Alice’s Adventures Above Ground

I’m just a writer. That’s my epitaph: Writer. The New York Times didn’t give me a weekly column, so I post here instead. This is the place where I work stuff out. Sometimes it’s where I rant a little. I often reminisce and ponder and observe and wonder and laugh. I do a lot of laughing. If you choose to read my work, I hope you’ll take it in the spirit in which it is meant. I don’t write to create chaos. I write to find peace. Please leave me your remarks. Or don’t.

Smiles,

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Don’t forget to pack your invisibility cloak

invisibility cloakI’ve been having an ongoing debate about the death of diversity programs in the workplace, with a central theme of “haven’t we gotten past the need to call out differences, especially around sexual orientation, given the recent surge in social and legal acceptance and the apparent inevitability of marriage equality?”

Even I have slipped down that hopeful slope a few times. Then reality invariably yanks me back up to the top of Mount Skepticism by the scruff of the neck.

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About last night…

ladies-who-lunchLast night I had dinner in a small Italian restaurant near my home. Shortly after I arrived, three elderly ladies were seated in the booth directly behind mine.

“I shouldn’t eat that eggplant Parmesan. I don’t know what it will do to me.”

“Yes, you should probably stick to what you know.”

“I never know how I’m going to react. Last night we went home and got stoned and I had the worst stomach all night.”

“Did you play tennis today?”

“No! Adele cancelled again. I got an email this morning from her that said she was bored last night and decided to go out to the end of the driveway and check her mail about 10 o’clock last night, and she says she stepped on a copperhead – she was sure it was a copperhead – and it bit her, so she decapitated it with a rake, went and got her camera – not her cellphone, but a real camera because she thought she needed high resolution – and took a picture of the decapitated snake, then buried the head because she had heard that her dogs might eat the head and it would poison them, so she buried the head, then she put the body in a Baggie and drove herself to the ER where she sat for 18 hours — of course no one could tell from the picture if it was a copperhead or not, but she was sure it was, so she got treated for the snake bite and then went home and cancelled tennis.”

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Pulling the plug on haters

No-Hate1An insurance salesman just read my essay “Why get (gay) married?” It’s a piece I wrote on the occasion of my first and only legal marriage at the age of 54 to my partner, an Episcopal priest. In it, I conclude that we get married –

Because we want to experience the deep contentment that comes from being harmoniously partnered for life, not only in our hearts, but in the hearts of everyone we know. We want to feel the warmth of inclusion in the collective embrace of our community. We want to know the peace that comes from avowed commitment to one another’s spiritual journey.”

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What it really means to be an ally

allyI understand how important people’s religions are to them. My partner is about to be ordained to the Episcopal priesthood. I think religion implemented as a model of inclusivity, cultural guidance, community bond, and philosophical practice can be magnificent.

And I know that each of us receives support and solace from all different kinds of spiritual and corporeal sources throughout our lives. Sometimes we stay connected to them, and sometimes we move on — with gratitude — but on, nonetheless. Just because something or someone helps us at some critical time in our life doesn’t make them perfect in all things for all time and doesn’t indebt us to them forever.

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My best friend’s (gay) wedding

I met Frank when he was 14. I was editor of the Mountain Brook High School “news”paper and as an incoming sophomore, he applied to be my cub reporter. So you might say I gave him his first job in journalism.

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We came out to each other after college, and made a minor ritual of attending deb parties together when I came home from New York City for the holidays. We’d steep ourselves in surreptitious sarcasm, making fun of the whole thing — as people tend to do to make themselves feel better when they don’t quite fit in. Years later when I went back to Birmingham for my 30th reunion, I called him and said, “You forgot to remind me how beautiful it is here,” and he said, “Well, we left because we were different, not because we didn’t have good taste.”

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I never danced for my mother

Dear Mother,

I’m writing to you now because it’s almost Thanksgiving, and for all the things that are good in my life today (and there are many), I have you to thank.

