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Boston Globe/Boston Globe Magazine Essays
The Boston Globe, March 27, 2012
Art therapy: A way to tell their stories
Some cope with mental, emotional, intellectual, or physical limitations. Others live with addictions, or are homeless. Still others deal with developmental disabilities. And every single one of them pursues a passion for art.
Now, the work of more than 25 expressive artists, who produced their art in conjunction with social service organizations, beautifies the walls in a permanent collection of 35 pieces at Mercantile Bank’s recently renovated Fenway branch office.
While the art includes many styles, the term “expressive arts therapy’’ best defines it. This type of art encourages challenged individuals to “externalize internal landscapes — things you can’t always find words for,’’ said Linda Dolph, an expressive art therapist who runs the art studio at Boston’s St. Francis House, which provides services for poor and homeless adults in Boston.
Expressive art therapy gives people a place
where they feel comfortable expressing themselves. “The art process in
itself is healing,’’ Dolph said. “Although the artists often end up with
beautiful products, it’s the process that’s really most significant in
“[The art] is thoroughly impressive and very, very meaningful,’’ said Mercantile Bank president Charles Monaghan, whose wife, Diane, introduced him to the art form. She joined the bank’s social responsibility committee, which oversaw art selections.
“We wanted to enhance the bank’s office environment,’’ said Diane Monaghan, “while at the same time assisting local artists in their individual healing and recovering process.’’
Artist Loretta Jarak, 67, created two acrylic portraits at St. Francis House that now hang in offices in the bank entryway. Jarak, who faces a number of emotional and physical challenges, expresses the importance of making art in these lines: “Colorful lines, colorful people, laughing, crying, a place to express emotions I thought I never had. A bit of joy in a cold world, breaking through my illness to a calmer corner in my life. A place to live out my dreams,’’ she writes. In high school, she received many art awards and graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Now, she lives in transitional housing and is grateful for this program.
Then there’s Wanda Metcalf, 60, who started making art when she was 3, graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in art and biochemistry, but hasn’t worked a salaried position in 20 years because of difficulties associated with her Asperger’s syndrome.
Experimenting with art “is who I am,’’ Metcalf said. She was invited to join the exhibit after her watercolors were discovered at an Asperger’s Association of New England show. Now she is affiliated with ArcWorks, a program that’s part of the Northeast Arc in Danvers, which provides opportunities for individuals with challenges to explore and discover their creative abilities and express themselves through the arts.
Efon Elad, 68, originally from Cameroon, once was “living well’’ while working as a quality tester. But after he lost his job he picked up painting - which had been a childhood passion. Now he lives with his brother, and at St. Francis House’s art studio, he relearned how to mix colors.
“Three days after, I started and never stopped and didn’t look back,’’ Elad said. When the bank bought two vibrant paintings - including a playful, imaginary vacation spot in Cameroon - he invested the money in other art materials.
And it’s not the first time many of the artists have sold their work.
Janice Mahoney, 51, makes art at the Creative Union Gallery in Somerville as part of a day program at Walnut Street Center, which provides support services to adults with developmental disabilities. Mahoney, who first sketches with colored pencil and paper and then transfers her designs onto canvas with acrylic paint, has shown her work at Somerville Museum, Boston Cyclorama, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Center, as part of Creative Union Gallery’s community offsite exhibitions.
Gregory Trakimas, 23, whose medium is digital photography, once held a one-man show at Northeast Arc’s The Gallery at Southside in Danvers. At 17, while attending the LABBB special needs program at Lexington High School, he sold photos at a fund-raiser at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Trakimas, who works part time at Hunt’s Photo and Video in Melrose, says he feels great about his photography and doesn’t feel he has “a disability, because of the fact that I work at a job that I like and I’m into photography.’’
Then there’s Dante Gandini, 56. He once studied art history at Indiana University and owned an art and antiques gallery before falling on hard times. Now he sells his work on Boston Common, at coffee shops, and at Boston-area and Florida galleries. He also curates for Common Art, a program at Ecclesia Ministries Common Cathedral in Boston, which encourages the homeless to develop their artistic abilities.
Gandini describes himself as “prolific,’’ painting 250 pieces a year.
