Monday, September 30, 2013

The Fixer

In the early hours of this morning, as I was searching through our still dark apartment for the squishy football my daughter needed for her school music project (don't even ask, that's a whole post unto itself), I was reminded of a woman I worked with at ABC for years, who I always considered "the fixer." It was not any sort of untoward "fixing." It was simply that if there were any sort of problem or crisis, she was the one who could fix it. Whether it was a writing inconsistency (she knew stories and characters inside and out), or an editing snafu (she had her hand in all the parts of post production), or just a coworker's need to leave work in time to make a doctor's appointment or school play, she was on the case.

As I have ventured from place to place in my freelance life, I have come to realize how truly rare this was. In most places, people have fairly defined job descriptions. Their ability to jump in and fix a crisis (much less avert a series of others) has boundaries. The "fixer" I knew worried more about solutions than about boundaries. There never really seemed to be any thought in her mind that a problem couldn't be solved, and because of her, I edited better shows, had the clips I needed to play back in the studio, and was there for many, many of my children's milestone moments.

This morning, as I was on my hands and knees with a flashlight, searching for that football, I wished I had my friend, "the fixer" searching with me. I would have been a lot more confident that I'd find it. We all could probably use a "fixer" in every aspect of our lives, but few of us are lucky enough to have one, even for a short time.

When my daughter got up for school, the football was sitting on the breakfast table waiting for her, as if there had never been any doubt that it would be found.

I guess maybe along the way, probably out of necessity, I've learned a little--or a lot--about being a "fixer" myself.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Time in a Bottle

Despite being largely a morning person, I have become accustomed to blogging at night. When I first started this endeavor, I was spending so many hours at home during the day, that the ideation, and often even the writing, could be done by supper. But with the advent of work (at least sometimes) and with the realization that some inspirations take all day to find, the blog has become a post-dinner (and sometimes post-homework help) activity, which, some nights, is just not ideal for a morning person.

Luckily, there are days like today, when, having enrolled one of my kids in a several-hour, far-enough-away-to-be-stuck-
there, activity, I am granted a big writing opportunity early in the day. "Time in a bottle," as it were. And what kind of morning person would I be if I didn't take advantage of that? Now, that's good time management.
For years, coworkers have asked me how I managed raising three kids while working hours that were often quite long. I would list things like a good husband and good child care, but it all really began with a ready sense of humor and good time management. Cooking pasta for lunches could be accomplished in the same amount of time as a quick shower. Filling out health or other school forms became a good task during bus and train rides. Buying last-minute necessities could be a stop on the way home. The list goes on. Time management is not just about the amount of time that you have. It's about your genuine belief that the things you have to do can, in fact, be done in the bottle of time that you have.
Freelancing has definitely challenged my time management perspective. While I may often have more time, the fact that the placement of that time changes daily means that the "bottle" is an object in constant motion. But, I figure, if I have managed all the pieces all of these years, I will manage this one too. With "time in a bottle" and my sense of humor as the cap.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Slowing Down

Last weekend, I acquired the video of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, a Muppet Christmas special that debuted in my childhood. This morning, as my daughter and I settled in to watch it, I wondered if it would hold up. I mean, many things we remember with great nostalgia don't. Often, what seemed brilliant to us when we were kids just doesn't make the grade when we are grownups.

It started well--an intro by Kermit the Frog is always a good sign. The pace was slow, though, and I thought for sure I'd be losing my viewing buddy. (It's amazing how the pace thing is true for almost anything from my childhood. Clearly, computers and the pace of media in general have decimated our attention spans!).

The thing is, a good story, a good mix of funny and warmhearted music, and, of course, a Muppet sensibility all go a long way to making something timeless. While I don't know if I will be watching the video over and over (as I would like to have done as a child, when specials then aired just once a year, and you couldn't watch things like How The Grinch Stole Christmas and It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown every day), I can definitely say I'd watch it again. It wasn't just a throwback to childhood--it made me laugh and cry as an adult too.

So, it turns out, even in these days of blogs and tweets and chats (in which we don't even slow down to spell out every word), what was meaningful to me at a slower pace several decades ago can still be meaningful. It doesn't mean I will slow down my pace on a daily basis--there will be emails to read and news to post and..... 

It just feels good to know I can still slow down when I want.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Best Laid Plans

I thought I would be out late swapping stories with a bunch of former coworkers. I'm curled up with a nasty cold.

I thought I would go from soaps to children's television (well, maybe more like I wanted to go from soaps to children's television). No children's television yet.

I thought the end at ABC would lead to a blip of time off and then the start of a new work home. The blip was more like a bliiiiiip, and I'm not sure you can find that kind of home more than once.

