laughed at the same jokes, devoured the work of the same authors, loved to write, revered our families and were generally so much on the same wavelength that we could finish each other’s sentences. We felt so confident in our perfection as a couple that we talked openly about our future before we graduated and had even decided what we’d name our children. (I’ll wait while you reach for your barf bags.) Chris proposed to me in May of 1995, but we never made it to the altar. Maybe we complemented each other in some cosmic sense, but when it came down to the pragmatics of day-to-day life and cohabitation, we made as much sense together as peanut butter and ketchup. (Hope you still have those barf bags handy.)

With that whole episode, I threw The One right out the window, the toss aided by the fact that I met someone else who seemed an even better fit for me. He and I also ran headlong into the Big Brick Wall o’ Cohabitational Disaster. Right about now you might be tempted to make certain inferences about my relationship driving skills, but that’s not the point. After that relationship ended, it took quite a while but eventually I met someone else who complemented me well. He differed completely from the two who’d gone before him in the sense that he had a good 15 years on them, and we went together more like peanut butter and bananas than jelly, but it was still a great combination in my book. (Both of us had our hands on the wheel when the relationship car veered off into a ditch. Perhaps we saw the Big Brick Wall O’ Cohabitational Disaster looming in the distance.)

The emerging theme is that I don’t treat dating like a treasure hunt. Of the millions of eligible and age-appropriate straight men who occupy Earth, more than one will rate highly enough on my personal sliding scale of compatibility to make a good partner. I don’t expect that person to “complete” me, as if I were missing a limb, and I don’t look to him to fulfill my every relationship need. My relationships with friends and family members provide an essential dose of perspective and help me stay balanced. So when it comes to prospective partners, I look for someone I’m attracted to, who more often than not improves my daily existence in ways large and small, who makes me laugh easily, and who gives me a safe place to be myself, with all the good and bad that implies. (And vice-versa, of course.) I see that person not as The One, but as the Plus One.

I don't mind if The One lives in here, as long as it leaves me alone.

I don’t mind if The One lives in here, as long as it leaves me alone.



Host a pop-up art show and you’ll get heart, soul, and maybe even a tug-of-war

On February 13, 2014, I hosted a pop-up art exhibit to showcase the work of my friend Bud. Bud and I met through our mutual pal, Philippa. We happen to live around the corner from each other, so we got in the habit of taking long walks on the weekends.

Bud and I talk about anything and everything during those walks, which is why I love them. During a particularly cold stroll in January, Bud mentioned that he’d been working on a series of pieces that all related in some way to the heart. He hoped to have an exhibit around Valentine’s Day, but because he works full-time and squeezes his personal art into his limited non-work hours, Bud hadn’t had time to contact galleries or rent an exhibit space.

My little house more closely resembles a tool shed than an art gallery, yet that did not stop me from saying, “Why don’t you do it at my place?” Aside from being a cherished friend, Bud has lent huge support to me and the entire Yank tribe, so I wanted to return the favor.

“Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?” he asked.

“Of course!” I said, even though I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I wasn’t all that worried. If I’d managed to join two people in something resembling holy matrimony, surely I could figure out how to host a pop-up art show.

I know a few artists and have observed some common tendencies among them, by which I mean they have creative genius to which I can’t even begin to aspire, yet they can’t plan their next trip to the restroom. With that in mind, I took charge of food and beverage and left exhibit design to Bud, giving him relatively free rein over the first floor of my home. I cleared bookshelves and stashed photos and then got out of the way so he could hammer and hang. After years of joking that houses aren’t meant to be museums, I was watching him turn mine into one. And I mainly loved it.

In the days just before the exhibit, I, being a corporate type, said, “Are you going to have a price list or something?” Bud, being an artist, made a face like a squirrel trying to understand iambic pentameter. “You know, in case people want to buy your art?” I said.

Like so many artists, Bud makes art for the sheer love of it. The idea of recovering his costs didn’t even occur to him, even though the invitation he’d posted on Facebook had generated an immediate and enthusiastic response from both his friends and mine. He promised to make a list of the works and their prices if he had time.

And perhaps that’s what he was doing at 6 p.m. on Friday, February 13, as guests began to stream into my home. Based on my prior experience with artists, I should have known to give Bud a decoy start time to improve the chances that he might be present when his show began. But free food and booze generally fosters a healthy amount of patience in most guests, so his delay didn’t seem to faze anyone.

Bud arrived about 20 minutes later, and soon the house was packed with people. It thrilled me to see the reception my friend was getting. I was even happier when another of my friends told me he came to the party specifically to buy a particular painting and had let Bud know. Love was in the air, or so I thought.