“I’m an artist, that’s all I care to do. I paint,’’ Gandini said. He sheepishly admits he paints “iconic Boston’’ - popular, easily recognizable locales to increase the odds that the works will sell. He also paints in Gloucester, and occasionally on the Florida coast when he finds “the means and methods.’’ He attends the expressive arts program at St. Francis House for four hours most weekdays. Dante’s striking painting of Fenway Park that hangs in the bank is being sold in a limited edition print through ArcWorks. He will split the profits with the agency.
“St. Francis House has totally blessed me,’’ Gandini said. He walks a Mercantile Bank visitor outside and points down Lansdowne Street to share a scene he’s eager to paint. “I see art almost everywhere. I see things. I see beauty everywhere.’’
The Boston Globe, March 15, 2012
They Work It
During a break in the basketball action at the TD Garden, 14 Boston Celtics dancers run onto the parquet and launch into a finely choreographed dance routine to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.’’
Clad this night in white halter tops and ruffle skirts with green trim, these striking dancers complete their dramatic look with glamorous makeup, big hair, and complexions bronzed with spray tans.
They look so enthusiastic it’s hard to believe most of them already spent nearly eight hours working another job or attending college. And rehearsing before the game.
Some fans think the dancers, ages 19-to-30, focus on game-prep all day long, as brothers Edward and Jim Jankowski did, when asked to speculate on how the dancers fill their days. Edward, 38, of Boston guessed they “work out, eat a good breakfast and healthy lunch, stretch after that, then go to practice sessions.’’ His younger brother, Jim, of Weymouth, added: “Maybe they also get a massage or pedicure or manicure.’’
Hardly. Some of the dancers work in legal, communications, or financial industries. Others are working toward psychology and dance degrees. Still others work as bartenders and waitresses. One is currently pursuing her Certified Financial Advisor credential. In addition, they all fit in intensive cross-training workouts
Take Morgan Laskey, for example. Known as “the redhead,’’ she’s danced for the Celtics for two years and just completed one year as a legal assistant/paralegal at Berluti McLaughlin & Kutchin, a Boston law firm. On the job, she’s the female Clark Kent, wearing her hair in a bun, stylish black glasses, conservative clothes, and mascara.
Laskey, 24, works 40 hours a week editing contracts, tracking attorneys’ billable hours, greeting clients, answering phones, and doing legal research. Then she puts in as many as 32 hours with the Celtics some weeks. (The team of 21 dancers is on a rotating schedule for games, paid appearances, and fund-raisers during their nine-month season).
Her day begins at 6 a.m. when she packs a bag jammed with practice, game, or exercise clothes, goes to work, and afterward practices or goes to the gym, yoga class, or a Celtics’ Shamrock Foundation event. Or a rehearsal and game.
“I can’t imagine what it feels like to
switch gears at the end of a long work day and attend a rehearsal, or
game,’’ said Marina Ortega, director of the Celtics Dance Team, who
started the squad in 2006. “That is not just mentally challenging but
But for now, law school’s shelved.
The law firm job is perfect, in part because attorney Ed Kutchin, the partner who hired her, is a big Celtics fan. Laskey recalled her first interview. “He told me, ‘I have season tickets right in the front row,’ and I said, ‘Good, because I’m gonna have to leave work early sometimes for games.’ ’’
Kate McCabe, 26, a third-year Celtics Dancer, is also director of content and programming at The Ad Club in downtown Boston. She agrees that a flexible schedule is a must for balancing her two jobs. Although her basic work hours are standard 9-to-5-ish, she also runs or attends early morning or evening meetings.
“I put my practice schedule and game schedule on the calendar so people know when I have to leave early for games,’’ McCabe says. “Because it’s a small company, I have some control over when we plan the events.’’
“It’s interesting and very different every single day,’’ she says about her day job. “We plan and produce 50 to 100 events per year,’’ she continues, adding that she also raises funds for an annual media auction every summer.
When she’s not on the court, McCabe goes to work with a natural look. On the day a visitor pops in, she wears straight-leg jeans, a basic black shirt, leopard print flats, and Tiffany earrings. And no makeup at all.
Originally from Worcester, she graduated from Boston University with a dual degree in psychology and advertising. She’s clear on her professional goals.
“I would love to be involved in sports management one day. I love the Celtics organization and that’s where the intersection of my passions has always been: dance, sports, creativity, communication.’’