I thought I would look for new jobs and find new jobs. I have looked, but in more cases than not, the jobs have been not the ones I looked for, but the ones that found me.

I thought I would shrivel up and die from unemployment. I am still very much alive, and, while there are days of shriveling, there are also many days when I have discovered parts of life that I'd barely been aware of, and many parts of me that I never had time to see.

Aah, best laid plans....

Thursday, September 26, 2013


I wish I could play the piano. My husband plays for hours, just for fun. Maybe it's that connection between doing math and reading sheet music, or maybe it's that he kept practicing when he was a teenager and beyond. Whatever the reason, he can play pretty much any song for which we have sheet music. My kids play because we have insisted on lessons and insisted on practice. I can play just the couple of ditties I know by heart from my childhood. And my version is with the fingering of someone hunting-and-pecking as if on a typewriter.

I could write the whole thing off to lack of discipline in my own childhood, but that really wouldn't be telling the whole story. While it is true that I didn't practice much when I was 10, I suspect that my husband didn't either. He chose to practice in earnest as a teenager and as a grownup, enough so his knowledge both of the score-reading and of the hand positions would be automatic, and that is why he can play now.

Aah, practice. We are told that "practice makes perfect," and while that may not be quite true, practice is definitely a step toward accomplishing what we want. It is the way we learn new skills for a new job market. It is how we get past our difficulty introducing ourselves at a network event. And it is how learn to do things we never really knew we should want when we were kids. It's not easy. Much as we might yell at our kids to practice when it comes to doing  so ourselves, we'd rather be chatting or making dinner or checking out the newest app. And that is why, rather than playing the piano, I am still saying "I wish I played the piano."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lessons From High School

When you were in high school, did there always seem to be kids who got the best grades without even trying? Who could be cheerleaders or athletes, who could get the lead in the school play the first time they tried out, who never even had to deal with problem skin? And you wanted to hate them sometimes, but mostly you just wanted to have their good fortune.

While brainiac cheerleader prom queens are the stuff of high school, most of us never really get past the feelings that we had then--the memories of trying so hard and yet always falling short of the kids who, it seemed, could have it all without seeming to have to work for it, while we seemed to feel every struggle. And somehow, those people (or others like them) continue to populate our lives. Even if we have "found ourselves," and have enjoyed our own successes, it's remarkable how quickly we can go back emotionally to that time when we just wanted to be one of those people.

It never really goes away--envying those for whom things seem easier. And yet, how many of the things we can do now are things we learned well because we had to struggle? How much more adaptable are we now because things didn't come easily then?

I was never that brainiac cheerleader prom queen (and I don't think I ever really wanted to be), and most days, I feel as though I'm still fighting the good fight, either for myself or for my kids. And if, along the way, I can teach them to be fighters, to know that some of the greatest successes weren't meant to come easily, then I will have turned that high school experience into something useful (besides just a ridiculously indelible memory).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

16 Bars

No, I have not been hopping from place to place for cocktails. I'm talking about music bars here. Anyone (take, for instance, my theater fanatic daughter) who auditions for musicals knows exactly what "16 Bars" means. It is the measurement of the very short period of time you have to prove to complete strangers that you are more worthy than the 358 or 3586 other people they will see of being in their musical. "16 bars" is tiny. In what most of us would consider just a snippet of a song, the musical theater auditionee has to pour every bit of personality, musicality, and emotion he or she has. The moment is over practically before it begins, but it is a crucial moment nonetheless--a make or break moment.

While most of us don't have to "sing for our supper," we are all called upon to sell ourselves quite often, and in many situations, we don't really have any more than "16 bars." The parallel is obvious when we go on job interviews, but it also applies when meeting new coworkers or new teachers or new friends. People (not unlike casting directors) make quick decisions when they meet people--does this person fit, does this person move me, can this person handle what needs to be handled, even the low notes?

As the singer does with the 16 bars, we must tell our story efficiently (and, for us, without benefit of music), because the moment is over practically before it begins. When I watch my daughter find just the right 16 bars for each audition, I am reminded that our "16 bars" can change every day--they just need to represent us well--and quickly.

So, whether you're a singer or not, go ahead--choose your "16 bars" wisely. And once you've picked them, give it everything you've got, and sing 'em out!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Improv-ing Through Life

I have found myself surrounded by improv these past few weeks--a friend I know who performs with an improv troupe, a show for which I interviewed, theater tickets I won, my kids doing a post-dinner standup act. Improv is everywhere. Which made me think about how much of our day-to-day life is just an improv exercise.