Katherine Alice Ross c. 1945

A belle born in the New Orleans of 1927, you were a product of your environment and your time: fiscally and socially conservative, but eccentric and open-minded in that odd way that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil taught us Southern ladies of your ilk could be. A Roman Catholic escapee, you raised me in the Episcopal Church and even attended with me whenever I asked you to. You did the same when I asked to visit a Jewish synagogue and a Buddhist temple and a Baptist church and a Pentecostal revival meeting. You debated Richard Wright, Emerson, Lionel Trilling, William F. Buckley, servitude, socialism, Vietnam, segregation, and the Junior League with me, and sometimes you even won. You took me to every theater production, every ballet, every art opening, you made me try every food once, you sent me on trips hither and yon, you bought me every book you could find and instructed me to never, ever get rid of them. You encouraged me to live in New York City just once before I “settled down.” You showed me in your behavior, if not in your words, that the desire to understand, or at least embrace, human complexity and diversity was the hallmark of an interesting person. Interesting was a trait to aspire to. Boring was failure.

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And she was grateful

A storm was coming, but it passed, and she was grateful.

A second storm was coming, but it too passed, and she was grateful still.

A third storm was coming and she thought, it won’t come here. But exactly four years ago today, it did, and she had fallen ill and was sorry to be a burden and grateful to have good friends to help her evacuate and offer her shelter at the last minute.

The office.

The storm came, and her office was among its first reported casualties, including all the computers and desks and files, and she was grateful that all her team had been out of the building when the waves took it.

She began to write and to send messages to her friends and neighbors so that they might share news as it emerged, and her messages went viral. And she was grateful to have the outlet.

My dream home is high above the ground, she said, where the storm surge can’t reach it. When I return, I will provide shelter and a meeting place for those who lost their homes. And she was grateful to have bought her dream home so that she could offer this safe place.

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Mutually exclusive intolerance

In general terms, the difference between the Far Left and the Far Right is the difference between giving and taking away. Perhaps that’s the starkest philosophical divide that keeps us all from reaching full understanding and compassion. The Far Left doesn’t always get the methodology correct, but their collective heart is in a good place. The Far Right, on the other hand, is so focused on depriving other people of benefits they themselves enjoy that it’s a wonder they don’t muse on their deathbeds, “Damn, I wasted my whole life obsessing on what men I don’t know do in bed and what pills women I don’t know take to avoid having kids I’m not going to be responsible for.”

John Kenneth Galbraith put it this way:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

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Owning our own persecution

“The gay community is breaking up,” my friend said. “We are becoming accepted and assimilated to such a degree that we don’t need gay bars and gay neighborhoods. The straight world is gonna have to find someone new to do their gentrification. We’ll be too busy planning our weddings.”

Isn’t that just unbelievably awesome news?!? Gay people are becoming so embraced by straight society that we no longer have to have our own ghettos, our own subculture?

Not so fast, Cowboy. We still have some healing to do.

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I actually got a job through social media

I’ve had about ten serious jobs in the real world over the last thirty years (ouch), and I found most of them through people I knew. There has usually been a connection to somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, and that way of the world has always been bad news for job seekers who didn’t know anybody to help them with an introduction.

Social media re-engineered the practice of networking. I’ve been working it hard for four years — designing and redesigning my SM strategy for personal, business, politics, writing, real estate — all the disparate aspects of my life. I use two Facebook profiles to hang out with people I know well and people I don’t know well. I have a FB page that autofeeds my Twitter account, which I use exclusively for politics, and another new one devoted purely to disseminating the truth about the President’s accomplishments. Finally, I have FB pages devoted just to real estate and food. I am thoroughly compartmentalized in the hope that I don’t bore my friends too much with stuff they’re not interested in. But note, none of that is strictly about business.

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Like Christianity, the chicken sandwich is a choice

I’m sick and tired of the “Christian Right” making everything about them. The latest is the public revelation that Chick-Fil-A has been donating millions of dollars for years to anti-gay groups and has no intention of stopping. The LGBT community has been quietly boycotting CFA for a long time. Suddenly the bigotry has gone public and the Christian Right cries out, “Tell those bad gay people to stop picking on us, stop bullying us! We have the right to have our own opinions without them boycotting us.”

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Happy Hug-a-Bully Day

A few years ago, I got sucked into a local debate over whether or not smoking would be allowed inside restaurants and bars. The city had already passed a no indoor smoking ordinance, but it was being fought by small business owners, mostly, who claimed their livelihoods depended on their smoking patrons. It was not a liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican fight. It was a personal liberties fight between people who believed their right to smoke trumped that of other people’s right not to breathe their smoke.

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Habits are good when they’re not bad

Change is hard. I study and teach it for a living, so I know a little more about it than the average bear. That doesn’t make it any easier for me to accept change in my own life, just means I recognize it when it’s happening.

