Friday, August 28, 2009

Making the Best

It just didn't seem right to mix technology and Maine, so even though I brought a computer and a cell phone, I didn't use them, didn't check the Internet, answer or return calls or write on my blog.

Our time at the house in Woolwich this year was too short, a mere five days. But it was bliss, from the first moment we pulled up to the wooden fence and saw the spectacular view of the water through the trees and Eli sighed, declaring it "the most peaceful place on Earth," to the last gasps, when I finally hit the Montsweag Flea.

I am never happier than at a flea market, this one in particular. There is something about meandering through aisle after aisle of assorted objet d'art, the found and created treasures of the people standing behind them, imagining what item might make it into my life, that makes my heart sing. The flea marketers of Maine, in particular, are an amazing lot.

"Did you make your necklace?" an older long-haired lady behind a table of assorted jewelry asked.

I looked down at the brightly colored creation I had put on with my orange flirty linen skirt and grey ruffled tank to suit the occasion.

"No," I said, "my son did."

She looked impressed. "Wow," she said. "He's old is he?"

"Five," I said, "he's very talented, isn't he?"

"Yes," she said, "you should encourage him."

I sighed. "I do, but there are so many things I want to encourage him in, both of my kids!"

She nodded, understanding. "I raised 4 children, 8 grandchildren, and the ones of them that do the best have something creative that they can do, that gives them that feeling of success, like making a necklace. All you can do is show them by being creative yourself."

Following her words of wisdom, she gestured to a smattering of small paintings, swirls of colors surrounding a main image that I hadn't noticed in my search for another necklace. I immediately lighted on a chicken that I could clearly see in my kitchen.

"I love this," I said. "How much is it?"

"$25," she said.

"I'll take it," I said, not even bargaining like I'm supposed to. Hard to undersell someone's own art, especially when it came as it did with such sage advice. It was a small price to pay.

I moved on, purchasing a set of delicate cups and saucers and a ceramic bowl for next to nothing, and then picked up a few little stuffed cats made of scraps of material with little yarn noses and old button eyes. I had a similar one at home that I had bought elsewhere, that had reminded me of the stuffed cat I had as a kid made by my favorite of my mom's friends, a crafty Italian woman from the East Village whose home had inspired my love of found objects.

"These are great, do you make them?" I asked the woman behind the table.

"Yes," she said.

"They're awesome!"

She sighed loudly. "Well, I wish I was doing something to really help people instead of just making stuff..."

I stared at her in shock. "You are helping people. I love these. They make me happy and they'll make my kids happy!"

My words didn't seem to help much, even when I backed them up by buying three. I couldn't resist. They were only $5 each and I wasn't lying, they did bring me joy.

I thanked her profusely and moved on. I stopped next to peruse some jewelry made completely out of old buttons. I have a thing for old buttons, always coming close to buying jars of them at junk stores but never knowing quite what I'd do with them.

"So cool..." I said to the ladies sitting in lawn chairs on the side.

The creator piped up as she stood to come nearer. "Thanks," she said. "My friend here gave me the idea when I had bad asthma last year and was stuck in bed. I just got to playing with them. What I really wanted to do was drink..."

At this last unexpected turn, I threw back my head and laughed. "Wow," I said, "if I had one of the gold stars I usually give out, you would get a big one for that, for being honest. Good for you. Making jewelry probably makes you feel a lot better than drinking."

She didn't look sure. "I don't know, I was in a lot of pain..." she said. But crafting had clearly won out over boozing to get her through. Here around my neck and around my wrist was the proof.

She shook her head back and forth. "I just don't understand how people can sit in front of the TV hour after hour, so boring..." she said.

I nodded vehemently in agreement. "I know," I said.

I went back and forth over which necklace to choose, then finally paid the mere $12 she was charging for my initial favorite, a variety of brown buttons mixed with some silver and gold ones. Perfect. I bought the bracelet too. I wouldn't wear them together, but I needed to have them both, not just because I loved them but because they were the product of someone's desperate attempts to stave off depression and pain by creating something beautiful. I would appreciate that fact every time I wore them.

I thanked her profusely for the items she wrapped carefully for me, and for her bravery, and moved on. I mistakenly asked the basic question "How are you?" to a man packing up the rusty knicknacks he was selling, that Maine is famous for.

"Not good," he said.

"Oh, sorry, bad day?"