While there are many people with 5-year plans and daily (down to the minute) planners, I have never counted myself as one of those people. I follow paths as I come upon them, and my daily plan is subject to change at any moment--there's just too much out there to walk by it all. Often, as I'm following a path, I find that I am teaching myself what I need to know as I go. It's the adaptability that's practically my trademark. Really, though, it's not just adaptability, it's improv, just not on a stage, and not necessarily for laughs.

I can hardly picture myself on stage as part of an improv troupe, but I can say that my ability to roll with the punches has landed me in the middle of some very funny stories over the years. Improv, in life, as on stage, is about listening, and reacting, and keeping our minds open. It's often when we let go of our set plans, when we open ourselves to a little improv, that we really observe what's going on around us. And when we really observe, it's amazing how clever and resourceful (like those improv troupes) we can be.

I can say from experience, it doesn't take stage presence to improv through life. It just takes an open mind and a good ear. And in exchange, you end up with a little smart, and a whole lot of funny. Sounds like an improve--I mean, improv-ment--to me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Breaking All The Rules

When I was working full-time, I had a babysitter, no questions asked. There came a time when the babysitter went from being all-day to just after school, but either way, close to 52 weeks a year, as a rule, if it was a weekday, there was a babysitter.

There has not been a babysitter at our home every weekday for quite some time now. Now I am freelancing, and if I have learned anything about freelancing over the last two years, it is that freelancing changes all the rules, in fact, basically eliminates most of them.

Freelancing means that grocery shopping may or may not need to be done on the weekends. Freelancing means that today I may consider myself available for next week's school potluck, but by the time the potluck rolls around, I may not be available anymore. Freelancing means that I might plan to put a child on the bus in the morning, and find myself scrambling to find someone who can do it when my call time for work changes the night before. And freelancing means that some weeks, I feel good about paying the bills, and others, it's barely a possibility. If we live our lives by any kind of rules, freelancing basically changes them all.

Luckily, I have never been a person completely bound by rules; however, playing with virtually none is something that is taking time to get used to. Each time that I begin to feel as though a gig could last awhile, I suddenly find myself back being the mom who's always there for pickup. And once I've gotten used to being that mom, I suddenly disappear, once again unavailable for lunches, coffees, and school events.

I have a feeling I will get used to the freelance life--eventually, at least. It does afford me free hours (even if I can't necessarily choose which hours they are), and it keeps both me and the bank account active and on our toes, which is good for me, and for my family. And let's face it, in my profession (and in many others these days), freelancing is just how it is. My twenty-some odd years full-time were the exception, not the rule, so if now, I am learning new rules (or how to live with no rules), perhaps it is just an education long overdue. And since there are no rules, I figure I have a pretty good chance of passing.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fighting Through

Today I sent my daughter to musical theater class with a hurt foot. Bad Mommy? Perhaps. But the foot wasn't broken, it just hurt. And I figured, even if she couldn't dance, she could sing. And watch the dancing to help her for next time.

Part of my decision was in the heat of the moment--we were scheduled to go, it was time to go, we were going. But as I thought about it after I dropped her, I realized it was actually what I try to teach my kids every day, both by word and by example. There are absolutely circumstances that sideline us--illness, failure, loss. But there are also circumstances that, while they THREATEN to sideline us, are not as dire. It is those circumstances that teach us about fighting through. And fighting through is probably one of the most important life skills a person can have. Fighting through helps us face rejection when we are looking for work, or frustration when we don't do well on the test we studied so hard for. Fighting through gets us through the day when we wake up with aches and pains and just want to stay in bed. Fighting through keeps us strong even when people try to take away our confidence. It's not always possible to fight through the challenges, but when we can, we are reminded that we are stronger than we think, and we keep from missing out on some great things.

My daughter's foot may not be better, but I see a kid who is stronger now than she was before I dropped her at class. And I really do think that's because she fought through it (and, of course, got to sing in the process).

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thanks, But No Thanks

Today I received two "thanks, but no thanks" emails. And, as far as I'm concerned, it was a good day.

Why, you wonder, would I consider rejection a GOOD thing? I don't. I would have liked those gigs. What made it a good day was that the senders sent the emails. They gave me answers. Or direction. Or perhaps closure.

When you send that very personalized letter and very tailor-made resume out into the world, you are really sending a little bit of yourself. No matter how thick-skinned you try to be, putting yourself out there leaves you essentially standing outside the door, hand poised to ring the bell. And let's face it, it's exhausting to stand with your hand poised. The moment you are told either to come in or to go away, there is a relief of sorts. While you obviously want the "come in" option, even the "go away" lets you put your arm down. Not only can you rest the arm, you can continue on your journey, wherever the journey takes you (sometimes even back to that same door).

So, my journey continues, with the path still to be determined, but at least some of the questions answered.