I’ve had lots of change in the past four years. I started a company, lost it and my home to a hundred year hurricane, moved eight times with three pets during the year that followed, gained fifty PTSD pounds, landed in Atlanta, got a job, lost a job, got married, and… oh… lost all that weight.

Let’s talk about that last part. Before 2008, the hardest change I had deliberately, actively undertaken in my life (not just been in the way of) had been when I quit smoking in 2001. I was a two-pack a dayer for twenty-seven years (gulp). With the help of a tremendous program at MD Anderson that matched me with a pre-iPhone handheld computer, I managed to wean myself off the poison in twenty-eight days. It was just me, the computer, and a patch—no shame, no counseling, no fear tactics, no peer pressure, no group hugs—and any success or failure was entirely mine. There was no temptation to cheat because nobody else was playing.

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Molly Ivins still speaks for me

Taking A Stab At Our Infatuation With Guns

By Molly Ivins, Monday, March 15, 1993

Molly Ivins

AUSTIN – Guns. Everywhere guns.

Let me start this discussion by pointing out that I am not anti-gun. I’m pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife.

In the first place, you have catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We’d turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don’t ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives.

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Catch .22

My best friend nearly shot me in the head with a twenty-two in the seventh grade. It was an accident, but the bullet grazed my skull so that I could feel the burn, and but for the grace of God, if that’s what it was, go I today.

The reason two seventh grade girls were carrying loaded twenty-twos at all was not because we girls liked shooting guns. My step-father thought it was appropriate that all us kids learn how to shoot and hunt, I guess so we could go along with him on the weekends and do what he wanted to do rather than hang out at the pool or play tennis like we wanted to do.

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Liars and wing-nuts

In this bifurcated media world that we live in — where it’s conservative media over here and then space and then everything else, and never the twain shall meet – it is at least worth knowing enough about the latest nonsense right-wing conspiratorial clap-trap going on over there to make fun of it. Because if you haven’t been monitoring the quite literally fantastic stories that conservatives tell each other about the forces arrayed against them in the world, then you have no idea where this stuff is coming from when they actually try to make public policy out of it.” – Rachel Maddow

When did education, logical thinking, rational argument, common sense, civilized compromise, and the truth become déclassé?

The Fox News-Michele Bachmann-Glenn Beck-Grover Norquist-Rush Limbaugh-Sarah Palin-Rick Perry-Rick Scott-Allen West ad nauseum multiumvirate have awakened among the lowest uncommon denominator a voice demanding an equal seat at the table, and for reasons as unimaginable to mere mortals as quantum physics, the media has largely invited them. This has given credibility to perspectives so outrageous, indeed so crazy and/or ignorant, that some regular people have slowly been lulled into thinking they have some merit.

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Boycott Chick-Fil-A

I posted this piece on Facebook today:

“What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Republican Party? I’ll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act.  “What did Conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things every one. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, ‘Liberal,’ as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won’t work, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor.”

The son of a high school friend quickly replied: “So I’m a racist, sexist, intolerant person???”

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Failing forward

Failure is an inside job. So is success. If you want to achieve, you have to win the war in your thinking first.” — John Maxwell

I’m smarting from an interview I had last week. It was the fifth conversation in a series of six for a place on a team of change management consultants; that is, people who help people adapt to change in the workplace, largely through application of (allegedly) exceptionally well-honed communications skills.

The conversation went something like this — although I’m pretty sure some of the sassier comments stayed in my head:

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From flabby to fabulous after 50

Alliterative, isn’t it?

Six months in, and feeling groovy!

But here’s the thing: I’m fifty-four and I woke up one day last November and realized I was going to have to buy more new pants to fit around my burgeoning belly. (I like the word “belly,” don’t you? Sounds so much cuter than “big fat stomach.”) My feet hurt, my knees clicked when I climbed the stairs, I was tired all the time, and I was feeling decidedly unsexy. When I sat on the sofa and folded my arms, they rested up around my chest, not on my lap, if you know what I mean. Yuck.

I bought scales instead of the new pants, and discovered I had gained thirty pounds since I last weighed three years earlier. There were all kinds of reasons for it — surviving a hundred-year hurricane, loss, depression, unemployment, a big move — but excuses didn’t make it all right. And, to be clear, eating and drinking too much didn’t cure the excuses either.