"Bad life," he said. "I got evicted yesterday from my place after 24 years." He nodded sadly as he continued to clear his card table. "The cat is takin' it bad, real bad. I gotta get back to the room I rented before they find her and kick us out. No pets."

"I'm so sorry," I said. What else could I say? I picked up an old paint-peeling piece of wood with the word "Diner" written across it. I kind of wanted it, but it just didn't seem right to ask a price. I felt that even if it was too much I'd be forced to buy it out of guilt and then every time I looked at it I would think of this sad man and his sad life. I put it down.

"Good luck?!" I said.

"Thanks," he grumbled.

I was more careful asking 'how are you?' after that. Sometimes, sadly, you don't really want to know, especially when there is nothing you can do. Mostly, I guess, people don't tell you.

I ended the day on a high note, however. I found a small sewing table with a built-in ruler on the top that was perfect for the kids' room. I had been looking for a desk but had bought a chair earlier in the week, at my annual trip to Ed's Stuff, a rust-filled treasure trove my husband's Uncle, the owner of the Woolwich house, makes merciless fun of me for loving. Oscar had castigated me, as he often does for doing the wrong thing.

"You need to buy a desk, Mommy, remember???" he'd said, shaking his moppy hair, mouth agape in wonder at my doltishness. He would be proud. I had the chair I'd purchased with me and pulled it from the car to check that it worked. It did, perfectly. The pricetag said $30, which was a steal, but I only had $27 left of the $100 I'd started with and the woman said she'd only be around for another half an hour, not even long enough for me to head home for more cash. I offered up my paltry cash sheepishly.

"It's all I have," I said. "Is it enough?"

She nodded. "It's for a good cause," she said, imagining it, I guess, giving joy to little bodies, as it would.

"Thank you!" I said. It even folded, like the chair I'd bought, so my husband wouldn't curse me as he packed the car for home.

A few hours later, purchases proudly shown to the kids by the pool, the cottage cleaned nearly to the perfect state we'd entered it in, we were on the road back to Brooklyn. It seemed wrong after a fabulous day at the flea to stop at Freeport, at the outlets, where the masses moved along paying far too much for mass-produced items.

We skipped it happily. Feet up on the dash, I was reveling in my morning, in the people I'd connected with, and the fruits of their labor I'd appreciatively purchased. I looked over, catching sight of a sign in a trucker's window. I leaned in, taxing my near-sighted eyes to read the hand-written note pushed up against the window on a clip board.

"I LIKE YER FEET," it said. Beside it, the truck driver was smiling at me.

Oh my God. I died laughing, throwing back my head as much as possible against the seat back, giving him the big thumbs up in lieu of a gold star. Hilarious. I always wonder how these guys entertain themselves on the road. Here was one who was really trying. I applauded him, and laughed thinking about it the whole rest of the six hours home. Gotta give people credit for making the best of their lot.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is Your T-Shirt Who You Really Are?

I think often that fashion is the mirror to the self. I wrote recently, next to a photo of my fierce Barbarella sandals on Facebook, that shoes really show how hard one is trying. I mean, people can opt out of the whole fashion thing, certainly, but that in and of itself speaks volumes, doesn't it? People will often judge a book by its cover, let's be honest, whether we want them to or not.

Well, there is a hot new trend, around for a while but finally coming hard and fast into the mainstream, like tattoos, to wear sayings across one's chest. It seems we are being forced to know things about people we'd rather not, just by walking down the street and seeing them in their t-shirt. The "Offensive" section on websites selling such graphic tees brings new meaning to the word graphic.

Just yesterday, as I sat minding my own business at Southside, where every espresso shot is a double and I am often afraid I've ordered a double double, leaving Park Slope in great jeopardy, just such a graphic phrase made its way into my vision. It was on the chest of a 20-something kid, a contractor's assistant it seemed. In white lettering, clearly visible against the black tee, all undercase, it said, "i f***** your girlfriend."

When he saw me reading the lovely sentiment, the kid got all flushed and went to cover the saying with his hand. I laughed.

"Really?" I said. "You're embarrassed? How could you be, you're wearing it?"

He just smiled and laughed a little.

I thought, in that moment, of asking him why he bought it, why he was wearing it if he felt embarrassed, of giving him a gold star for having the good sense to be embarrassed even if he was wearing it. But I did nothing. I left him and it alone, except in my head. I just thought about why myself, wrote about it and will write about it here. Odds are if I'd asked him, he wouldn't really know, I reasoned. He was clearly conflicted.