All thanks to "thanks, but no thanks."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Challenges of Working in Television

One of the most challenging things about working in television is that some of the people with whom you work end up in the news. When the news is good, that makes it kind of fun. Unfortunately, good, complimentary news isn't always enough to sell papers or go viral, so more often than you'd like, you're reading things about co-workers that none of us would like said about our friends.

I suppose that the people who (unlike me!) are in highly visible positions--in front of or behind the camera--know what they are in for. And I suppose that, like any of us, they learn to write off the negative and focus on the work. I can't help it--it still bothers me that they have to.

Today, I woke up to a friend's posting of an article that criticized the online soap endeavor, and named names along the way. It made me sad. And angry. I was on the front lines (or at least in the front row of the control room), and I saw how hard so many people worked to make that endeavor happen each day. How much heart they--we--put into it, and how much people gave up to see it through. Whether it will ultimately succeed or not long-term may remain to be seen,  but to play the personal blame game--that's just something I can't stomach.

There may come a time when I'm "out front," and I'll learn to deal with it too. For now, I can at least speak up. Which I get to do here.

Just one of the challenges of working in television.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

History Repeats Itself. Or Does It?

As you walk around, do you notice things that were "exactly like this" the last time you were working or "exactly like this" the last time you were out of work? We are conditioned to see similarities--it is one of the ways we find some sense of security in our lives. If something is just like what we've done before, we feel more equipped to handle it, so we are just begging to find history repeating itself.

When you look closer, however, things are rarely exactly the way they were. While it may seem that history repeats itself, circumstances are not often exactly the same. Even if your own experiences of working or being out of work or walking certain paths are just the way they were before, the people around you rarely stand still, meaning that the picture is different. While I may still be a freelancing person, I am not the SAME freelancing person I was a year ago. While I may find myself in some of the same situations, how I handle them will be different--colored by the experiences of the past twelve months.

So, while every day, I see and feel things that remind me of my history, history is not really being repeated. With any luck, each day there is NEW history being made.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Today, I had the job of laying out food for a parent gathering. The food had been chosen by another parent--I just had to arrange it. Not so complicated, yet, in my mind, the whole event--and I--would be judged on the placement of the cheese and crackers. I did a reasonable job, making sure people on each side of the table could reach a grape or a piece of bread, and providing stacks of plates and napkins in strategic spots. A respectable presentation, if I do say so myself.

Turns out, it was a different kind of presentation that really made the event a success.

In my daughter's French textbook, in the section on simple conversations, a commonly used phrase is "Je vouz presente," or "may I introduce." As good as the food I arranged might have been, it was the other "presentation," the introductions all around, that made the people want to come back for more. A few nicely arranged plates of cheese may have brought the group together, but it was the "Hi, I'm Tracy," and the "I'd like you to meet" that made tonight a success.

Years ago, someone told me that how well you did your job was not nearly as important as whether you were a person with whom others would want to spend the long work days. And that's what this presentation thing is all about. You can have the most attractive, well-arranged plates of cheese and crackers in the world, but if you can't invite someone new to partake, and in the process, introduce yourself and make that new person feel welcome, the presentation is nothing more than a pretty picture. And pretty pictures like that--they don't last.

They just get eaten.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Well Done" Calendar

My daughter proposed today that if you have a good Monday, whatever happens the rest of the week can't be that bad. Interesting thought, but I know better. I've had many a good Monday that led into a simply awful week.

Despite my previous experience, I am starting to ponder her idea. I mean, how nice would it be to know that as long as Monday was good, you'd be okay for the rest of the week? And perhaps it's not about the rest of the week being perfect, but rather, your being able to refer back to your fantastic Monday when the rest of your week goes South, which is not so different from my wanting to accomplish something early in the day, so that if all else fails, I can know I at least accomplished something.

The question is, how do you hold on to that good Monday for 96, or even 144 hours? (And if your Monday is lousy, how do you make sure THAT doesn't stay with you for 4-6 days?) Many of us keep calendars of all the things we have to do, but how many of us keep calendars that note the things we HAVE done, so that when we face the rest of our week, we can see our Monday (and whatever day) accomplishments, as well as all the mundane but necessary tasks that are accomplishments as well?

Now, I'm not so good at keeping an up-to-date "To Do" calendar, but this "Well Done" calendar  might actually work. Unlike the "To Do" version, it could make me feel good, not guilty. And probably better than the "To Do," it might help drive me forward through a week, so that, as my daughter was proposing, a good Monday could really kick off a good week.

I think I'll give this a try--hey, if it doesn't work, it will be "scientific" evidence that the Monday theory makes no sense. Stay tuned for updates...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Open Call

My daughter goes on auditions. Not that many auditions if you are a full-time working actor, but a fair number for a full-time high school student.