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Moving on

Moving on

It hasn’t been easy. I had hoped that I made you better and you didn’t want to lose me. Even more, you made my life so big that I was certain I couldn’t live without you. Maybe that’s why I hung in there for so long, even as our friends told me over and over again to just walk away and stay away. I guess I needed to hear it from you.

But you wouldn’t say it. You kept calling me back in that love-you-but-not-really-but-yeah-I-kinda-do way you have that speaks to my inner dysfunction.

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Keep the closet door ajar

“I maintain two Facebook profiles, one private for friends and family and one public for everybody else.”

“Two? Why in the world…?”

“I know, it’s crazy, right? But some people can and will take away things I cherish if I let them. I was reminded of that last week.

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Love is ours to give

I became a part of something much greater than myself last weekend.

Sixty-something family and friends left their lives, spending their time and money to travel to Atlanta to lift us up. It was every bit an Episcopal wedding, a full service complete with processional and Eucharist. Everyone sang the hymns molto voce, with inspired enthusiasm. The vows and everything about the service were nearly the same as any other church wedding, except the priest did not pronounce us “man and wife” because we are both women. “Close enough for government work,” as I like to say. This was a blessing by our priest in our church of the legal marriage we had made in New York the week before.

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My first gay wedding

Jody and I got married last Friday.

We were lifted up in joy by her parents, her twin sister and sister-in-law, and my three closest friends from the good ol’ days–ma familia–Andy, Jonathan, and Gary.

La Familia: Cody, Donna, Jody, Jonathan, Andy, Gary, Jim & Nancy

After a limo drive from midtown Manhattan to the New York City Clerk’s office, we navigated the completely unromantic environment of marriage bureaucracy, took a number à la Baskin Robbins, and waited our turn to enter the “Wedding Chapel,” a purple shellacked, not-so-hallowed hall that made us all laugh out loud.

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Oui, je regrette beaucoup

Getting married — at any age I expect, but especially for the first time after fifty — causes massive rushes of retrospection. I’ve come to believe that anyone who says they have no regrets about anything in their life fell off a different turnip truck than I did.

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In defense of Hilary Rosen

As a single woman, I have felt the stress throughout the years of having to make my own living, pay for my own healthcare, support myself alone without a safety net. I have often thought the role of a married woman who doesn’t work outside the home – who is financially supported – is an enormously privileged one. Yes, raising kids is a difficult and honorable path. I would have loved it. But I also understand what Hilary Rosen was trying to say. If a woman has never had to worry about making the rent, so to speak, she hasn’t experienced the difficulties so many women have and isn’t representative of them. Don’t let them hijack the real message. Again.

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Politics is religion. Religion is politics.

Politics is a spiritual practice that unites all religions and non-religions. If with our votes we do not choose to do what is best for the weakest among us, it doesn’t matter how many times we go to church or how many bake sales we hold. In the voting booth, as in the confessional booth, there is only you and your God. Do the right thing. Change the world. Pass it on. https://www.facebook.com/liberalsforpeace

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Why get (gay) married?

I hear it all the time: “Why do you (people) insist on getting married? It’s not real marriage, you know. Civil unions are good enough.”

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I know what you mean. Who in their right mind would want to engage in a ritual that has a failure rate in some demographics of up to seventy-three percent?

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Best birthday: 16


What I asked for

I asked for a new purple ’74 Gremlin automatic and Baked Alaska (because I’d never had it), and I expected a relatively quiet family thing because I was rehearsing late for my first musical role — Louisa in The Fantasticks.

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You can’t vote Republican if you love thy gay neighbor

This is the part where I have to get blunt.

Not including the Westboro Baptist gang and their sadly misguided ilk, who I’m fairly certain wouldn’t be reading my blog anyway, is there anyone in the U.S. today who doesn’t know and love at least one gay person — friend, colleague, parent, child, cousin, neighbor? Do you?

Please hold that person close in your heart and mind as you read this short essay.

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An open letter to my conservative friends

Specifically anybody who by today’s standards considers themselves any combination of ultra-conservative, Tea Party, far right-wing, neocon, fundamentalist, religious right, and also my friend. I’m writing to you.

I’m confused. Are you what you say or what you do?

You aren’t a racist. I know that because you have friends and colleagues of other races and I’ve seen you be loving and charming and delightful to them.

