The graduate’s dilemma.


When I graduated from college in the fall of 2010, I was asked to speak at commencement. I was very honored but even more terrified, and I kind of froze up and only half-remembered what I wanted to say about inspiration and gratitude and intelligence and blah blah blah. So what I got five minutes to say, I instead said in about three.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it, and now that I don’t even really remember what I did say, I think back and know that even if I stuck perfectly to my scripted statement, it would not have been the right thing to say.

This is what I should have said in that commencement speech.

Congratulations! You’ve just spent four years of your life at an institution of higher learning. As you walk across the stage today, you receive an empty shell where your diploma will go. Most likely, you’re already thinking about what kind of frame you want. The business majors will go with something black that will match the decor of their high-efficiency offices; School of Arts and Sciences graduates probably want mahogany or cherry wood; art students are thinking about salvaging driftwood from the beach after graduation to make something truly meaningful; and the journalism kids are just hoping they have money to buy a frame.

So now that you’re going out into the world to face a merciless economy thick with unemployment, you have your degree and the special skills you learned in your time in college, and you’re certain that you can beat the other candidates out for the one job you want.

Here is my concern for you: Are you really prepared? How much did you really learn? When you sit at the desk on your first day on the job, how much training do you need? Will your new boss play along, or will he not even hire you, sensing your inexperience?

It is my concern that fewer students are really being challenged in the university system. It is happening everywhere, and it is the same sort of failure of students that elementary school teachers experience when they find themselves preparing only for standardized testing and not for actual, real world experience. Professors’ success is based on the success of their students. So if their students do not succeed, it reflects poorly on them.

Now let me ask this: If you were to look back at how much time you spent with friends, how much time you spent doing compulsory volunteer work and how much time you spent studying (not including the time you spent in class), where do you feel most of your time was allocated? In every instance of you turning in work, did you really put in as much time as you possibly could?

Students, including myself, are so focused now on everything going on around us that we very rarely take time for our work. We see our friends going on trips, going to the mall, watching TV shows and movies, volunteering at every opportunity, participating in extracurricular clubs, playing guitar, learning how to skateboard and surf, and taking advantage of just about every opportunity to procrastinate. And let’s admit it: There are a lot of those opportunities, even on a small campus like PBA.

Back to the problem of passing: How many of us really feel like we did the work to justify the diplomas we will receive today? With the myriad distractions, it’s a miracle any of us are ready to hit the workplace. Very few employers care about the volunteer work you did, unless it is directly related to your field of work. They don’t want to hear about how you can surf, and how you learned how to skateboard, and how you and your roommate built your own longboards.

They want to know where you interned. Coming fresh out of college, they may ask for a copy of your transcripts. They are going to look at the classes you took and the grades you received. Some employers may want to see a professor or two for references. If you can provide those things with confidence, good for you. You join the league of students who perhaps did the work required of them with the appropriate amount of effort.

I say perhaps because I still have this nagging feeling that too much of the pressure is placed on professors to succeed and that pressure is not properly relayed to students. We slack off, and when a professor demands the best from us, we give them horrible evaluations that can reflect so poorly on them, they may be fired. Is that fair, to put the onus upon the professors? When did students, regardless of age, stop holding themselves accountable for their education? Why do we blame the professors every time we don’t do well?

Moving out into the workplace, you should know that kind of mentality will not fly. You cannot blame your superiors when you don’t do well. You have to accept responsibility for your successes and failures.

I know, without any doubt at all, I can do this. The question you have to ask yourself: Am I ready to be responsible, or do I still need someone to blame? Can I take my life into my own hands, or must I find a scapegoat to bear the burden of my defeat?

So when you receive your hollow shell where your diploma will go, think about the shell of your life and what you have filled it with up until this point.

Hopefully, when you hold that shell to your ear, you won’t only hear the lonely echo of the ocean. Hopefully, you will hear your future self congratulating you on your decisions.

‘The Next Best Thing’


Today, I finished reading Jennifer Weiner’s new book, “The Next Best Thing.” When I interviewed the author this afternoon, I semi-gushed over some aspects of the book: the lead character, Ruth, and how everyone can relate to her; the manner in which Weiner connects readers to the story; and how Ruth’s grandmother is so wonderfully crafted.