These days, she can often go it alone, but today, she and I attended the open call for NBC's The Sound of Music. For hours, we stood in an organized crowd of mostly girls, some boys, and a whole lot of nervous parents. The percentage game makes it pretty clear that most of the crowd will walk away with the experience, but no new role to go with it, and yet, we continue to do it. After all, as you'll hear in many different ways, you'll never know if you don't try (aka, "you've gotta be in it to win it," "you can't win if you don't play," etc.)

Auditions may be a very specific process, but they're really not so different from most of the challenges we face in life. We are judged every day, not just on our ability or preparation, but also on our appearance and on that vague criterion known as our "fit." We can rail against being judged on any of these things, but if we want to do more than just sit in our own little world and read or surf the Internet, we have to be prepared for it, and if we want to move forward in what we do, we actually have to embrace the process of being judged.

Our trip to the open call left us both a little tired, but happy for the experience. Who's to say if there will be any more result than that. But, at least for today, we embraced the process. We were in the game (whether "in it" will win it or not). And as long as she and I can continue to appreciate the game--win or lose--I am open when called.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Break Fast

Yom Kippur is over for another year. A day (starting last night) of examining our lives, trying to think about the past year and toward the coming one. A day to say we're sorry and figure out how to do better. And through all of it, to refrain from eating for twenty-four hours.

When it came to writing last night, I had this realization that posting just wouldn't feel right on this day of separating from daily things. Problem is, now it feels as though there's this imperative to convey something profound from my day of fasting and introspection, but I have no more answers than I did a day ago.

One of the trickiest things, I find, about religious observance is the translating of observance into meaningful everyday practice. I sit in services with my kids, trying to impress upon them the importance of the holiday. I fast for as many hours as I am able. But once the service is over, and the fast has been broken, are we any different than we were before it all started?

Perhaps, the effects can be found not just in radical changes, but in the little differences. In the time we get to spend with friends, just because it's a holiday. In the hours we spend in the same place as our children, just because it's a holiday. In the moments we get to think a little about life instead of worrying about whether we put enough scoops of grinds in the coffee maker or enough milk in our cereal. So, while the observance--the services, the fasting, the refraining from everyday work--might not seem to translate into the personal changes the holiday is going for, perhaps these things open the door, just a little, and a little differently than we are used to, to making the changes that make sense for us.

We have broken the fast. This particular observance is over for another year. And, with any luck, we'll be walking through that door to a good, and just a little different, new year.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

In New York...

I can't help but hum that song that Audra McDonald sang at the Tonys.

Today, with time to kill between appointments, and already too much coffee in my system, I found myself not in Starbucks, but in a public seating area outside a park I've walked past a thousand times.

There is something immensely freeing not only about free time (well, not totally free, since I am writing a blog and making notes for meetings, but...), but about just sitting and watching the people go by--the food truck closing up shop for the day, students coming from school, people unlocking bikes, and, believe it or not, two women wearing spa robes and giant hair curlers. Then there are all sorts of people sitting, just like me, but speaking assorted languages and eating all types of outdoor foods.

As I have written before, I have a tendency to spend my free time indoors--less temptation to spend money, and always home improvement things that can only get done if I'm home. But today, I was a captive audience. It would have taken far too many needless steps to go home then go out, and I have to say, I was a happy captive. Indoors, even if tasks are different, surroundings are familiar. Outside, the familiar is always mixed with the odd (would you ever see the women with the spa robes and curlers if you didn't go out?). And odd is often what gets our creative juices flowing, far more than vacuuming ever could.

Yet, how often would we choose to be captives, to end up slightly out of our comfort zone, not because we were between appointments, but just to shake things up a bit? For me, the answer would be "not very often," and I suspect that would apply to a lot of us. Life's too busy, and the direct path is usually the simplest.

Today, in New York, I cleared my head a little for my meetings, and I filled it up with a bit of the odd that I don't usually see. When I am back indoors tomorrow, I hope I'll be better off for having done it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Want and Need

Many years ago, when a friend's son was just learning to talk, he would always say "I need" when he wanted something. Having never heard such a small child say that, I initially interpreted his words as meaning that his desire for juice was just particularly urgent in that moment. Turned out, he said "need" all the time. It was just his way. And after some time with him, you realized you could say "no" to him just as easily as if he had said "I want."

Flash forward, and I am now spending a lot of time thinking about "need" and "want." You see, when you are looking for work, the "need" and the "want" don't always match up. You may want to work in a particular field or have a particular job title or have a workplace geographically close to home or hours that work perfectly with your schedule of other commitments (family, volunteer work, etc.). What you need, however, is a job that pays the bills, work that makes you feel competent, and training that gets you somewhere.