You don’t support profit for profit’s sake and you’re not an anti-environmentalist. I know that because you’re appalled by the BP oil leak nightmare in the Gulf and what it is doing to the places where you and your family love to vacation and have made so many memories.

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A friend is someone who votes for you

My earlier essay, An open letter to my conservative friends, got a few people asking, “Will I still have any friends if I repost THAT?”

I want to be really, really clear. In An open letter…, I was asking my friends who frequently quote the most extreme of the conservative pundits (Beck, Limbaugh, and Palin) and the recent Republican contenders (Gingrich, Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, Paul, and Romney) whether they do so because they think those people are funny or because they agree with their positions. And if it’s the latter, do they agree with just one or two of their positions or their entire philosophy? And I said I was asking because those same friends’ behavior belies the sorts of negative characteristics those oft-quoted pundits lead with. All I wanted to know was who my friends authentically are and what they authentically believe.

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12 steps to health, harmony & prosperity

If you don’t want to be happy, warning: This essay is not for you.

A year ago, I was dead broke. I’d lost everything but my clothes and furniture to real estate investments and a brokerage that went belly-up after a 100-year hurricane washed it all away. No home, no car, no 401K, no money. I was a real estate agent, but with nothing in escrow, I was effectively unemployed. I had no resources, no apparent possibilities, and no way to pay the rent that was due two weeks later. I was about to turn 53 and I’d been fighting this losing battle for two and a half years. I was plum tuckered out.

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Seagull nation

My precious mother died young in 1983 at the age of 56, but before she left, she lived a life that was an embarassment of riches, literally. She grew up in the recently Old South — the New Orleans of the first half of the 20th Century — with footmen, chaffeurs, cooks, maids, summer homes, winter homes, private planes, the works. Her family money came first from cotton, then from steel, and her family’s business was finally and permanently laid to rest by her brother’s steadfast refusal to unionize in the 1970s and ’80s. She died with relatively little, yet her interest and dividends still covered her mortgage, and she never held a paying job.

Don’t hate her because she was privileged. She was my greatest teacher.

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Shareholders only, please

I haven’t written in nearly four months because I got a job, then I got another one, and that getting up early and going to an office and coming home late thing is simply not conducive to creativity. At least the time it leaves isn’t. That’s not a complaint, it’s a logistics observation. It’s hard to follow your bliss when you’re working all the time, and it’s impossible to follow your bliss when you’re looking for a job (and are probably depressed).

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How to get a job in 8 (kinda) easy steps

I uprooted my whole life in March because I could no longer make a living in real estate in Galveston, Texas. I spent my first three months in Atlanta unpacking and getting settled, being homesick and depressed and wondering what I was going to do next.

But self-pity isn’t a strategy. What I needed was a plan. So I sat myself down and gave myself a good talking to, ran some ideas past myself, and plotted my next steps. Once I started working my plan, I got a good job offer in three weeks… and four more in the month that followed!

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Don’t quit your day job

I took a sabbatical from the real world in 2006. I called it a “real estate career.”

The last time I was in the real world.

I was bored with my corporate job, burned out and tired of the travel. Surely there was a more exciting way to live life and make a living, too?

I planned my exit well. Having been in the same industry and with the same employer for the better part of fifteen years, I saved my money, maxed out my 401(k) employer match, invested in a couple of idiot-proof pieces of property, got my real estate license, moved to the beach, took a voluntary layoff package from my employer, became a “top producer,” acquired a failing real estate franchise, became a broker, board member, trainer, and real estate consultant to the media and local community leadership.

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The Fox in the Box Case


Marcia Brushingham

The Casey Anthony verdict is shocking, but not unique.

I knew an actress named Marcia Brushingham, 47, murdered by her brother David, 64, who stuffed her body in a plywood box he built and dropped at a bus stop at Lincoln Center in NYC in 1990. In the media, the case was known as “The Fox in the Box Case.”

David’s life had been colored by tragedy for over twenty years. His 5-month old son mysteriously suffocated in his crib. His business colleague died while they were out on the town together, and David married his young widow a few weeks later. His 5-year old daughter drowned in the ocean near his home while in his custody. His 35-year old stepson vanished without a trace the night before he was set to testify against him. His wife died shortly after leaving him. His elderly landlady died of sepsis, leaving everything she had to her tenant in a handwritten will. His best friend died under mysterious circumstances and David found the body.