But one point where I stopped myself from gushing was in regards to a scene in the book where Ruth is 8 years old. She’s sitting in a hospital room, in between surgeries to repair her in the wake of the car accident that killed her parents. Ruth and her grandmother are curled up in the bed watching “The Golden Girls,” and Ruth imagines she can make the screen melt away, that she can crawl into a world where we pick our families and everyone can be a hero in her own way.

The moment reminded me of my own hospital scene: I was young, I think 5 or 6 years old, and in my own hospital bed at a children’s facility in Massachusetts. Doctors were working to determine why I, a seemingly healthy little girl, was suffering from grand mal seizures. (It would be determined later that I had a kidney infection so awful that I would spike very high fevers, which would bring on the seizures.)

My mother was at my bedside most of the time, and my father would join us after or before work, and he would sit with me and make me laugh. We would watch cartoons and TV shows, reruns mostly, and I would lose myself in the world on the screen.

When I was in the hospital that time, I had been rushed and admitted. Silently, I lamented the absence of my stuffed animals; oh, wouldn’t it be so nice to have something to cuddle? My parents asked me if they should bring anything from the house. Bravely — or so I thought — I told them no, that I was just fine without my stuffed animals.

The next thing I remember is my father walking into the hospital room with a bag. My mother looked up, he nodded to her, and she walked to him. They conferred quietly by the door, and I saw a smile spread across my mother’s face. She looked at me, and I could see the faintest hint of tears behind her wide-rimmed glasses.

My father, meanwhile, looked like the cat that ate the canary. He came over to me, and from the bag he pulled two new stuffed animals.

The first was a shaggy sheepdog-looking thing, with white and gray hair sticking up all over the place. This I named Fluffette. In the coming days, my father made up a theme song for her that he would sing while vigorously shaking Fluffette until her hair spiked out in all directions: “She can fluff up the room, she can make the room dark, she can flutter with her tail!” It made no sense, but it sent me into gales of laughter.

The second was a blue whale, whose name I can’t remember at the moment. My father handed it to me carefully and told me to unzip the whale’s belly. From inside spilled two tiny whales, identical fuzzy replicas of their parent. I enjoyed playing with the whale, but I really loved to cuddle it. There was something about holding it close, squishing it near me and feeling the two little whale babies inside the larger one. Now I realize this probably was a better gift for a woman who’d just birthed twins, but at the time I thought it was so special.

Later that day, my mother left the bedside for a few minutes (why, I can’t recall; probably a bathroom break or to stretch her legs). When she walked out of the room, my father turned to me.

“You really seem to like the whale,” he said.

“I do,” I replied quietly, hugging the whale to my stomach.

“Do you know why I got it for you?” he asked, to which I shook my head no.

“The big whale is me,” he said slowly, pointing to the creature I held in my hands. “And the babies are you and Candice (my older sister). I’m always here to protect you.”

I looked solemnly at the whale before asking, “Does that mean Fluffette is Mom?”

My father began laughing uncontrollably, and it was then that my mom walked back into the room.

I never got to talk to my dad about how special that toy was to me from that moment on. I still have it; it’s hiding in a bin in my bedroom. Every once in awhile I take it out, hold it close to me and remember how loved I felt, how special that toy made me feel in the middle of everything.

Today, after talking to Jennifer Weiner, I thought about taking the whale out of the bin. But I realized it would be too much. My emotions would be too strong. If I had to look at that whale, I don’t think I’d have been able to go to work. I think I’d just want to lay in bed, holding it close and thinking of all the wonderful times I spent with my father, who passed away June 6.

The experience made me realize the value of a book like “The Next Best Thing.” There’s a magic gifted authors have: They can take you to a time and place in your life where, although you may not have realized it, you had everything you would ever need. It isn’t enough to simply lose yourself in a novel; you have to be able to find yourself there, as well.

Where have I been?


