Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Pesi Dinnerstein’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re giving away a copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys! [affiliate] Read on to see how you can win.
About Pesi Dinnerstein: Pesi Dinnerstein (a.k.a. Paulette Plonchak) has written selections for the best-selling series Small Miracles, by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, and has contributed to several textbooks and an anthology of short stories. Dinnerstein recently retired as a full-time faculty member of the City University of New York, where she taught language skills for close to thirty years.
She has been an aspiring author and self-acknowledged clutterer for many years, and has spent the better part of her life trying to get organized and out from under. Despite heroic efforts, she has not yet succeeded; but she continues to push onward, and hopes that her journey will inspire others to keep trying as well.
The Joy of a Good Verb by Pesi Dinnerstein
I’ve never liked verbs very much. Adjectives have always been more my speed. How things look and feel and smell are generally more interesting to me than what they do. Whether someone sips or swigs or guzzles their coffee concerns me less than the fact that it’s steaming hot, creamy beige and mocha-flavored with a hint of vanilla.
Most of the verbs that are part of my daily life are not particularly exciting. I drive from here to there; I return a phone call; I lose my keys — I find my keys — I lose my keys again; I unload the dishwasher — I reload the dishwasher; I water my garden; I steam my vegetables; I try to remember to breathe. It’s all necessary, but pretty boring.
I would certainly rather spend my time in the presence of a flaming orange sunset or an iridescent ocean wave. Hanging out with an adjective is so much more satisfying.
However, a few years ago, something shifted. As I was writing A Cluttered Life and thinking about all the things that make my life unmanageable, I couldn’t help but notice that my world was becoming more and more crowded with adjectives and the objects to which they were attached.
Then, one day, an old friend came to visit. She had never seen my house in quite the state it was in at that moment, and her eyes opened wide as she stepped through the front door.
“This place feels very . . . stuck,” she said, expressing many layers of meaning in that one well-chosen word — which, interestingly enough, just happened to be an adjective.
She was absolutely right. My home was stuck; my things were stuck; and I was feeling increasingly stuck myself.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that what I needed were a few dynamic verbs to help me break through my own inertia. The ones I was currently engaged with — observing, reflecting, writing — were not creating much movement in my life. The situation clearly called for action. Organize; fold; file; recycle; throw out — do something! I immediately put the book aside. It was obviously time to stop describing my mess and start dealing with it.
And, then, a strange thing happened. When I returned to the manuscript, I found myself dissatisfied with many of the chapters that had seemed perfectly fine to me before. Now, they felt stuck as well.
So, I began to delete adjectives and add verbs. It was painful at first, but, before long, light and air seemed to flow into my sentences — and I could feel the manuscript beginning to breathe.
But change is not easy to hold on to. Although I’ve come to appreciate the value of a good verb — in my life as well as in my writing — I continue to prefer the comfort of a friendly adjective.
And when I take my morning walk tomorrow, I probably still won’t notice the running and skating and bicycling going on because, once again, I’ll be too busy enjoying the beautiful, brightly colored, deliciously fragrant world around me.
About Dinnerstein’s Book: Insightful, unsettling, and wildly funny, A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys (Seal Press) is the story of Pesi Dinnerstein’s quest to create a simple and orderly life—only to discover that simplicity is not so simple and what constitutes clutter is not always perfectly clear. When a chance encounter with an old acquaintance reveals the extent to which disorder has crept into every corner of her existence, Pesi determines to free herself, once and for all, of the excess baggage she carries with her. Along the way—with the help of devoted friends, a twelve-step recovery program, and a bit of Kabbalistic wisdom—her battle with chaos is transformed into an unexpected journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening.
Comment and win: The prize: winner gets a copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys!. For a chance to win, please leave a comment about clutter, getting organized, changing your vocabulary or whatever comes to mind after reading this post (other than you wanna win!). You have until 11:59pm on January 31, 2012 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic Random.org has the honor of picking the winner.
Travel. Love it. Hate it. I dream of going to London, Paris, Greece, Italy and other places. But then I think about all the work it takes to do overseas travel and the desire goes away… for a little while. Maybe it will be easier to do overseas travel when my life calms down — after the kids are grown. So I’m in no hurry.