I later realized the more appropriate idiom was “all’s fair in love and war,” because two other friends of mine wanted the same painting. Unaware that it had already been spoken for in a sense, they offered cash on the spot and Bud accepted. The first friend left in a huff, though I was so busy replenishing food and drinks that I was oblivious to the circumstances surrounding his departure until he sent me an apologetic text moments later. Recognizing that I had a crisis on my hands, I took immediate steps to resolve it by pouring myself a glass of wine.

The show went on and proved an enormous success, but the conflict between artist and thwarted purchaser, friends whom I adore, remained. I’d have preferred to pull a Switzerland and stay neutral, but I was the link between the two and wound up ferrying communications between them, like a modern day homing pigeon.

I wasn’t willing to keep that up for too long, though, and fortunately I didn’t have to. They soon cut me out and decided the best solution was for Bud to make more art for my friend to buy. It worked out perfectly in the end, and all it took was a little heart.

The piece that left a mark...

The piece at the heart of the controversy…

Sometimes You Eat the Bear, Sometimes the Bear Eats You…A Birthday Tribute to Dad

Today is my father’s 72nd birthday, and I thought it would be the perfect time to write about him.  This post, which my brother L.J. wrote, came about as a result of a lengthy exchange the two of us had about baseball.

Those of you who haven’t met Dad might not know that his passion for baseball ranks third, just behind his first two loves: family and pasta.  Dad has always had a gift for baseball (and hilarious sayings, like “Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.”).  He loved playing the game himself and then coaching and watching as my brother evolved into a talented right-hand pitcher who landed an athletic scholarship at Georgia Tech in 1993 and then got drafted by the Braves in 1998. L.J. made it to AAA before a combination of circumstances, injuries chief among them, compelled him to leave the game in 2003.

Over the years I had wondered whether my brother found it difficult to tell Dad that he was leaving baseball. I had occasion to ask L.J. about it recently via email. (Since he’s a father to newborn and a toddler, I don’t call him.)

I wish I’d have posed the question sooner, because my brother, who’s as thoughtful and insightful as he is athletically gifted, gave me an answer that deserves to be read by more eyes than mine.  Here it is:

I can wholeheartedly say, ‘No’, I wouldn’t have worried about disappointing Dad had I walked from baseball on my own had injuries not factored into the decision.  What I learned about Dad, and one of the things I didn’t understand until I looked from the end back to the beginning is that it was never about Dad.  (Think in terms of The Sixth Sense, where you live it all but then have an epiphany that allows you to rewind and understand why things happened and, in this case, why Dad acted the way he did towards me.)

Dad never forced me to play but instead taught me how to play right from an early age.  He tried to protect me from pitching too much, sheltering me until one fateful day in AA (little league) when our team was out of pitching.  Our coach knew I could probably help the team and Dad reluctantly agreed.  He never encouraged me to practice but rather went to work early and was home at 4:30pm if I wanted to hit after he changed out of his work clothes (which we did just about every day).  He never mistook pain for soreness when it came to my arm.  He never told me how much his arm hurt either. He brought out a toughness I didn’t know I could possess when I played after breaking my nose before one game –we didn’t know it was broken at the time—and in another hit left-handed to protect the stitches over my left eye when I was supposed to be letting the cut heal.

Even more importantly, Dad seemed to know what role to play depending upon where I was in my “career.” He encouraged me in my earliest days and when it appeared I had talent and drive, he became like that trainer in the gym you could hate during the workout but love when you stepped on a scale or looked in a mirror and started to see results.  When I played in the Junior Olympics, he became an ultimate cheerleader.  And when a baked potato covered in cheese preceded my hottest hitting game my senior year of high school he called me before each subsequent game and asked if I’d eaten one until my hitting streak subsided.

When I got to college he knew how much the competition improved and he encouraged me even more; he rarely critiqued me and most importantly, he was there… often standing by the first base line with a piece of luggage after getting a flight to Atlanta, taking the subway, and walking to the field.  When I had Tommy John surgery to reconstruct my elbow, he encouraged me again and marveled at what could be rebuilt.  When I got to pro ball, there were no critiques, just more encouragement and support in setting goals, goals he knew I could achieve and ones that could help  fulfill my dream.

When the wheels fell off and it seemed just about everyone left my side, he didn’t.  Neither of us knew what to say sometimes, but words didn’t matter, presence did.  So, I believe what Dad wanted for me was what I wanted for me.  Why he wanted it for me, I believe, is because he saw a way to potentially avoid a 9-5 life (although for him it was probably a 6:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. life to support me).  I believe Dad trusted me and even though I was naïve at times he raised me to make my own decisions… and live with them.  Therefore, I truly believe I could have left baseball at any time and not disappointed Dad, as I would have had a reason, and he would have believed and supported it.