I haven’t updated my blog in awhile. The wind kind of went out of my sails over the past few months. But I’ve been keeping busy. Very busy.

In addition to my regularly scheduled work, I started doing some books reporting for the paper. Those of my friends who recall it will know I once had a books blog going that was strong and regularly updated … until I got a job.

The joke now is that after I graduated, I rejoiced that I would have time to read again. I wouldn’t have to read philosophy and communication/journalism theory books. I started reading books I bought years ago and had intended to read. But now I’m back to required reading.

And I love it.

So here’s what I’ve been up to over the last few months, in reverse chronological order:

I interviewed Stuart Woods.

I interviewed John Sandford.

I interviewed Sue Grafton.

I interviewed Patricia Cornwell.

I covered Stuart Woods’ appearance at a local fundraiser.

I interviewed Kristin Hannah.

I previewed an event featuring two authors.

Yesterday, I covered the above event. It was supposed to feature the two authors, but one had to cancel because of a family emergency. My next interviews are Jodi Picoult (also covering her appearance here) and Harlan Coben.

So here’s what I want to know: What are you reading right now? What are your favorite authors? What kind of book reviews do you read, if any?

 

 

I’m going to pin you in your face.


Alternate title: I’m addicted to Pinterest.

Mild-mannered copy editor by day. Pinning madwoman by night. Or wait. I think it might be the other way around, since I work at night.

I lurk through the pins of others. I hunt down interesting hairstyles, fun craft projects, fresh tips to keep my home clean. I pin them all, because I want to try them.

And then I don’t. Because instead of actually trying a new hairstyle, getting crafty or cleaning my apartment, I keep pinning.

I find a hilarious picture of a dog. (pinned in “makes me laugh”)

I find a picture of a spiral staircase surrounded by towering bookshelves. (pinned in “dream home”)

I find a picture of a lovely wedding gown inspired by a Disney princess. (pinned in “wedding ideas” [giggle])

I find a picture of a coffee table with a checkboard pattern made of old scarves weaved together and lacquered over. (pinned in “craft projects”)

I find more and more things I love, and as I pin I imagine that my Pinterest buddies are getting the full scope of my artistic inclinations. I mean, I may not be able to actually draw a perfect picture of a unicorn, but I pinned one and that’s basically the same, right?

As I pin more craft projects, my friends must be thinking me quite the crafty devil. I mean, not everyone will pin a project as incredible and with such a level of difficulty as a wreath made of dried orange slices wrapped around and pinned (of course) to a styrofoam ring.

These Pinterest buddies also can see how funny I am. I have such a good sense of humor! Look at this shirt with this hilarious design that I will never buy!

The act of pinning renders me completely inactive, sometimes for the better part of a day. So to keep myself in shape, I pin pictures of women running on beaches and inspirational workout quotes like, “Keep calm and use a 5-lb. dumbbell.”

Am I alone in this? Does anyone else have this strange addiction to this site? Perhaps it’s the feeling of elitism. Perhaps I like that I was invited to join, and other people have to wait in line. It’s like being on the VIP list and walking past the girls in heels whose feet will be too sore to dance once they get to the floor. Is that so wrong?

I saw Tommy Lee Jones at Publix on Sunday.


Let me preface this by saying that I have met celebrities in the past. I once had my picture taken with Elliott Sadler, and when I put my arm around him I grimaced because he was so sweaty. So the only proof I have of my meeting Elliott Sadler is a picture where I look disgusted to be meeting Elliott Sadler.

That same day I met Ryan Newman. In my fervor to get his autograph I may or may not have nudged a child to the side. I tend to get tunnel vision when I’m in the presence of great men. Ryan Newman looked kind of surprised, but I thought he was in awe of my beauty. Upon returning to Candice and my dad, they informed me that the look on Ryan Newman’s face was a response to my “nudging” of a child … a child who was with a group from the Make A Wish Foundation. So I pushed a Make A Wish kid. Awesome.

Most of my celebrity experiences have been awkward. But that was OK, because for the most part those encounters were expected.

I did not, however, expect to see Tommy Lee Jones at Publix on Sunday.