Growing up, McCabe danced nearly 30 hours a
week - like most of the dancers - fitting it around school, friends, and
homework. “It forced me to be efficient,’’ she says.
She wears purple scrubs and sneakers to work at the dentist’s office, and only a touch of mascara on her dark brown eyes. She also sports a diamond on her left hand - Shankweiler recently became engaged to the boyfriend she’s dated since eighth grade, now a Cambridge teacher.
Three years ago, she stumbled upon the dental assistant job, and Dr. Peter Juriansz was willing to train her. She prepares the office for the day, takes X-rays, and assists the dentist. She plans to attend dental hygiene school.
“It’s something I didn’t know anything about before,’’ she says. “It’s funny how things work out.’’
Shankweiler is awake at 5:30 a.m. most days, on the job by 7:15, and leaves between 4 and 6 p.m. depending upon patients and games.
“I’m here and on my feet all day, then I go dance,’’ she says. “It’s a lot of work but you do it because you love it.’’
Laskey agrees. “We’re all passionate about it. I wouldn’t drive myself crazy and get up at 6 a.m. and give up weekends if I didn’t absolutely love it.’’ Then she pauses and adds, “I’m a dancer and I’ve got the talent and the looks, but I also have the book smarts.’’
The Boston Globe, November 06, 2011
Dancing into Your Golden Years
But at 81, Atherling is far from sidelined. She still dances five nights a week and twice on Sundays, focusing mostly on the sexy Argentine tango. She struts her stuff at dance studios and halls in Somerville, Cambridge, Brookline, Medford, and at dance clubs at MIT and Harvard University.
“Dancing is physical fitness yet different from sports because we don’t have injuries, in general, and it’s always social,’’ said Atherling, who lives in Cambridge. Then she confidently smiled and added: “My thing is cuddling up to someone and having fun dancing.’’
Her passion for dance is far from unique. The social dance community in Greater Boston is bursting with activity for singles and couples, many of whom took to dancing well into their 50s, after an empty nest or a divorce propelled them to take new steps - literally.
Betty Hood, who won’t reveal her age but says she’s a “senior citizen,’’ said the majority of those signing up for her classes in her home studio in Needham are couples whose children have moved out. “They say, ‘Hey, what do you want to do?’ And they decide, ‘Let’s try dancing.’ ’’
Part of the reason is what they’re watching on television.
“Dance wasn’t popular when I first started taking ballroom classes, but now it’s a craze,’’ Atherling said, referring to shows such as “Dancing With the Stars’’ and “So You Think You Can Dance.’’ “[They] hit the screens and the studios are booming and competitions are full of senior competitors.’’
Some dancers pay for hefty private lessons, while others find free or reasonably priced group lessons. And dance festivals of all kinds fill halls regularly.
Kaveh and Farzi Pahlavan of Newton started dancing together 20 years ago “as soon as our children could baby-sit each other,’’ said Kaveh, 60, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
They started with basic ballroom such as the cha-cha, rumba, and assorted fox trot steps, he recalled, then moved into West and East Coast swing, Lindy Hop, and salsa. For the past eight years, he said, “we’ve landed in tango.’’
“Tango doesn’t put a lot of pressure on
your body,’’ he explained.
The couple, who took first place in the US
Championship Amateur Salon Tango last summer, dance four to five times a
week, even when traveling for conferences. “We’ve danced all over the
world,’’ Kaveh said, explaining they often hop off a plane and go
dancing for fun - and to chase away jet leg.
While the Pahlavans came to dancing later
in life, many return to it after dabbling in their younger years.
Allen Swartz, 70, and Lee Graffeo, who says she is in her 70s, started dancing together seven years ago. Soon it sparked a romantic interest.
In her first marriage, Graffeo said, “dancing was on special occasions only. Then, after the marriage ended, that’s when I went back to ballroom dancing again, in my 40s.’’ Now she and Swartz mostly dance tango and West Coast swing.
Swartz had danced in his youth but stopped after college. He’s passionate about it now. “What else would enliven one’s aging than a passion?’’ he said. “Find your passion. If you didn’t find it before, you have a few years left. You’d better address it now.’’
Put your best feet forward
The Internet makes it easy to find dance events, classes, and groups. A good starting point is a website run by Dancenet, which provides information for all dance forms throughout New England at www.havetodance.com.