Going nine years without going someplace new is a bit much. (The last few trips have been to … Austin… Austin… San Antonio slash Austin… Not a big deal when you live in Texas and they were all for events, conferences and even a volleyball tournament.) It’s not that I put off travel for when a better time comes. Life worked out that way.
I do the best I can to enjoy the moment and appreciate my life every day of every year. Working in a home office makes that possible. Some days — rainy or freezing days for one — I don’t care to walk my dog. Other days I appreciate that I can do this activity and it forces me to take a break from the computer that I might not take except to exercise.
Early this year, I got an invitation to a family event in Savannah, Georgia. Well, hey, I haven’t been to Savannah (I’ve been to Atlanta) and I love these cousins. We tried to go, but the unreasonable airfare didn’t work for us. It turned out to be a good thing because I received a surprise award that same weekend.
Another invitation arrived for a family event in Nashua, NH. The cousins are not just family, but dear friends. At one point, we lived within 30 minutes of each other and got together a few times. I’ve been to Nashua, so the location didn’t excite me. After researching, I find out the best airfare meant flying into Boston and making a road trip to Nashua instead of flying straight to NH.
Boston. I’ve never been there. When I lived in Washington, DC, I managed to visit Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York. Never made it to Massachusetts.
Since I have to fly to Boston, why not go a couple of days earlier and take a mini-vacation in Boston? That’s exactly what I’m doing. I did my research and managed to get a place in the North End near a lot of the action including the Freedom Trail. So I hope to squeeze it all in two days. It may be short, but it’ll be powerful to discover a spot in the U.S. that I’ve never visited and one with a rich history.
By the time this post goes live that I’ve had a grand time in Boston and I’ll be on my way to Nashua, NH. I hope I have lots to great stuff to report in the next link post. In the meantime, I hope you had a great week and you enjoy the little moments. Despite the hectic week before my trip, I took a breath and did my marching band routine to celebrate back to school week!
Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 at 9:16 AM
I’d love to read more stories like these two. They provide valuable insight in human nature, perception and more.
The Executive and the Branch Manager
The first lesson is in perception. I caught this nugget in a New York Times article [Link: Jack Scharff]. It’s a valuable lesson involving a language barrier that applies to people with hard-of-hearing or deafness. I’ve run into this many times in my life.
The interviewee asked Robert W. Selander, retiring chief executive of Mastercard, “What are the most important leadership lessons you have learned?
Brazil is a big country. I was living in Rio and it’s like living in Miami. I was out visiting a branch in the equivalent of Denver. Not everybody spoke great English and I hadn’t gotten very far in Portuguese. As I was sitting there trying to discern and understand what this branch manager was saying to me, and he was struggling with his English, the coin sort of dropped that this guy really knows what he’s talking about. He’s having a hard time getting it out.
As I thought about the places I’d been on that trip, I realized this was probably the best branch manager I’d seen, but it would have been very easy for me to think he wasn’t, because he couldn’t communicate as well as some of the others who were fluent in English.
I think that was an important lesson. It is too easy to let the person with great presentation or language skills buffalo you into thinking that they are better or more knowledgeable than someone else who might not necessarily have that particular set of skills.
I can’t tell you how many times I open my mouth and see the expression on someone’s face change when hearing something different about my voice. If I should ask someone to repeat, I’ll get a similar reaction to the one Selander described. Is it any wonder I love interacting online and social media? It filters out my accent and voice leaving the “language” barrier behind. This allows me to express myself and thoughts without any interference.
The Friend and a Family
The second lesson is in energy. A friend went to a foreign country and had dinner with a family. The family, of course, spoke in their native language. My friend only knew a touch of their language and struggled to follow the conversation. She shared this story and told me how exhausted she was after the conversation. Little did she know she taught me a lesson that I hadn’t learned in over 30 years.
I thought I wasn’t a high energy person by nature. This has nothing to do with enthusiasm, but everything to do with being able to go, go, go — which I can’t, can’t, can’t. I’ll go, go, go when I need to. However, I try to avoid it.