Mr. Lee Jones looks doubtful as to his whereabouts Sunday afternoon.

I was in the bakery looking for strudel. Candice was looking for an ice cream cake, so I pointed to the corner of the bakery and said, “The free range cakes are over there.” That’s when I saw Tommy Lee Jones, because I think he thought I was pointing at him.

Mr. Lee Jones seemed to be wandering around, and I think he was people watching. In person he has a large head — not an insult, just a fact — and he was wearing glasses. As he walked past me, my thought process was as follows:

That guy looks familiar.
Is he famous?
He looks really familiar.
Is he a doctor? No … not a doctor.
Wait, is he Tommy Lee Jones?
But that’s silly. Why would he be at Publix? It can’t be him.
Wait.
No.
That definitely is Tommy Lee Jones.

Holyshitholyshitholyshit.

In my head I was doing champion arms as I moved casually over to where Candice was standing and mouthed, “Tommy Lee Jones?” She looked around, found him, then looked back at me and said, “Been there, done that.” Working at Barnes & Noble in Wellington, she checked him out a couple times. And not in a creepy way, but in a cashier way. According to her, she asked him if he had a member card and he said no. But when his wife came in, Candice asked if she had a member card and she said yes. Candice took great offense to Tommy Lee Jones’ denial of Barnes & Noble membership.

Also, Peter worked at Barnes & Noble. He had nothing but nice things to say about Tommy Lee Jones. He even threw in a bit about how he renewed Tommy Lee Jones’ membership card. So I guess that’s something.

I think Mr. Lee Jones was purchasing lunch at Publix on Sunday. I’m not a very good member of the paparazzi.

One last thing: Peter’s favorite TLJ story is that once, while ringing up the U.S. Marshall, Peter asked the man if he wanted a bag for his books. TLJ told Peter to “keep the sack.” Peter still has the sack. Peter took it as a metaphor for manhood.

Update:  On Tommy Lee Jones’ IMDB page I found the following tidbit: “Plays polo and raises polo ponies. His team won the U.S. Polo Association’s Western Challenge Cup in 1993. Invites the Harvard’s best polo players to his ranch to practice each fall.” “The Harvard.” Hah.

Why giving your dog a human name might be a bad idea.


1. You might accidentally call someone gay. But we’ve already been over that.

2. Say you’re walking your dog outside and he tries to eat a dead lizard, so you say, “No Kevin, don’t do that!” There may be a human Kevin nearby who turns and stares at you with a confused look because he’s just trying to get into his car, and he doesn’t understand why he shouldn’t do that. Is it rigged to explode?

Dog Kevin has wonderful ears.

3. Your maintenance guy comes to inspect your air conditioner. He’s charmed by your dog, but gives you strange looks whenever you say, “Come here, Kevin!” As he leaves, he asks your dog’s name. When you say it’s Kevin, he says, “No, really, what’s his name?” When you explain that you named your dog after a baseball player and a TV sitcom character, he begins laughing uncontrollably and declares, “I am Kevin as well!”

4. Imagine your dog’s name is Jenny. She gets out of the yard a lot and you have to go driving around looking for her. When you do, sometimes there is a little girl named Jenny who lives down the street and comes running over to your car whenever you yell, “Jenny! Come here, girl!”

5. Put yourself in my shoes when I decided to name my guinea pig Mr. Mort Guffman of the Oppenheimer Foundation. Try to picture the looks on the faces of passersby as I tried to walk my guinea pig down the street on a leash and harness, and whenever he slid out of it (“like a sausage”) I yelled, “No, Mr. Mort Guffman! God, you’re such a silly pig!” I bet 90 percent of the people who heard that thought I was talking on a bluetooth device.

Also, I used to set up a pen in my front yard so my guinea pig could romp in and nibble on the grass.

 

Three albums you should dig.


I recently bought several albums and my joy from these purchases is immense. I don’t normally do this kind of thing because, although I think I have pretty good taste in music (I do, after all, listen to NPR’s All Songs Considered), I don’t like to make recommendations because if someone buys/listens to the album and hates it, I am completely overcome by self-doubt. So I’m kind of going out on a limb to say that you will dig these albums, and I’m happy I purchased them.