In the best of worlds, the "wants" and the "needs" overlap somewhere. But, if they don't, which is more important? While the "needs" tend to address more immediate issues, the "wants" can be the things that let us dream, and help us realize our dreams. So if we always go with the "need," do we keep ourselves from being able to soar?

The "want/need" question, I realize, is one with which I struggle every day. I have hope that more often than not, I will find the place where the two meet. After all, dreaming and soaring are great things, but you can't do too much of either on an empty stomach or without a place to rest your head.

So, maybe my friend's son was more right than he knew. Say what you need, and you might end up getting exactly what you want. And hold on to what you want, and you might end up with exactly what you need.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Under My Nose

On the inside surface of our apartment door, there is, among all the kid artwork, a photo of me holding my oldest child the day she was born. It's like so many things in our lives--right under my nose every single day, yet I barely notice it.

Today, a visitor to our apartment did notice it, pointing out how much time has passed since then. After all, she was looking at my daughter, who is now fifteen.

Just as we barely notice some of the things under our noses each day, often, we barely notice the passage of time and its effect on us. While we might be keenly aware of changes in president or mayor or of kids getting taller, we tend not to notice our own changes unless they become obstacles. Did I ever give much thought to the long stretch I worked at ABC? Mostly, I just enjoyed the days and weeks and years until it was over. Did I consider how my mindset was changing with the changing landscape? Somewhat, but somewhat is never enough (in those 1-10 surveys, "somewhat" generally falls around 5).

Today was a day for noticing all those things under my nose. And doing something about them. And chances are, tomorrow, when I walk out the door, that photo will be the first thing I see.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Present Company

I was up almost before the pre-dawn alarm, dressing, not for going to work, but for the first day of school. By 7, I had ushered one child out the door to her bus. By 8, I had accompanied another on her train ride and sent her into school (no hugs, Mom!). And since Child 3 wouldn't go into his schoolyard until almost 9, I managed to get there too.

Schleppy, you ask? Perhaps. And yet, in the midst of it all, I was so happy to be in the midst of it all, "present," as it were, that it felt way more exhilarating than schleppy.

I have written before about the many years when I left home early and came home late. While I loved those years at ABC and at Cosby, and more recently, in Stamford, and while the bases were always well covered by babysitters, there were many times when I was far from present. What I have discovered post all of those jobs is that it is just as possible to be "far from present" when you are physically there as it is when you are gone for long hours.

Today, I made sure, not just for my kids, but for myself--actually, mostly for myself-- that I was really "present." There will be time for errands and networking tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. To be not just "there," but "present" is an opportunity not to be missed. And a gift we can give ourselves, not just on the first day of school, but every day.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Last Looks

In television, "last looks" is the stage manager's cue to the hair, makeup, wardrobe, scenic, and lighting teams to do their final touch ups before a scene is shot.

Tonight was a "last looks" of sorts at our house. After what felt like an endless (mostly in a good way) summer, it is back to school time, meaning lockers to be decorated, first day outfits for good first impressions, and just enough paper, pens, and folders to keep track of all the things we're all expected to know. Pretty much all the bases covered before the scene shoots--from wardrobe to props, we're trying to get it right.

For me, "last looks" also means the last day I will spend many hours hanging out with people less than half my age. Starting tomorrow, they will be gone for many hours, and probably holed up doing homework for many more on top of that. So today was my last look at them before they start new grades and new experiences, and my last look at these recent weeks, when my being between gigs coincided with their being on vacation (a situation that may never happen again).

"Going to tape" is an exciting thing, so "last looks" should have a similarly upbeat energy. While there is a melancholy feeling about this transition, I know that this figurative "going to tape" will be good for us all. So, as we do our "last looks," and I take a few pictures (for continuity--no, sentimentality), I'm ready--well, almost ready--to count down, and make this the best new show ever.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Great Socks!

As I rode down in the elevator to receive my pizza delivery, wearing no shoes, in just my purposely mismatched polka-dot sock feet, a neighbor commented, "great socks!"

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have been into novelty socks for quite some time. I have been known to give entertaining socks as gifts (and not just to my kids, but to my coworkers!) Much of the day, my wacky socks are hidden under my shoes, so that I'm the only one who knows they're there. Sometimes just a tiny bit peeks out between pants and shoes. But no matter how much anyone else sees, I firmly believe that amusing socks make my whole daily outlook brighter.

The question is, how do you go out into the world as a professional while wearing socks covered with pictures of sushi or ice cream cones?

The way I see it, there are several approaches:

1. Keep it under your shoes and no one has to know. Easy in the winter, trickier in the summer. If you are in stylish boots, no one but you ever has to know you're a sock junkie. And in the summer, they'll just wonder why you're in stylish boots rather than stylish sandals, to which you can reply that you are protecting your feet from city dirt. (They may think that's a weird excuse, but they still won't know about your socks).