Here was a kid wearing a t-shirt whose intentionally self-reflective message was not actually reflective. It was clearly disingenuous. He likely wasn't the kind of guy to f*** someone else's girlfriend if he even thought about covering up the message for judgmental moms like me. Certainly, if he did do it, he wouldn't seem to be the type to throw it in someone's face, I could tell that just from his sheepish grin.

Who we are and who we want to be are in constant conflict and, nowadays, able to choose literally what we want to say about ourselves in our fashions, I'm not confident we know enough to choose. It takes a lifetime of figuring and even then...I think we're so often wrong. We pay therapists to ask us about our mothers, life coaches to repeat our own words back to us in a more resonant way, but in the end we have to sit with ourselves and think, to try to reconcile our feelings and our actions and imagine how the two together might paint a somewhat realistic picture of who we are. And, of course, we can decide in some measure who we want to be.

I said to my husband once, in a line that has become famous between us, "You're not actually insecure, you just think you're insecure." Hmmm. But, weird as it sounds, roughly 18 years later, I stand by that statement. He is confident at his core. Despite oversized coke-bottle glasses, too tight plaid floods and a shock of bright red untamed curls, I can tell in a photo of him in grade school that he was well liked for his centeredness, for his inner calm even while hyper. There is something about him that people admire, that they can see even if he, looking in the mirror, does not. He has, most of his life, opted out of fashion in fear, not knowing exactly what to wear to paint himself as he is or wants to be, but that's been fine. He is honest enough that people get a clear picture of him without a graphic graphic tee.

There is nothing wrong with being clever or cute or trying to give people a window into your world with a literal fashion statement, but these t-shirts seem to be just another weapon in the war of miscommunication, a sign of our messed-up misreading of the signs that might help signal our way into better relationships, better communities, better times. We are not being honest about who we are and how we've gotten to this place, that seems patently obvious.

Now, I may be reading way too much into a t-shirt, but isn't that the point? Isn't the motive to make us stand up and take notice? But what are we supposed to be noticing? That a lot of people want to be saying a big f*** you to everyone who passes by? The truth is, the people with the boldest, biggest f*** you on their t-shirts are likely the most sensitive, the ones who need positive attention the most. But, as the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. People are clearly taking that to heart. Offensiveness is definitely on the rise.

P.S. A note on medicine and prescriptions. Just to prove I do not vilify the medical world or pharmaceuticals just because I question their practices, I took my littler son to the pediatrician yesterday to check out an earache he's been complaining about for a while. After an hour's wait, the doctor walked in, took a quick look, diagnosed the problem as swimmer's ear and wrote out a prescription on her pad. I had to laugh. I had been giving him Swimmer's Ear, an over-the-counter medicine, for a while. It wasn't strong enough.

"I diagnosed correctly on WebMD," I told her, "but I just didn't have the prescription pad." She kind of laughed, but not really. She had many other patients to see, many more prescriptions to write and it was getting on toward nightfall. I'll keep you posted on the progress, whether a pill (or in this case, drops) can offer a quick fix. Two doses in: still a problem.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Letter of the Law

I got chatting with a woman today at Parco about medicine, one of my favorite topics and one I have unwittingly begun writing about recently as a freelancer for a women's magazine that is placed in doctor's offices. I have an assignment this week to write about how to really avoid the flu and/or colds this winter, and am charged by my editor to dispel myths such as the one that the cold weather plays a role in getting sick. Not true as it turns out.

I was explaining to my new cafe friend how a pediatrician had suggested trying honey instead of Benadryl or Robitusson for coughs because it is natural and has no side effects. The topic of unforseen side effects from pharmaceuticals got us deeply enmeshed in the dangers of solving one problem with medication while creating another, a subject she seemed all too familiar with from personal experience. I, too, have personal experience with this, a minor incident in high school when I had a rash that a doctor prescribed a sedative for and it not only calmed my skin but made me comatose as well. The constant chatter stopped and I became mute, mouth open but silent. (I know, many of you who know me are saying, can't you take that medicine again sometimes? The answer is no. I didn't enjoy being a zombie much as others might have:)

In this day and age, as I've said on this blog before, doctors walk in ready with a prescription pad and pen in the hopes of pleasing people, fixing them with one easy pill. But, often, that pill is just to alleviate some symptoms of a larger problem, diabetes from being overweight for example. The doctor cannot make someone stop overeating or get them to exercise, they can only do what they can do. It must be very frustrating. On the other hand, doctors and pharmaceutical companies have together created an often disastrous quick-fix team where they offer things that only serve to fatten lawyers' purses.