My brother got it exactly right, and I couldn’t possibly say it better.  Happy birthday to our dad, a man who has never been about himself. We love you.

Here’s our man, coaching and supporting, as usual. I hope they ate the bear this time.


Let Us Pray, and Heaven Help Us

I used to say my law degree was my greatest professional achievement. Not anymore, folks. The ol’ Juris Doctor lost its vaunted status today, when I became a woman of the cloth.

No, I did not join a convent (though given my love life, it’s not all that far-fetched a scenario). I got ordained as a minister in the Universal Life Church so I could perform the wedding of my dear friends Michelle and Ken. The ULC’s motto is “We are all children of the same universe,” because “pay us and we’ll make you a minister” sounds too tacky.

I joke, but the ULC has standards. It’s not one of those faux churches that thinks nothing of ordaining, for example, a housecat. To become a ULC minister, you must at the very least have opposable thumbs and a Visa, because otherwise you’ll never make it through the rigorous online application process.

Michelle and Ken didn’t expect to ask me to marry them any more than I expected to be asked.  Their wedding has been scheduled for months and they had our friend Tim all lined up, ordained and ready to preside. Unfortunately, Tim got called away for a family emergency today, and Ken and Michelle hadn’t thought to designate an understudy.

I was a natural choice to fill in due to my vast wedding experience.  I’ve been in sixteen weddings and played all sorts of different roles. (I’m not even going to count the one where I was a bride.) I’ve served as a bridesmaid, played the piano and organ, read biblical passages, and juggled fire.  Of course, the fire juggling wasn’t so much an official duty as the natural consequence of being unwilling to let go of my drink when the sleeve of my polyester bridesmaid dress got too close to a lit candle.

Anyway, I jumped at the chance to officiate for my friends. Because Michelle and Ken’s wedding is this Saturday in Seattle, I had to act fast. I submitted my application to the ULC at 4:23 p.m. and held my breath.  After a nanosecond of agonizing deliberation, a committee comprised entirely of zeroes and ones informed me that I was official.

I needed to get my credentials immediately, so I purchased the “Emergency Minister’s Package,” whose unfortunate name makes it sound like I bought a set of backup clergy privates.  Had I not been pressed for time, I might have continued shopping at the ULC Minister Store, which sells, among other things, the popular “Ministry-in-a-Box,” along with “Doctor of Metaphysics” certificates.

Anyway, I’m official. As a result of my new status, I am also now qualified to perform baptisms, and funerals, and I can even start my own congregation. So from here on out, please feel free to call me “Irreverend,” and yes, I do take American Express.

I wonder if it costs extra to change it from “Susan Smith”?


Thanks, and Giving

[On this day meant for giving thanks, the regularly scheduled splat has been hijacked by sincerity. What can I say, maybe Philippa is rubbing off on me.  But don’t worry, the splatting will resume tomorrow.]

When I made the decision to end my marriage after just ten months, I knew my friends and family would have questions.  I braced myself for, “Are you sure you tried everything?” and “Did you really give it your best shot?”

Sure enough, as soon as I made my news public, questions came pouring in.  But not a single person asked me if I’d tried hard enough.  Instead, the people who love me flooded me with countless variations of one simple question: “How can I help?”

It came to me in forms like:

  • Do you need a place to live?
  • Would you like me to listen?
  • Can I remind you that you’re special and wonderful?

The very people who didn’t wait for me to seek their help didn’t wait for me to answer their questions, either.  They simply gave.  Their acts of generosity showed up as:

  • A finished basement to live in and the world’s best (and youngest) roommates to keep me company
  • Shoulders that shook as we cried together
  • A hilarious getaway to Gettysburg to ride horses and scramble for a place to stay when the TraveLodge turned us away
  • Ears that listened without fatigue and with complete faith in me
  • Lovingly prepared dinners
  • A lockbox and real estate advice that helped me survive For Sale By Owner
  • Couches and guests rooms in all kinds of places
  • Phone calls
  • Letters and cards
  • A “Do-Over” 40th surprise party
  • Laughter, in unlimited quantities

When I tried to express my gratitude for this unsolicited outpouring–the thing that made the worst time of my life somehow also the best — my loved ones told me they were thankful for me, for our relationship, and for a chance to give back.

As a result of that experience, I’ve begun to equate gratitude with generosity.  The best way I, or anyone, can show appreciation for what we have –walls and a roof that shelter us, clothes that warm us, food that fuels us, and, most important of all, relationships that sustain us – is through generosity, especially of spirit.  Give things that no one could ever have too much of, like smiles, the benefit of the doubt, encouragement, your full attention, and your gratitude.  Give whatever you can, however you can, as often as you can, simply because you can.