2. Leave your wacky socks at home when you have to make a professional impression. Black ones are not nearly as uplifting, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

3. Embrace your wacky sockishness and surround yourself with people who will appreciate it. (Which is what I mostly did at ABC, though I don't know if people really appreciated the sockishness or appreciated me and just accepted my sockishness!) (And which is probably why I gravitate toward creative and/or kid-oriented workplaces.)

I'm really glad the neighbor in the elevator commented on my socks--in doing so, she reminded me that although we are called upon to conform in many situations, it's okay, really okay, to express who WE are, and to hold on to that, whether it is out there in the open (no shoes) or sometimes kept under wraps (go, stylish boots!)

Perhaps tomorrow, I'll wear my sushi socks...

Friday, September 6, 2013


After days and days of anticipation, my son and I finally arrived at today. Was it the completion of his summer project? No. The last summer field trip? Not that either. It was his trip to the orthodontist to pick up his long-awaited retainer.

Now, anyone who has ever had braces couldn't possibly imagine someone being gleeful about getting a retainer. Yet, in my son's mind, this event was right up there with all the exciting road trips of our summer. I wondered why--was it that his teeth were bothering him and he knew this would help? Unlikely. I think that the idea of having a retainer made him feel special. After all, it would be one thing he would do before his older sisters (and when you're a third child, not much falls into that category).

As we came out of the appointment, and he was having difficulty pronouncing any word containing an "s" or a "z," I'm not sure if he felt so special any more.

It seems to me that most of us spend a lot of time looking for things that set us apart, make us feel special. Whether it's a promotion at work or the publishing of something we've written, the praise of a colleague, or just an outfit that goes perfectly together, it feels good to stand out, to know that something about us makes us rise above the crowd.

As my son found out (and will keep finding out for the several months of wearing the retainer), however, sometimes "special" comes at a price. For him, it will mean "thpecial" and "Thaturday" and "thpaghetti," and a thing in a case that he has to make sure doesn't end up in the school lunch garbage. For those of us who strive to be special at work, the price can be longer hours, more challenging projects, and the sacrifice of time with our families. It's up to us to know what price of "special" is worth it to us. My son will come out with straighter and, we hope, healthier teeth. When we adults get the "special" for which we strive, do we get such definite (and worthwhile) return on our investment? I'm not sure.

I don't think that the risk will stop most of us from going for the "special." If nothing else, it keeps life interesting, and it is our daily invitation to reach a little higher (or to appreciate the little triumphs in our lives).

By the end of today, my son's "thpecial" was close to back to "special," so, in the end, he could enjoy his new retainer without that much difficulty. And, come Monday, when he returns to school with metal in his mouth and a plastic case in his lunchbox, he'll get a little taste of "special" all over again. I'm sure he won't be the only one with this or many other stories to tell, but he'll have physical proof, right as he talks, of what he did this summer. And, if all goes well, the story will keep him feeling pretty special.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Year. Again.

It seems that, no matter how early or late Rosh Hashanah arrives, it always manages to take me by surprise. Even if I know for weeks before it that it is coming, and I plan out schedules accordingly, every year, when I find myself sitting in Rosh Hashanah services for the first time, it is as if I have been plucked out of my regular life and transplanted there. I sit sort of "deer in the headlights" for a bit, while the clergy talk about reflecting on the past year and clearing your mind to examine what you could do better. Then, at some point along the way, I let myself go with it, and open myself to some real reflection and to the religion and community that surround me.

The problem is, by the time I really get to that place, the whole thing is often almost over, and then I am plucked out of there and transplanted back to my regular life, where, try as I might, I cannot really incorporate the things that I discovered as I sat there letting myself go with the emotion of the Rosh Hashanah services.

So, how is it that I'm supposed to make this Jewish New Year celebration more than just a blip of calm in an otherwise crazy life, much less, make it meaningful not just to me, but to my kids?

I'm used to wrapping up my blog posts with a resolution of sorts--what I'm planning to do going forward, or suggestions for what my readers can do. But tonight, as I ponder the warmth that I still feel from just a handful of hours at Rosh Hashanah services, I'm stumped as to what that resolution should be. I can tell that the year coming up will have challenges that will beg for some kind of reflection-produced wisdom, yet, I am pretty sure that by next week, or maybe even tomorrow, the wisdom and the reflection that brought it about today will be long gone.

Is that what a holiday should be--just a blip in the middle of things? Or should it be an experience that somehow stays with you and carries you forward? I'm taking suggestions now, which is somewhat appropriate, since part of today was about being a member of a community....

