On Being Wrong

I just received a call from Terminix for my mother, who passed away a year ago. They insisted that I should sign up for a service on her home that I was already paying for. I insisted that I was already receiving that service and asked them to please double check their records. After explaining three times that I knew what I was talking about, the salesperson did, indeed, check, and, lo and behold, I was right. In an embarrassing admittance the person said, “Oh look, there it is” and told me to have a nice day.

At the very least, he could have said he was wrong, and that he would at least change the name of record on the account before telling me to have a nice day.

There is nothing wrong in admitting you are wrong. In fact, it would be very refreshing if more people admitted they were wrong. In fact the more people shy away from admitting their guilt, the more time and money is wasted trying to prove it. It can be embarrassing, yes. But it frees you to admit you are wrong and then you have the time to go about correcting a situation, instead of weaseling around trying to get out of the situation.

Laying blame on others, too, is another way people try to get out of admitting they are wrong. “It’s not my fault,” is an easy cop out. Even if it is not your personal fault, you may be linked so it is in your best interest to acknowledge that there is a situation and to make sure it is corrected.

With all of this guilt hanging over us, it’s easy to see why there is so much stress in the world. Guilt leads to insecurity and you worry about people finding out.

Deal with it. “No, officer, I wasn’t going 76.” Owning up to a mistake may cost you in a ticket and higher insurance. But at least you won’t look foolish.

“Oh, shit.” Correct it immediately so there’s less s–t to hit the fan.

A long time ago in my first professional job, I had to piece together a video that included photos from a variety of sources, a soundtrack and interviews. The end product was not that great. Instead of saying that I really didn’t have the experience to do this project, I probably accused the professionals of giving us a bad product. That project started out badly and ended worse. But a kind colleague told me to just accept what was obvious. Yes, it was my fault, and, yes, I should admit it. We were able to fix it up somewhat, and I felt better about the situation. Since then I obviously try not to make mistakes, but when they are made I own up to them.

When I read about how Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was put together, I sensed the same thing. The album had taken a while to prepare and the “suits” just wanted to meet deadline and get it to market. But Michael and Quincy Jones, his producer, knew that it wasn’t the product it could be and did not want to make the mistake of releasing it before it was ready. So they took it back and redid the product, and we all know that it became the best-selling album of all time.

It can hurt to admit guilt and to say that you are wrong. On the other hand, it can be liberating and put you in a better light to be “man” enough to own the mistake and correct it. Set your mind at ease and be happy about your decision.

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The Importance of Giving

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle ….” – The Buddha

‘Tis the season of giving … for donors everywhere. Non-profit organizations will soon be sending their Annual Fund appeals in the hopes of capturing the interest of potential contributors interested in year-end tax benefits. For many, this is the time of year to consider their philanthropic interests.

What does it take to pull a heartstring? Does every appeal have to pull a heartstring? Some appeals will be short and sweet while others will take many pages and inserts to prove a point — or several — of need.

A succinct description of an organization’s mission will sometimes suffice. If donors believe in what an organization is doing, they will want to support it. However, a little testimonial goes a long way. Showing the results of donor involvement speaks volumes of why an organization needs to be supported.

I believe the above quote is the perfect definition of giving. Whether donors give $1 million or $1, they may never know how many people will benefit from their generosity. Sometimes making a gift is like planting a tree under whose shade others will sit. It may never benefit the donor, but a gift is sure to benefit someone.

I encourage you to consider who might need your help. Your school? Your library? A research organization? The disenfranchised population of a foreign country? You may never know who the beneficiary of your specific gift will be, but you will know that you helped advance an organization’s cause and, therefore, helped someone in need.

Give what you can. Your participation will be more valuable than waiting until you can give that million dollars. Go ahead — light a candle or two.

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Of stones and sisters

A stone’s throw from insanity is gathering rocks on a rainy summer Saturday at the beach. Having seen a cute idea from Pinterest, my sister, the craftiest person I know, and I followed the shore to collect feet-shaped flat stones and “toes.” We didn’t yet know what we would do with our “feet,” but we were eager to put them together in the hopes that inspiration would strike. Did I mention it was high tide?

Having donned bathing suits and rain coats, we were each equipped with a plastic bag. Bent over with our eyes glued to the sea’s bounty, we would shout, “Hey, look at this one” or merely be silent as we scoured the tide line. After spending an hour focused on looking for feet and toes, we realized we had three bags of rocks!

At home, we rinsed them and began organizing into big feet, medium feet and small feet and then sifted through the toes looking for suitable sizes and matches. While we waited for them to dry, we journeyed into the next town to visit the Christmas Tree Shop in the hopes we would find something interesting to which we would glue our creations.