Take the birth control pill Yaz or Yasmin as it was earlier called when it was introduced in 2001. At the time I remember thinking it was a little bit scary that it promised to cut off menstruation all together. Playing with my body's chemistry at all scares me, but to that level? I thought not, though my OB assured me it was fine. It was on the market after all, had been tested. No thanks.

Fast forward eight years and I am seeing all kinds of commercials on TV from law firms looking to make a buck by helping women who decided to take these pills sue Bayer for side effects that include little things, you know, small effects like heart attacks and strokes and, yes, even sudden death. I guess in the case of the latter, the family sues.

I have to say I wasn't surprised, rarely am when I see these things for I do not hold stock in companies' concern for me. Only I care enough about me to make such a decision and it should be better researched than just asking my doctor. I should ask many doctors, then check the Internet and read all sides, then trust my instinct. Most often with things that sound too good to be true, like not getting your period anymore, they are.

I can't say, though, that I vilify pharmaceutical companies. They provide a necessary service. They found a way to cure polio and to prevent so many other ills that once killed or left handicapped a large portion of the population. I just know that the decision is never so easy as just saying "OK" when a professional tells me what to do. My new cafe friend agreed and she told me a great story of a friend who worked for the legislature. He wrote up a law once and someone asked him later to define exactly what he meant by the law.

A good Irishman, he shrugged. "I don't know exactly," he said. "I'd had one pint too many."

Moral of the story for her: "I know better than to take things to the letter of the law."

"That," I said, nodding "can be applied to everything. We have to take prescriptions, laws, whatever we're told, with a grain of salt, we have to learn to decide for ourselves."

I gave her a gold star for even embarking on the conversation, for sticking around long after she'd put on her purse to go, for questioning. I wish it were easier to do things, like the Jetsons' model of full meals in a single pill or a moving walkway that took you through a tunnel in which your hair and makeup got done, your perfect outfit picked. Unfortunately, outside of TV animation, things are hard and often take thought and work. Bummer. I often wish it weren't so.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Telling the Real Story

I met some old college friends for breakfast in Soho on Friday, at Once Upon A Tart, my all-time favorite bakery. The currant buttermilk scone could change your life if you let it. The first time I ate one, sitting on the steps of the little French cafe on Sullivan Street, I ran right in afterward and bought a second one. Warning: two in one sitting is just asking for trouble.

My one friend was in from San Francisco, a few days off from her family, a high-powered exec not working for the first time since business school at UCBerkeley. The the other woman was taking a few minutes off from her elite reporter position with a major New York City news station. She was supposed to have been in Harlem, covering the story of new fruit carts going in to the much-rejuventated but still depressed neighborhood.

I laughed. "Oh, that will work," I said, jaded I know from having covered food marketing too long, from writing too many stories of failed efforts to sell more expensive, more nutritious foods to people who can't afford them and aren't in the habit of eating them. To succeed, businesses have to provide what people want to buy, not what they should buy, not what politicians or policy-makers hope they will be convinced to buy to save on healthcare costs.

"Well," she said, nodding "there was a shooting the other day, and the vendor got scared, so he didn't show up today."

"Wow. Well, that's a better story anyway," I said, "that's what's really going on."

"But now there is nothing to shoot," she said. "There's no story. He won't talk to us. It's TV, and there is nothing to show."

I shook my head. "That's the problem. It's why I have this lame photo-less blog I don't get paid for instead of being a reporter. I don't want to be beholden to the photo-op, to the sexy headline, to advertisers. I want to be able to tell the interesting story, the one I want to tell, the way I want to tell it."

She shrugged. "I'm used to it," she said. She has been a TV reporter since college, just as she set out to do, wending her way through small towns to get back to her native New York City, to the big time. Whether she is addressing a group on the latest breast cancer research or talking about sunglasses, she is always cognizant of her role and its positives and negatives, its potential and its parameters. This is her job. People want the information she holds, they want it fast and easy and uncomplicated, whatever it is about. They want a point of view, they want a perspective. She gives it to them. She is great at what she does. I gave her a gold star.