Listening to my friend’s story helped me realize exactly why I don’t have a lot of energy and why I collapse after just one day at a conference. Even though English is my native language, I have to work harder than the average person with hearing to “translate” everything from lips to words. Not everyone’s lips are easy to read, thus my eyes and brain go in overdrive. (It’s true that lipreaders only catch one-third of what the speaker says. Imagine reading every third word in this post.)
While this second lesson won’t affect many of you — it offers unusual insight into my life as a person who is deaf. Maybe you’ll get a different lesson out of this story.
What lessons have you learned from foreign travels or talking with people whose native language isn’t yours?
Friday, June 11th, 2010 at 11:06 AM
Paul & Meryl in Hawaii, July 1998
Blackjack years ago today, my husband and I said our I dos. We still very much do. He still makes me laugh and laughs at the right time when I try to say something funny. Does being married for 21 years make us officially legal as a couple? 🙂 Yes, that was an oxymoron. Wow, in 10 years of running this blog (as of June 1), I never shared the story of how Paul and I met. Would you believe I was embarrassed to tell the story until about ten years ago? I’ll let Paul tell you the story as he recently wrote this.
“The advent of home computer opened the world up for Meryl. In fact, you could call Meryl and I the original online daters. Back in the early days of home computing (pre-Internet), people joined bulletin board systems (BBSes). Meryl and I belonged to several of the same BBSes and we traded many messages back and forth.
“We finally met in person at a picnic that the SysOp (system operator who ran a BBS) held for his users. After meeting, we went back to posting back and forth and it wasn’t until months later that we actually started dating. (Two days before her 18th birthday… yes, I robbed the cradle.) Our first date was watching Tootsie in her room. It was one of the few movies at the time that were closed-captioned.”
For a long time, I told people we met at a picnic. (True! Since it was our first in-person meeting.) At the time, BBSes weren’t cool and I didn’t want to look nerdier than I already did. 🙂
The photo comes from our 10th anniversary celebration and one of the most amazing vacations we’ve ever taken together. Technically, it was our 9th anniversary. I was three months pregnant and we knew that we would prefer to stay home with the baby the following year. (That baby would be our recent 5th grade graduate.)
- One Week Down, A Bit of Hindsight: Allison Winn Scotch shares her experience one week after her book’s launch. Just received my copy of her latest, The One That I Want: A Novel. Now to find time to read it between club reading and business reading.
- Freelancing During an Illness: Who wants to think about such things and curse ourselves? Better to be prepared. Sometimes you can prepare when you know you’re having surgery like I did and provided 10 tasks to prepare for time off.
- 50 Fancy Words That Stump NY Times Readers: Here’s the list in PDF. Surprised to see “overhaul” and “hubris.”
- One-sentence Summary Critiques and Tips: You may think you wouldn’t do this — but sometimes we’re too close to the work.
- Sleep and Your Productivity: Count on me being asleep between 10 and 10:30pm CST every night. It’s a habit I’ve had since the first job. Oh, sure, I’ve stayed up past that and learn fast why I don’t do it often. Going to bed one hour later than normal can throw the whole next day upside down. I feel fatigued with strained eyes before I even look at the monitor. I take longer to finish tasks. The only downside is attending special nighttime events. As much fun as I’m having, it can be tough to make it past 11pm. When I threw a big family celebration in 2007, I could not function after everyone left. Thank goodness I had some wonderful family members used to staying up late who helped with cleanup while I played zombie.
And for fun because we’re allowed…
Friday, May 7th, 2010 at 11:30 AM
I’m a lucky daughter because I have a caring, sweet, intelligent and energetic woman for a mother. Growing up, I hated that she had all these evening meetings. Part of that was her job of seven years working for a community center that required nighttime meetings because they included volunteers with day jobs. Besides that, she was also on the board for non-profit organizations, and those meetings were at night.
Despite these meetings getting in the way, I’ve always wanted to be a regular volunteer like her. I volunteer almost every week, but not for as many hours as I would like — must balance my time between kids and business. She was even president of a local non-profit organization while pregnant with me and raising a 10-year-old and 12-year-old. (Yes, I was like an only child. No, I was not a “surprise.”)