1. Fitz & the Tantrums, Pickin Up the Pieces

Song that got me hooked:MoneyGrabber.”

Key to this album: This band doesn’t use a conventional six-string guitar in its compositions. The main instrument is a vintage organ, and frontman Michael Fitzpatrick rocks it like it never went out of style. There’s a crazy soul vibe to each song, but there are modern twists you never would hear in an R&B tune from the ’50s. For example, one line from “MoneyGrabber” so eloquently says, “I don’t think twice for the price of a cheap time whore.” Heh.

If there’s one thing that will throw you off: Fitzpatrick’s weird attempt at a trendy hairstyle. Peter and I agree that the videos are awesome, but we just can’t get past his funky, Rogue-from-X-Men ‘do.

My favorite song on the album: “Breaking the Chains of Love.” It’s the first track, and there’s something about it that’s infectious. It’s like ebola, but it won’t kill you, and it won’t make you bleed from every orifice of your body, which is nice, because you’re infected but there aren’t any visible symptoms.

2. Foster the People, Torches

Song that got me hooked:Pumped Up Kicks.”

Key to this album: I don’t like to dance, and this album makes me want to dance. Each song has one little piece to it that makes it catchy, makes you want to hum it until you can’t hum anymore because your throat is sore. In “Pumped Up Kicks,” there’s this little kazoo-like noise that underlies the chorus. It gets stuck in my head and I can’t get it out, but not in a bad way, like with “Hello” by Lionel Richie.

If there’s one thing that will throw you off: If you don’t like electronic music, which is something I’m just getting into, then this may not be the album for you. Some songs are pretty heavy on the electronic stuff (I don’t know the technical term — I told you, I’m just getting into it). “Life on the Nickel” has what I would consider to be a bit of a drawn-out introduction, but it’s really good once you hear the song and understand its context. Wow. I kind of sounded like a snotty hipster prick there. Awesome.

My favorite song on the album:Houdini.” If for no other reason than it makes me dance when I’m driving on the Turnpike, and Kevin gives me weird looks.

3. Decemberists, The King is Dead

Song that got me hooked: Didn’t need one. This is one of my favorite bands, and I would have bought the album without hearing any songs. That’s what happened when I bought the album prior to this one, The Hazards of Love. Although, hearing “Down By the Water” on the radio certainly didn’t hurt.

Key to this album: The folk flow is so natural. The songs seem perkier and more upbeat, but some of the lyrics are downright depressing. Herein lies the magic of Colin Meloy and his merry troupe of musicians. This is a classically great album. Also, this is low on the list because I’m expecting you to already have heard it. If you haven’t heard it yet, you really are missing out. While you’re at it, buy the rest of your albums. I would use the first three albums as a primer, then delve into the whole “dissected, fragmented concept album” idea with The Crane Wife, then go right into The Hazards of Love, which is the definition of how to tell a tale with music. And bring tissues for “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned).”

If there’s one thing that will throw you off: Nothing. It’s perfect.

Favorite song on the album: A tie between “Don’t Carry it All” and “Dear Avery.”

OK, one more, but without as much detail.

4. Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes

Song that got me hooked:Get Some

Key to this album: It’s refreshing. I know that word when used to describe any sort of art tends to be a bit cliche, but for someone who really dislikes a lot of new, popular music, Lykke Li’s voice is so different and powerful. She’s like a Scandinavian Fiona Apple, without the piano.

If there’s one thing that will throw you off: I’ve heard tell some people don’t care for the lyrics of “Get Some” (“I’m your prostitute. You’re gonna get some.”); others have said her voice can be grating. I don’t agree with either.

Favorite song on the album:I Follow Rivers

On a totally unrelated note, Kevin pooped out his first foreign body today: yellow string from his rope toy. Guess which toy is no longer in service as a result? That’s right, his yellow rope toy. He’s sad, and kind of pouty, but I took him for a really long walk and we met some new people, so he’s napping and I don’t have to deal with his accusatory stares.