I remember the times when I was working on a story at work, just like when I was writing a paper in college, when the person I found to interview or the information I uncovered, didn't seem to support the thesis I had come up with out of the clear blue, the "Truth According to Stephanie" as my San Francisco friend called it, what I instinctively believe. Sometimes I think there is no such thing as a fact, but we look to support such "truths" all the time. We try to act like we know how many planets there are, but that seems to be changing all the time. I am a skeptic. It is why I am out of work. Journalists are jaded, to be sure, but most of their annoyance comes out in cursing out their very subjective subjects after they've hung up the phone or turned off the video camera. When we sit down to write or edit, we have to shrug and say it's the best we can do, the closest we can come and still stay employed.

After our reporter friend left to take on another story, one she could focus a video camera on, we meandered in my muddle-headed way to the newly developed Highline, ambling along in the bright sun amongst the new modern structures of Chelsea. It is almost suburban with its pristine landscaping, brand-new benches. There was not a homeless person to be seen, just working people on break, camp kids, tourists.

We hit a few galleries, marveling that things like a crudely-painted penis can command such high prices, and then separated to head uptown, to different sides. As I closed the door to her cab and watched it speed away, right toward where I was headed before it turned East, I kicked myself. Here I was, on 10th Ave., nowhere near a subway, and I was late getting to Times Square. The sun made me so stupid. I must have been voicing my vexation out loud, as a boy on a bicycle, a cute gold-cross wearing 20-something yelled out to me as he sat at the stoplight.

"I could give you a ride on my handlebars?!" he offered.

I looked down at my short denim dress and four-inch Barbarella platforms and imagined it, considered it. Maybe, had I been wearing pants, I'd like to think I'd have taken him up on it. I should have anyway, it would have been a great story, definitely TV-worthy. "Park Slope Mom Caught on Strange Man's Handlebars Riding Through Midtown."

But I would have flashed much of Manhattan and, anyway, I felt bad. He couldn't have been serious and I didn't want to call him out. I laughed, though, hard, and gave him a gold star for his boldness, for being so quick and funny. It made my day. My husband, hearing the story later, was disappointed I hadn't hopped on. He likes to tell stories of how crazy his wife is at the office, to have tangible examples to point to that explain what he's up against. I could have just said I'd done it, but it wouldn't be true. Next time, honey, I swear.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Authenticity v Commercialism

I met a former colleague from my marketing reporter days for lunch in the city today, a strong entrepreneurial woman I trust and admire. If you were wondering, I wore new black backless platforms with a bow. Very uncomfortable. Unlikely to be worn again, always a bummer realization on the first wear.

Anyway, we were talking about what we've been up to, the real estate and really expensive jeans she has been marketing via her small agency, the various endeavors I am endeavoring to at some point complete. I told her of my Gold Star Project and wanted her input on how I might possibly turn it in to something that might pay for at least a new pair of more comfortable shoes.

"Could you sell the star, could it say something?" she asked.

"No, see, that's the problem," I said. "I haven't even wanted to hand out cards because the stars are given out to people just for trying, at a real moment when I recognize their efforts, and I don't want them to distrust that the moment was real. Then, it loses its meaning. That's what the blog is all about."

"Well, then, maybe you come up with a more commercial idea and you can still do the blog authentically on its own..." she suggested.

That was it. She nailed it. This was my big problem: I wanted to marry authenticity and commercialism, to "monetize" something meaningful to me. I didn't want it to have to be either or, I wanted it to be both, all in one.

I wrote for years about companies trying to do just that, food companies that sprouted up with a real mission and meaning. They would gather a small fan base, then a bit bigger one that got recognized by a competitive corporate giant and then they'd be snapped up, if they were lucky. Then, usually, came the downward spiral of consumer trust. If, of course, the homegrown brand ever made the mistake of letting on that they too were part of the "commercial" world, if they copped to actually, gasp, being a business in the business of making money.

Despite living in a Capitalist society we are sadly unable to truly trust anything that tries to part us from our cash. It is a problem, one I am trying to reconcile as I look to build my own brand and give it at once both meaning and monetary value. People have told me for going on two years that I am brave for trying. They say it kindly I think, but in their eyes there is something else. Skepticism, or maybe just plain disbelief in the possibility that I might succeed. Or maybe that is my own fear being reflected in their eyes.

I addressed this fear recently when a woman I knew working next to me on her computer in a cafe, a woman who gets paid for working in a cafe, suggested my various beginning attempts were brave.