The Boston Globe, November 06, 2011
When Jim and Linda Crawford hit their 70s, they began lightheartedly pondering where on the first floor of their sprawling brick Brookline home they might place a hospital bed if they remained there well into old age.
They ruled out the formal and elegantly furnished dining and living rooms, and the jam-packed library, recalled Jim, 75, laughing, as he and Linda, 73, relaxed recently by their gas fireplace in their spacious cottage at The Groves in Lincoln. They downsized to this retirement community 16 months ago.
“We knew we were going to get old and intended to do it in a nice, safe place,’’ said Linda, a retired teacher.
“Now we’re living in geriatric heaven,’’ added Jim, minister emeritus of Old South Church in Boston.
While retirement communities vary widely, luxury developments aim to provide a myriad of amenities, services, and conveniences, plus a host of health care options, since residents are usually late 60s and older.
Most communities offer independent town
houses or cottages, or apartments - many with high ceilings, modern
appliances, and spaces that range from cozy to spacious. The Crawfords’
cottage is 3,400 square feet, counting a garage bay that doubles for
Most retirement communities require an “entrance’’ fee - typically a few hundred thousand dollars - which “buys’’ the residence and is largely refundable when someone leaves or dies. The amount of the refund depends on how long the resident has lived there.
Some communities offer rentals only, such as at the elegant Waterstone at Wellesley, which will open next spring with 86 apartments starting at $5,500 for a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom unit. It will have assisted living on the property.
What sold the Crawfords was that they could
live in an independent cottage, while participating in amenities if
desired - then purchasing more services as they age.
Rhoda and Ed Neidorf, who live in a spacious two-bedroom corner unit in The Groves’ community building, also came while still healthy because they didn’t want to burden their children as they aged. They chose The Groves in part to remain near friends, family, shopping, activities, and volunteer work in Lexington, their home of many decades.
“It’s independent living here, but when
it’s winter and the weather’s awful, you don’t have to put on your
boots,’’ said Rhoda, 80. “Everyone’s right down the corridor.’’
Health care is vital too for this age group, with services varying from 24-hour emergency aid and in-home care to short- or long-term skilled nursing on the property, or nearby.
Marion Sanders, 77, a retired psychologist, moved last April from a condominium community in Bedford to a cottage at Dedham’s NewBridge on the Charles. While both homes were one-floor living and similar in size - 1,700 square feet - Sanders’s heart condition drove her decision to move.
The campus includes everything from a medical practice and complete health care center to a recuperative center with skilled nursing and rehabilitation care.
Sanders’s cottage has two bedrooms, three bathrooms (she uses one for storage), high ceilings, lots of light, and views of trees. She likes that most residents are Jewish, although it is “open to people of all cultural, racial, ethnic, political, economic, or spiritual backgrounds,’’ according to Ruth Stark, director of marketing for the independent living communities of Hebrew Senior Life, which also runs Orchard Cove in Canton.
“I’m very pleased with having come here,’’ Sanders said. “It’s an extremely comfortable, welcoming, gracious, helpful community of people.’’
Her neighbors Carol and Eldon Clingan have lived in a 2,000-square-foot cottage at NewBridge since it opened in 2009. The Clingans and Sanderses sold their homes for well under value in the down real estate market, which meant coming up with excess funds to move to NewBridge, whose entrance fee starts at $500,000 and has 224 apartments, villas, and cottages.
“When this came along,’’ said Carol, 68, “it was just the right thing - it was high end and that was a bit of a struggle, but we … have this whole gorgeous campus and a whole program of activities.’’
Jim Crawford, who once speculated where a hospital bed might go one day in the lower level of their house, laughs at the irony of his impending hip replacement surgery. Afterward, he can “be right here in his own bed,’’ said Linda, pointing toward their first-floor bedroom at The Groves.
Boston Globe, January 30, 2010
There's a ringing in her snowbank
Toward the final hours of a recent snowstorm, I lost my cellphone somewhere outside. Yup, “somewhere’’ in 18 inches of snow, not to mention possibly in snowbanks reaching up to my neck.
The sorry saga began just before dinnertime, an hour after helping my daughter dig her car out of a spot near the bottom of our steep driveway. But by the time I realized my phone had vanished, our plow service had cleared our driveway, and — making prospects of finding it even worse — the town had plowed again. My phone might well have been on its way to the neighboring town!