I love shopping with my sister at the Christmas Tree Shop. She is a consummate visitor there and steers her carriage through the amateurs who linger, blocking the aisles. I just follow in her wake. As if there is some sort of homing device in the objects she seeks, she goes directly to the ideal displays.

She selected two wooden plaques that read, “Glod Bless This House.” I sneer, but she says, “Look it has a lovely green frame and we can find something to use as backing for our feet.” I ask if we should take more than two and she tells me if we like what we make, we can come back for more.

As we search for the perfect backing, we discover some wooden boxes of assorted shapes that have pictures of fruit on the tops. “Two pairs of pears,” she laughs as we choose four altogether.

She stops in front of a scrapbook display and we scourge the jumble of paper collections. We didn’t exactly see anything we loved, but she put some in the carriage until we found something else. Paper napkins, pot holders and other potential coverings were eyeballed and then discarded.

Then we came upon the placemat aisle. A light from above shown on us and a choir of angels sang as we marveled at the possibilities. Flowers, seashells, lobsters all called to us. But then we saw the wicker mats. Muted beiges, blues and greens stood out. We pushed parts into our green frames, and it was a match made in heaven.

At home again, she measured the parts of the placemat we would need and then glued them to the boxes and inside the green frames. We arranged all sorts of “feet” possibilities until we finally had our designs.

We reveled in the fact that we’d kept ourselves busy all day, but the real gift was being able to spend time with my sister on a rainy day. Although we didn’t use all of our feet, we set the extras on available window sills to await their future marching orders.

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Camp Friends

Last night I had the opportunity to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the camp I went to for 12 years. As you might expect, it was full of hugs, oohs and ahs. There were the requisite speeches (from every era!) and the slide show — all emphasizing everything I knew to be true.

Through all those years, I was building the me I would become. Although it was only for two of the 12 months of the year, camp became my foundation. I learned sportsmanship, confidence, diversity, love and connection, values, traditions, the Lord’s Prayer and how to be a Red Sox fan. (Although people came from all over the world, most of the kids then were from Massachusetts and New York or Connecticut, and the Yankees were booed while the Red Sox were cheered at every morning assembly. There was a weathervane fish named Aloyisious who was said to cry when the Yankees won.)

As with any camp, I suppose, there was the lore. We had Mr. Friendly, who wasn’t friendly at all, Charlie Ugg Ugg, Grant, the underwater banana-eating camp director, Billy Monomy, and the afterglow. We learned riflery and archery at a time when these sports were cheered and not jeered.

As junior counselors, we chose majors and had to have four in all. We learned everything we could about our area (riflery, archery, sailing, swimming, arts & crafts, woodworking, sports, to name a few) so that we could give back to the younger campers by teaching them how to love what we loved.

Every year my friends and I would arrive on Day One with tears of joy and leave on the Last Day with tears of parting. The night before the Last Day, toilet paper stock holders rejoiced. (For the copious amounts of tears cried at the ominous partings of the morrow. What did you think I meant?)

Because of camp, I learned how to get along with people. We had to live in bunks of 10-12-15 people and cope with every emotion known to (wo)man. We learned to respect each other and our stuff. We learned manners. We learned how to shave our legs and experience our first kiss (a shout out to Eddie C. on the tennis courts at the big camp dance to the tune of “I can’t find the time to tell you”). We learned camp songs. There were songs for spirit and for saying Grace and for competing in the dining hall and for saying goodnight. Oh, the songs! I remember every word and used them as lullabies for my kids when they were little.

We would arrive each year with our newly acquired talents, like learning French or French kissing, and share all of our worldly knowledge with this group of people who were attached to you as no others ever would be.

Of course, you have the friends of your other seasons, but camp friends are the kind where you can go for years without seeing them and as soon as you do, it is as if you had just parted.

Last night we rejoiced in seeing each other again. We laughed about our youthful antics, and were still secretly proud of all we had accomplished. We hugged and oohed and ahed. It was sad when we had to say goodbye again. The toilet paper was unnecessary however because our tears were in our hearts this time around knowing it might be years again before we next see each other, and also knowing that those connections will remain as strong and true as they ever did.

Here’s to the regattas, both won and lost, to the awards that lie in their boxes in my jewelry chest, to the homemade bubblegum ice cream and the midnight pop tart raids, to the recorded bugle and colors on the parade ground, to learning how to use a tampon and buying fudge on our trips to Provincetown, to the mosquitos at Long Pond, to the swim meets and macrame lessons and tennis balls still lost in the high sea grass, to the initials carved in almost every cabin on site, to the Pavilion viewings of “Oklahoma,” “The Music Man” and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, to the camp store where buying a Sky Bar and a grape soda was a luxury, to all those character-building memories. And to the main characters, my summer girls. You influenced every season of my life.