"Yes, I said, "but if I don't actually do something that makes money soon, 'bravery' will look like 'failure.'"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Real Artists

So there I am, minding my own business as usual, in my new AWESOME 4-inch platforms I like to call my Barbarella shoes (if only I could be half so sexy as Jane Fonda in that bizarre 60s Sci Fi) and I stop to talk to one of Brooklyn's Finest. I am referring, of course, in the radius around my 12th St. home, to the beefcakes of my local wine store and bar. The establishments, it has been noted elsewhere in a review of some fame, are popular for more than just their wine. There will be a calendar someday if they play their cards right:)

So, anyway, I digress, but only to amuse myself and, hopefully, you dear reader(s). This young man I stop to speak with as he sweeps up outside to pick up chicks, I mean clear the area of Brooklyn grime, is excited about his upcoming move to La La land, where they will surely better appreciate his white sneakers and, more importantly, where his girlfriend lives.

"She's a musician," he said.

"Cool," I said, "what kind?"

"She's a real artist," he said.

At this, I throw back my head and laugh. I have been told recently this is my signature move, the one people picture when they picture me, one several people actually have photos of including the horrid framed shot of me at my wedding shower on display in my in-laws' house. "That is so Stephanie," my mother-in-law always says. I don't know how I feel about this, but there it is. I do it unconsciously so stopping is probably not an option.

After my laughter subsided, I stared at L.A. Boy questioningly, head moving back and forth in amazement. "And by this you mean..."

He didn't bat an eye, didn't back off. "She actually gets paid for what she does, she's not just waiting tables, doing the occasional gig."

"Nice," I said, "very nice. So you're not an artist unless you get paid?"

"'s just that, I mean, she's really good, she does make a living at it. There's a difference."

There is. For sure. But being a real artist is very hard. Most of Brooklyn is trying, it seems. Manhattan too, of course, and L.A., and lots and lots of other places. Thank God they are not all successful or who would wait tables? Who would bartend or serve us our coffee or, I dare say, sell us our wine? Everyone, it seems, wants to be a real artist. Including me.

The conversation was particularly interesting because the evening before I had attended a great event at the Chelsea loft of a singer/songwriter friend. She had invited some people to listen to her and to two other singer/songwriters and a percussionist before she lamentably leaves said pricey loft for the greener (and cheaper) pastures of Brooklyn.

Now, I don't know how much money one must make to be considered a real artist, but I know these very talented musicians are still somewhat struggling despite having albums on iTunes, writing songs for TV shows, getting paid for gigs, etc.

My husband, the guilt-ridden corporate benefactor going deeply in the red to support my own fledgling artistic efforts, bought all five CDs on offer without pause. For my part, I gave a ton of gratitude to the musicians for their awesome efforts and, of course, a slew of gold stars both to the performers and to attendees for having come to support these really good artists through their persons and their purses. We had been asked to pay a suggested $10 donation for the wine and beer and snacks on offer. They are, after all, trying to keep it real.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What Now?

Five weeks of Mommy Camp is over. The kids got on the bus this morning headed to camp on Staten Island with their hats and their bug spray and their bathing suits, leaving me bereft of their little bodies and brains, leaving me again to try to figure how to fill my days happily and productively and move, somehow, toward profitability.

I am so grateful we've had this time, albeit some of it spent with them in front of the computer competing against animated enemies. I have seen them swim in lakes and oceans and pools, capture and release little salamanders (Oscar is still missing his little "Sally") and generally enjoy the relaxed pace of summer. I actually felt a little heartsick as they got on the bus, because I would miss them and because it left that void I haven't yet figured exactly how to fill. To be fair, I felt that void strongly, maybe even more so, when I was working full time. So I have to remind myself that it is a far harder mission than just 'getting a job,' as so many close to me have recommended when I have at moments seemed anxious and aimless.

My husband, amazingly, is a convert to this truth and is pushing me that way less than anybody, despite how the influx of cash would help him directly. He is awesomely supportive, often more than I deserve. I try to support him as well, though offering him the opportunity to take the time off to figure things out is not something I can do right now. Maybe someday, maybe sooner than we think, you never know. I haven't started playing the lottery yet, but my stabs at various kinds of writing often feels like a lottery in and of itself, with every potential industry I could sell to dwindling daily and my confidence dwindling along with them.

I have packs of gold stars waiting to give away. I know tons of people need them as they slog through their work this summer when they'd rather be playing, or, like me, contemplate what work would be worth slogging through come the impending fall as I feel too guilty to play. There is a balance, but trying to strike it is so, so hard. I am lucky just to have the time to contemplate.