Nonetheless, in a panicked attempt to locate it, I walked the nearly pitch-black neighborhood, which was illuminated only by the moon and the white snow reflecting the occasional streetlight. Wearing a long down coat, leather gloves more appropriate for the opera, a woolen hat that absorbed as much snow as it deflected, and boots meant for shopping, not snowshoeing, I paced the neighborhood like a lost dog.
As I kicked at the snow, I used my stepdaughter’s phone to dial mine, hoping to hear the ring. I also talked out loud, chastising myself both for losing my phone and dressing so poorly for this adventure. For nearly a half-hour, I pressed redial about 35 times while kicking at the snow. My cellphone’s battery was well charged and could handle the multiple ringing, but I worried that the wet ground had shorted out the electronics.
After a while, my optimistic determination faced a sad reality.
I walked back to the house and climbed our long, steep driveway ready to admit defeat to my husband, who has helped me ring my missing cellphone many times but always on dry ground before. I stepped slowly, climbing Mount Fusi in despair as I thought of all I had lost: speed-dial numbers, photos of my daughter in her dorm room, my dog ill at the vet, Maine sunsets, texts I wanted to preserve.
“Any luck?’’ I heard my husband shout out the door.
I pressed “end’’ on my stepdaughter’s phone. It was over.
Just then, for a quick second, I heard jazz playing from a snowbank. My body went from slumped to rigid, and my eyes opened wide as I took giant steps toward the source.
I hit redial once more — yes, no question about it, a white mound was playing the trumpet, the saxophone, the piano. In the dim light, I pursued the sound. No, not here, there. No, not there, here. I repeatedly grabbed at the snow with a gloved fist, feeling as though I were trying to catch a fish in a tank. With each grab, I got closer, closer still, and then when I sensed I was at my target I dug frantically, like a dog going after a bone it could smell but not see.
Finally, I touched metal. It was cold to the touch, even through my soaked glove, and as I lifted it out a few fresh drops of water trickled down its face, but it was intact.
And it actually still worked. I screamed, “I’ve got it!’’ Then I raced inside all smug (and very wet). Nonetheless, my husband insists he is buying me a chain for my phone. To wear it around my neck.
Probably not a bad idea. At least for the remaining winter months.
The Boston Globe Magazine, August 23, 2009
The night before the Jewish New Year this September, I reminded my husband that I needed to wake up earlier than usual the next morning.
“Why? What’s up?” he innocently replied. I looked across the living room at my 24-year-old stepdaughter and -- as I had long ago learned from her and my own daughter -- rolled my eyes.
“Temple,” she said with such speed and conviction that I knew I’d done a good job with her interfaith awareness. “Dad, it’s Rosh Hashana.”
Steve and I have been married for 15 years (it’s a second marriage for both), and it’s not that my husband -- who is Catholic, as is his daughter -- doesn’t care about my religion. But his lapse incited an image of my mother, finger wagging, admonishing: “You married outside your religion!”
After my Jewish husband and I divorced, I felt lonely going to temple every fall for the high holidays with just my parents. So in the early years of my marriage to Steve, I urged him to join me. He readily accepted my invitation and even donned a yarmulke, the delicate, silky cap comically sliding off his coarse hair. He’d sit and stand on cue, and he’d nod his head -- or briefly nod off -- whenever the rabbi recited in Hebrew. I stopped inviting Steve to temple on high holidays as soon as my daughter from my first marriage grew old enough to sit beside me without squirming, though she spent the entire time braiding my father’s tallit, or prayer shawl, its fringes dangling. Steve didn’t mind missing temple, so we continued that plan -- except with time my daughter braided less and prayed more. This year, with my daughter away at college and my mother ailing, I went to temple with my dad, just us two, without feeling the need to invite Steve again.
Early in our marriage, Steve and I attended Mass together at his church, mostly at Easter and Christmas. My stepdaughter sat beside us; my daughter went off to her dad’s house. I learned to move my legs aside or risk getting a bruised ankle when they pulled down the kneelers, and I’d sit solo while others in my pew took Communion. I began looking forward to the sweet smell of incense. Eventually, Steve began attending church only with his daughter; I stayed home to prepare meals.