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For Eric and one happy night

Tomorrow would have been the 47th birthday of my friend Eric. He passed away this year, just a few months ago, doing something he loved. He was training for a triathlon and pumping himself to compete, achieving goal after goal after personal best. Unfortunately, his heart pumped too hard and we lost one of the happiest people I’ve ever known.

Eric loved pushing himself. He loved sailing. He knew the words to every song ever written. He loved hugging. He loved his friends and his family. He loved life.

One of our summer gang (my brother, my sister, Eric’s brothers and all of our summer neighborhood friends), Eric was the youngest, but, by far, the ringleader. We would sail and swim and beach it all day, then run home for dinner, and meet up again for the evening entertainment.

When we were younger, that entertainment would be running around playing kick the can, or walking to the local ice cream stand for dessert (the gooier the better), or running around the beach catching fireflys or shooting rocks at the sunset. Before the bugs drove us away, it was idyllic. As we grew older, we’d get together at The Wood Shed, a local bar and sing along with the house band.

Eric and I shared August birthdays. We celebrated at home (clambakes for him and steak dinners for me) and then we’d rendezvous at the Wood Shed. It was your cliche spot, just above a dive. But we loved it. Dirty wooden floors, sticky tables and mismatched chairs. The place would get so crowded you couldn’t move. And forget using the rest room. It was so small you couldn’t turn around. Speaking of the rest room, ever single time my sister decided it was time to brave the crowd and squeeze in there, the band would play Aimee by Pure Prairie League, our band’s signature cover. This, of course, was the song we waited for all night.

On August 30, 1985, the night before my birthday, we didn’t want the night to end. It had been a good session but we just weren’t done. So we returned to the neighborhood, picked up some beer, blankets and gum drops, and drove down to the beach.

We scouted out some driftwood by the moonlight and made a fire. Then we sat around the fire and sang every song we had heard that night. Eric led us from Jimmy Buffet to Pure Prairie League, the Beatles, the Monkees. We had so much fun that night just being together.

In the past 27 years, whenever I have a bad day or just need some peace, I take this night out of my mental pocket and remember the camaraderie, the tunes and the laughter. The gum drops were pretty good too. But most of all I remember Eric, our ringleader, our friend, whom I miss every day.

Happy birthday, my friend. I hope you are kicking back on a beach in Heaven or sailing through the Milky Way and plucking Aimee on a 12-string.

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Ebbs and Flows

Ebbs and Flows.

Speaking of writer’s block…

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Chapter Two

If I have a claim to fame, it would be that I write really good first chapters. Sometimes the second chapters too. By the time I get to a third, fourth, or even, by a stretch, a fifth, I peter out. I know, good writers recommend an outline and fleshing out your story before you even start writing. But for me, that sort of gets in the way of the story.

I used to dream my stories and couldn’t wait to put them down on the computer, on paper, whatever was handy. Then I’d get caught up in life and when I returned to the story, it just wasn’t there any more.

Tonight I thought I’d browse through some of the things I’d started, and I have to admit I was kind of blown away. I mean they were good enough to make me want more. If they belonged to someone else, someone who’d actually finished and published them, I’d want to keep reading.

From nowhere, my mouth said, “Wow, these are good! You should finish these.” My mind pictured my mother saying this and I promptly burst into tears. My mom died a year ago and was probably my number one cheerleader, besides my sister.

I always thought I’d wait until I had time to devote to this story writing of  mine, but now that I actually have time…nothing. In rereading these first chapters, I realized that I still knew these characters. In fact, they’d been vacationing in my head since I put them there.

There’s the fifth grader who realizes he’s socially conscious when he puts his lunch money change in a can to help a fellow student who’s sick. There’s the 13 year-old boy caught up in Concord in the early days of the American Revolution and the 13 year-old girl who not only shares his birthday but lives in the same house 225 years later. There’s Christy, a young widow with two young sons who reunites with her college sweetheart, Ian. And then there’s Jem Dimond, the star member of a boy band, and his friendship with Lucy, a girl he rescued from an abusive household when she was just 12.

What do I do with them all? I still invite them out to play every so often and think of things they would do. The trouble is, those things would generally happen in chapter nine or thirteen.

I recently watched a video by author Luanne Rice, who said she really gets to know her characters. She thinks about them endlessly and allows them to rent space in her mind so that by the time she starts writing, it is her characters who are really telling the story.

Maybe I’ll invite my characters to dinner and let them wine and dine me. Just so I can see what they are up to…and what their five-year plans are.

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