Happy New Year. Again.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Your Best Self

At my daughter's school orientation today, the principal asked the kids to close their eyes and envision their best selves. He pointed out that for the next bunch of years, it would be easy to be this "best self" when things were going well. Their challenge would be to hold on to it when they faced harder days--sports game losses, difficult classes, new social situations. He encouraged them to remember on those days the best self that they pictured today.

In that moment, I wished that I was closing my eyes and doing this exercise too. For, along with the days when I have been the most generous, most optimistic, most team-playing person I know, whether at work or in my job searches, there have been countless days when ambition or competitiveness or paranoia or despair have gotten the best of me, and have compromised both how I worked and how I dealt with my family. If I had thought to visualize my "best self" on some of these days, perhaps outcomes may have been different. At the very least, I and the the other people around me probably would have been happier.

As I move forward in what is an increasingly non-autopilot life, I think I'll be incorporating some time for that "best self" exercise. It may not get me in shape as well as the gym, but I think it has a pretty good chance of keeping my head a little straighter.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Write Something!

Some days, despite my having exercised these writing muscles of mine every day, the words just don't come. Either my day was extremely dull, or its events were too emotional to work in a blog, or my head is just somewhere else. One way or the other, the spark just isn't there.

Those are the days when I tell myself, "Just write something!"

I think it is a rare person who has "a spark" every single day. Even if you love your job or love your family, or are the most creative person in the world, the real test of your talent or your dedication is not what you do on the days when everything comes together. The true test is what you do when things DON'T come naturally or easily. Do you pack it in, convinced that the talent is gone? Or do you push through, saying, "Do something," or, as in my case, "Write something"?

Some of my best experiences in life have been the hard ones that I just have to face, from which I can't back away. This blog is no exception. While it is not climbing a mountain or curing a disease or starring on Broadway or flying to the moon, it is my daily reminder that, even when it (whatever your "it" is) is hard, you can always do something. Write something. And most of the time, you'll feel a whole lot better if you do.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Sweet Sound of Thud (with intro by Emily)

Today, we had plans. We were going to go out and take advantage of sales and coupons, but then the flash flood warning came. (Aside from the fact that I slept in...) So instead it was a day of unpacking and cleaning out. We had eleven bags of clothes and shoes to put in the Housing Works bin in the laundry room. I was a MAJOR help ( :P ), so I got to introduce the blog today. Yay!!! Soooooo, without further ado...THE BLOG!!! *Duh duh duh DUH!!!*

I used to think that the ding of a new email on my phone was the most exciting sound ever. After all, the ding could mean a job offer or an invitation to coffee or a coupon to my favorite store. Today, I discovered a new most exciting sound. As you read in my guest blogger's intro above, we dropped (to be fair, she did the dropping) eleven bags of clothes and shoes into the collection bin in our building. It has a trap flap of sorts--once the stuff's in, it's in, and it falls with a giant thud against either the bottom of the bin or against bags that other people have brought. There's no getting it back, unless you're planning to to climb in after it, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory style.

As my daughter dropped the bags in, thud, thud, thud, I thought about the items from my own closet that were in those bags. It's one thing to put in outgrown kid's clothes--the choice is simple if no one can wear the items anymore. Watching my own clothes disappear, I gasped, ever so briefly, and then was overcome with the euphoric thought that the weight of those bags was being lifted from my shoulders with every thud. After all, giving away some of your things is not just about helping others. It's about giving away enough of your past self to have the room to embrace your new and future self.

Many years ago, I heard a clutter consultant speak about needing to free yourself of clutter, literal and mental, before you could really accomplish the things you wanted. Today, in some small, plastic bag, thud, thud, thud way, my guest blogger and I got rid of a little clutter. And, because of that, we're a little closer to embracing whatever challenge--and whatever sweet sound--tomorrow brings. Whether it's the ding of an email, the ring of a new school bell, or just a little more thud, thud, thud.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Change of Seasons

I am currently being bombarded by people talking about the end of summer. Most of them seem in mourning, some seem ready to leave it behind.  I am not sure where I stand. I know that no other season gets such a going out party. (Really, do you ever hear someone say, "Aw, fall is over," or "I can't believe spring went so fast"?)

I know that I am ready to move on from the party to what the next season holds. (And that the real change of season doesn't even really happen for a few weeks).  Perhaps I'm a party pooper, but more likely, I am a person who appreciates the "now," and looks ahead to the "next." As for the "then," I just find it hard to dwell there. It just feels as though there's always too much left to do. So, tomorrow, I may eat my Labor Day Picnic food (well, probably just Chinese takeout--this is New York City after all!), but my feet will be one step into my post-summer adventures. Fresh from the sun and ready for my next challenge.