As a family, we created our own special memories. Granted, neither Steve nor I is very pious, though each adheres to religious values. Still, we used common sense, not major analysis, to shape the way we merged our religious lives, and we always insisted on keeping each daughter’s focus on the religion of her birth. No blessings before everyday meals, no Friday night Shabbat rituals nor weekly temple or church visits, just joint observances around holidays, feasts, and traditions. And some sacrifices: On the front door, he wanted a Christmas wreath, I a permanent Jewish mezuza; we compromised and nixed both. The first Christmas together, we invited the local volunteer Santa to our home. The girls sat on his lap and tore off the wrapping paper from gifts we’d supplied in advance. My stepdaughter’s present was a science kit; my daughter’s a dreidel. That was one perplexed Santa! In subsequent years, I discontinued this practice as my daughter began religious school at temple, but I still welcomed a small tree into the house, and both girls hung the ornaments. We all took turns lighting the Hanukkah menorah, and the two Catholics managed to bumble through the Hebrew prayer. And when our December holidays overlapped, our CD player blared “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” followed by “Eight Days of Hanukkah.”
The girls are young adults now, but some rituals continue when we’re all together. And when it’s just Steve and me, we seek out family or friends, or create new memories, like last year’s Passover Seder for two. More important, Steve and I exposed the girls to their own religions and educated them about their stepfamily’s traditions.
Instead of truly worrying about marrying outside my religion, I am grateful that families like ours can break rules and create new ones. And I guess if either of us gets off track, we can set each other straight with a little nondenominational eye rolling.
The Boston Globe Magazine, August 23, 2009
A few weeks ago, while my husband, Steve, was away on an out-of-state business trip, I heard my front door open. My two cocker spaniels raced to the door, barked briefly, and then quieted when it was someone familiar: my ex-husband. He headed up past our old bedroom to the newer one I share with my husband of 15 years. One flight down at my desk, I finished crafting a get-well e-mail to my ex’s wife, who would have been there that evening, too, had she not felt ill. Eventually, I meandered upstairs to the bedroom.
No, nothing lecherous going on. We’re just two families that have adjusted as well as possible to life after divorce. My ex came over to see our 18-year-old daughter, whose wisdom teeth were excised hours before; she was receiving visitors propped up like a princess in my king-size bed.
Was it awkward having my ex plant his rear on Steve’s side of the bed? Sure. Did I worry that his mind would wander to acts that go on there behind closed doors? Yeah, but so what? We were together such a long time ago that neither of us defines our relationship by the five years we spent as husband and wife; instead, we are our daughter’s parents, and if not exactly friends, at least friendly.
The very nature of divorce implies a lifetime of acrimony, but it doesn’t have to. Instead, moving forward with one’s life and relating respectfully makes things healthier for all.
How did we arrive at this philosophy? I think it was born at the beginning. Our daughter was only 5 months old when he left; maybe juggling dirty diapers and baby bottles distracted us from excess animosity. Later, we attended parent-teacher meetings together and watched her play sports with our portable chairs in the same end zone.
Not that our contact was always pleasant. Early on, between the hours of Goodnight Moon and breakfast mush, I often raised my voice on the phone to embarrassing decibels while slinging four-letter epithets his way. And financial tangles pop up periodically.
However, acting civilly, and compromising, benefited our daughter -- and provided the secondary advantage of making me look more mature. As for him, I suspect guilt over leaving caused conflict avoidance.
Long after I had met Steve, my ex split up with his longtime girlfriend, and, well, I fixed him up with his future wife -- my close friend’s neighbor. Truth is, I was neither being kindhearted nor selecting my kid’s stepmom (OK, probably a little of each); mostly, I was choosing the other woman who would be in my life for a long, long time. And I’m glad I did, because we genuinely like each other.
From the start, our daughter has spent two or more nights a week at her dad’s home one town away. Holiday arrangements are based not on a rigid schedule but on whose extended family is visiting. If both are, we try to split the day. For years, my ex and his wife hosted Thanksgiving a day late, granting me turkey and stuffing -- and my daughter -- on the actual day. At Christmas, she goes to his house -- it’s his birthday. At her bat mitzvah, I thanked the guests from both sides for celebrating as “one family” for a day.