She also did whatever she could to provide me with the support I needed to learn how to communicate due to my profound deafness. She drove three-year-old me to Dallas (an hour from Fort Worth) three times a week so I could go to Callier Center for speech therapy. I can’t tell you how many sad stories I’ve heard about people who were deaf and had parents that didn’t bother to learn sign language so they could communicate with their child. Just makes me more grateful for my mom.
P.S. Still need a gift for Mom? How about a computer game? Big Fish Games is offering 30% off on all games except Collector’s Editions and special deals. Or maybe you’ll like one of these far out ideas from Oddee. Gotta love the tee that says, “You can’t scare me… I have kids.”
And for fun because we’re allowed…
Share a favorite Mom or family memory. Or share why your mom or a special family member means a lot to you.
Friday, April 30th, 2010 at 10:28 AM
Birthday boy with Chuzzle friends
My youngest of three turned seven on April 28. My little guy is the only one of the five of us born outside of the January – February and Capricorn – Aquarius months (or Capriquarius as I call ’em because my birthday falls right where one ends and another begins). Winter birthdays are awesome, but it’s nice having one in the spring and get a break from all the celebrating that occurs within one month (January 14 – February 10). He loves drawing, playing Chuzzle and doing whatever his big brother does.
Gosh, seven years since I touched the baby blog that began with the pregnancy test and ended shortly after his arrival. Anyway, enough indulging Mom. And onto more important things for you… the weekly links.
And for fun because we’re allowed…
Friday, April 16th, 2010 at 11:10 AM
This week is book fair week at my youngest child’s school. I’ll be volunteering at the “Book Fair Diner,” this spring’s theme, and trying my best not to buy too many books. We have a theme every book fair to make it fun.
When I was a wee kid, I loved the Scholastic Book Fairs in my elementary school. When I was a student teacher in college, the school I worked at had the book fair, too. Now as a mom, I go to at least four book fairs in a school year. Plus, my youngest brings home book club booklets for ordering in between book fairs. (Each elementary school has two book fairs per year and I have two kids in two elementary schools.)
My favorite class in college: Children’s literature. So yes, I bought children’s books after I grew up and before I had children of my own. We have so many children’s books in this household that I’ve bought duplicates. Too bad we didn’t have the apps we have today for book inventories. I could never begin such a project now.
For fun because we’re allowed…
Friday, March 19th, 2010 at 9:58 AM
“What the …? Julius Caesar?” OK, I used St. Patrick’s Day last week so it’d appear before the actual day. Easter and Passover (Eastover? Passter?) are not until next week. OK, so the Ides of March as mentioned in Julius Caesar comes before St. Patrick’s Day, but I was outta ideas. Since we’re talking Roman dates, this could be the XIX edition. So is this my Seinfeld post for the month where I talk about nothing?
And for fun because we’re allowed…
Friday, March 5th, 2010 at 8:27 AM
Ah, I got nothing today — no stories, nada. Just lots and lots of work since I had a few appointments not related to business. At least, it’s been beautiful and sunny all week.
- Bite-Size Edits: “Bite-Size Edits takes a text, chops it into pieces, and serves those pieces randomly to editors. Players get points for editing text, for providing useful comments, for helping to get a text completely edited.”
- Using Web Tools For Creating and Managing Contracts: Important topic. I had one client (I had worked with him before without problems) who failed to live up to his part of agreement and I had no contract for it. (I know. Shame on me.)
- How to Make Better Decisions: “Accepting ownership of consequences and balancing responsibility with your own personal goals lets you overcome stress, enabling you to making empowering decisions.”
- I wish I would have known: Answers from 11 top freelancers: Focus on designers, but applies to others including writers. I wish I would have known that my inability to use the phone like everyone else would be a big barrier to getting clients. But reflecting on my life and career — the path that got me here was the best route.
- The Five Best Mispronunciations I’ve Ever Heard: I love malapropisms every since I learned about them reading The Rivals
. They’re fun. They inject humor in a conversation. Just heard one on NCIS this week: A character from another country said in reference to Kennedy shooting, “…shot from the book suppository.” More discussions over at Nathan Branford’s blog.
And for fun because we’re allowed…
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