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Freedom’s just another word

We’re all free in this country — every one of us. We’re free to get up every morning and go to (or look for) the job of our choice in a field we alone select. We’re free to partake of a multitude of educational and training opportunities, eat as much of our favorite food as we like, visit with friends no matter what persuasion, and live wherever and with whomever we choose this side of prison bars. We can opt to be solitary, slovenly, communal, or activist. We can complain, teach, change, and create. We can regurgitate the drivel of whatever radio nimrod we enjoy listening to and wear t-shirts emblazoned with any idiotic slogan we pick. Freedom is not an issue for us in this country.

But independence… ahhhh, there’s a concept for you.

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If words could kill…

What shall I write about? I asked. The smell of rain. Thirty minutes in your journal, someone said. Haven’t journaled in a long, long time, I thought. Not since I accidentally on purpose left my diary in my mother’s room and she read it and got her feelings hurt, which was predictable because I was really mad at her at the time and wrote about that, but I wasn’t really mad at her, just frustrated because I was twenty-four and trying to get her to tell me about who my birthmother was and she was taking that all personally and poor-poor pitiful me, plus I had my first girlfriend and really wanted to tell my mother, but had no clue how to do that, and when I wrote down my feelings, it all sounded a lot like me being mad at her, especially since I accidentally on purpose left it for her to find, I guess. And she read it all. And then she died, so I decided it was the journal’s fault – that it had killed my young fifty-six year old mother sure as taking a sledgehammer to her heart and breaking it in a million bits. I wrote my last secret words in 1982 because secret words kill people.

The rain smells a lot like that.

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.” – e.e.cummings

P.S. Never put in writing anything you don’t want to see on the front page of The New York Times.

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I am not my FICO score

When I started buying real estate in 2003, I developed an unusual compulsion. I was a FICOmaniac. I joined one of those services that keeps track of your credit scores from the three major bureaus, and checked it nearly daily. I charted the ups and downs like a stock broker, kept spreadsheets, and analyzed every tick. Yes, not unlike today’s fascination with Facebook, I was addicted to FICOisGod.com and happily paid $6.95 a month for the privilege.

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Job Search 2.0.11

If you haven’t looked for a job in a while, I’ve got news for you: The process has changed.

Gone are the days of calling your dad’s best friend, the CEO, and asking for a job, any job, and having one the next morning.

Gone are the days of mailing in your resume, then following up with a phone call and actually reaching someone of consequence.

Gone are the days of sitting with a potential employer and walking through your job history, explaining the gaps and emphasizing the good stuff, asking what they want and saying, “I can do THAT!”

Gone are the days of simple job titles and clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Gone, just gone.

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Of tornadoes & hurricanes & the uniquely qualified

Just last weekend, many of us recognized Easter and Passover, and meditated on the blessings of cleansing, renewal, and rebirth or freedom from the past, both literal and metaphoric. Some of us considered the practical application in our modern lives, and the idea that sometimes we make deliberate choices to separate from what has gone before, and sometimes those choices are foisted upon us.

Bolivar Peninsula after Ike – Sept. 2008

Tuscaloosa after the tornado – April 2011

In the days that followed those holiest of remembrances, tornadoes unexpectedly ravished the Southeast — leveling towns and neighborhoods and taking over three hundred lives. I was riveted to the television and computer, much as I had been thirty-one months ago as the sun came up on what had been my home in Galveston, Texas, the morning after Hurricane Ike roared ashore.

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Memories of Alabama, The Royals, and Alternative Weaponry

All-girl production of “Oliver,” Birmingham, Spring ’75

Dateline: Birmingham, Alabama, 1975. The all-girl production of Oliver closed as scheduled after a half-dozen sold-out performances. I had understudied Nancy and played the Strawberry Seller and Noah Claypole nightly while standing at the ready in case the star couldn’t go on. With just six performances, I knew the opportunity was scant, and I really didn’t care. I was in love with my life. Junior year was ending with huge opportunities looming for seniorhood — editor of this and performer of that — but first, one last summer at a sailing camp where I’d been summering since I was twelve. This year I’d be a counselor, a privilege I would happily have met for free, but which nonetheless paid $135 gross for the twelve weeks I would spend away from home — more than enough to cover the round trip in my 1966 Mercedes 200D at 36 cents a gallon.

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Fantasy U.S.A.: The Right-Brain Version

A friend wrote me a long (about 2,500 words), thoughtful email today outlining the demise of the U.S. from an economic perspective. I tried to read it, but you know how it is — he’s left-brained and I’m right-brained — so I got a couple of paragraphs into it and started thinking about whether braised pork shoulder would be good for dinner tonight.

When I came back, I realized that while my friend is studying the innards of the pig, I’m hoping it looks good on the plate and tastes delicious.

And in crafting my response to him, I found myself getting pretty specific about what I believe. I asked myself, “What does the perfect fantasy country look like to your right-brained self?” I don’t know if you can get there from here, but this is how America would look if my dreams came true:

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We pay a price to follow our call

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. — Edmund Burke

“Who inspires you?” she asked. “Courageous people,” I said. “To me, courage is what we uniquely bring to the party as an authentic expression of our heart, soul, and spirit. Courage is what raises us up. And it’s about the hardest thing there is to be true to in this life.”

I surprised myself with that answer, and had to think about why. Not too long ago, I got a written and verbal lashing from a group of people who happened to think differently about a subject than I did. Their response was not to call and visit with me about our respective views, or to write a thoughtful treatise on their position to seek understanding and compromise, but was to disparage me in the press and online with accusatory fabrications of their own imaginations of who and what a terrible person I must be to hold the opinions they attributed to me. In so doing, they frightened me. Their ill-considered words threatened me, and things got bad enough that my friends suggested I beef up my home security system.

Curiously, I reacted to all that negative attention with a total flight response. I couldn’t get away from the fight fast enough. It scared me, angered me, confused me, and I wanted nothing to do with it. And in that fear, I met my inner cowardice. Maybe the issue wasn’t important enough to me to pay the price of courage. But some things are.

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Coming of age, embracing change

A couple of years ago, I had dinner with a group of friends that included a 77-year old and her 25-year old grandson. The conversation turned to the relative merits of Facebook versus MySpace, and listening to the two generations talk in terms of acronyms and modern hieroglyphics (like smiley face icons), I found myself time-traveling back thirty years to a series of unforeseeable events — those that would notably shape the first half of my adult life.

Straight out of high school, I went to the University of Georgia and declared a journalism major. After my first semester, I sat down with my academic advisor, who said, “Alice, your work is good, your professors like you, everything’s fine. I just want you to know that there are no jobs for women in journalism.”

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Visiting the inner circle of Hell — by subpoena

The Mother of the Bride walks into The Main Attorney’s office and says, “I’ve been wronged and I need help.”

“Come in,” says The Main Attorney, “and tell me your story.”

“Well,” she says, “Last year, my daughter was getting married and I needed a Mother of the Bride hat for the wedding. I went to the local hat shop, and there was a delivery of new hats just arriving. As The Hat Delivery Driver was unloading the hats, right away I spotted one that would be perfect with my Mother of the Bride dress, but it lacked the pink pearls it needed. I told The Hat Saleslady that I needed a hat that could have pink pearls added, and she assured me that would be no problem. As the hat was quite expensive for my budget, I called my Long-time Seamstress and asked her to come over and look at the hat before I bought it. She said right away that the hat could not be beaded because of something to do with the material of the hat. I don’t know about those things, so, of course, I have to rely on the experts.

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NEXT!

Most of us weren’t born to live and die in the same spot, doing the same thing day in and day out, following the tail of the tiger in front of us until we churn to butter under a tree.

But sometimes we get comfortable in our lives, in our boxes, in our cages. Sometimes we become convinced that how things are is how they must always be. And sometimes the Universe jumps out from behind that tree and hollers, “NEXT!”

In some languages, that sounds remarkably like, “Gotcha!”

And some of us say, “Great! Bring it on!” and others say, “Do I have to?” And sometimes people say, “No, I won’t.” That’s when it gets messy.

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It’s not my fault

The reality is, we need to talk about it.

When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot a few days ago, fingers started wagging and defenses went up. At first, the conversation (is that the right word?) was about the use and misuse of language, especially by people in power (i.e., those who should know better), and as a writer and professional strategic communicator, I absolutely salute the dominion of words and recognize their deliberate incendiary choice when I hear them. And, yes, shame on all you public influencers who misuse the privilege of language.

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