When it came time for our daughter to attend college last year, my ex and I drove her nine hours to D.C.; his wife flew there, and my husband traveled by train. My daughter orchestrated which dad could best set up her computer (my husband), which mom would arrange her room (her stepmom), and who’d schlep things up from the car (all of us). I did, however, muscle my way in for the last goodbye hug. And when we all visited on parents’ weekend, I learned that was dumb -- I needed my daughter to myself. This year I will visit on non-parents’ weekend.
Isn’t there tension? Sure. Steve dislikes my ex calling me by the affectionate nickname “Min” and mistrusts how long we sometimes speak on the phone. But my husband has come to understand. He even laughed when I texted a photo of my ex sitting on his pillow during the post-wisdom-teeth visit.
Don’t get me wrong: Divorce creates enormous pain, loss, and complications. But if you allow it, it expands the definition of family and makes a bad situation a tad more tolerable. Still, boundaries are important. The front door to my house was unlocked that evening; my ex does not have a key.
The Boston Globe, October 23, 2005
Long-delayed return to job market gets cut off by 'The Process'
I sit here in my home office sipping coffee from a mug I purchased recently in the gift shop of a Boston museum. I wasn't at the museum for a leisurely visit; I was on a job interview, my first in nearly 20 years.
I applied for the job in large part because my nest will be empty in a few years, and although I have worked happily from home as a public relations consultant and freelance writer while raising two daughters, I suspect that during the next phase of my life, I will crave greater involvement with the larger world.
When I became a mother, I never planned to give up my power-suit pursuits. Still, I couldn't foresee how I would change during the next several years. The road map developed for my 20s underwent several Big Digs during subsequent decades.
Consequently, in my 30s and 40s, part-time work from home better suited my personal life while still satisfying my professional yearnings.
Now, I am poised for the next major renovation. So, with the prospect of a changed lifestyle ahead, I found myself drawn to an advertisement for a full-time position. I was ambivalent but curious.
However, I had another matter to face: If I wanted the job, I needed to defeat the other candidates, something not easily achieved, I've heard, after abandoning the job market to raise babies. I'd once been a desirable job candidate. At nearly age 50, did employers want me anymore?
With these mixed emotions, I polled family and friends about whether to go for the job. My 77-year-old mother, who worked in various professions until retirement, voiced her opinion via e-mail: ''I was lucky to always find fulfilling part-time professional employment,'' she wrote. On the phone, she was less subtle: ''Have you regained your senses yet?'' she asked.
Indeed, she was probably right. I adored the flexibility my current work allowed, and I felt privileged to work by choice and for personal satisfaction, not out of necessity, an option most working mothers can't consider. Still, I pressed on.
My 15-year-old daughter dismissed the job as a bad idea, and when I told her it was selfish not to support me, she stressed she was not the selfish one. Despite my feminist thinking, I wasn't sure which of us had this right.
One close friend, a single mom working full time, simply said, ''Let it go.'' From her perspective, if I didn't have to work full time and out of the home, why do it, even after the kids are gone?
My husband asked whether I was envious of his day: waking at 5:40 a.m., leaving at 7 a.m. to get a prime parking spot at the train station, sitting on a crowded train wondering whose cold he'd catch next, and repeating the whole experience in reverse with a growling stomach 11 hours later. All good points, yet I did envy him for living in the ''real world,'' versus my limited one in the suburbs. After all, the last time I was employed full time, nearly everyone I worked with was white, spoke only English, and were married exclusively to folks of different genders. This new world of work was exciting to liberal me. More important, the job at the museum was in event management and offered a chance to perform skills I'd acquired for numerous charity events during my child-raising years. Why not get paid for those skills?
Because the opportunity existed, and despite everyone's advice, I couldn't seem to just ''let it go.'' Instead, I decided to treat it as an experiment. If faced with an offer, I'd do some final soul-searching.
That's when The Process swallowed me up. First, they asked me to fill out a three-page application. Then I updated my résumé and mailed off the package. And waited. And waited some more. I took the hint, assumed I was not a candidate, and returned to thinking it was a bad idea anyway.
To my surprise, two months later, I received a call to schedule an interview, and found myself quite excited about it.
The day of the meeting, I drove off to Boston wearing an understated black suit, flat pumps, simple jewelry, and the confident attitude of a mature woman. So what if I was old enough to be the boss's mother and needed to slip off my shoes to cool down from a hot flash?
Fifteen minutes in, my future boss glanced at her watch three times. Although I recognized I wasn't high on her list of desirable candidates, I still pursued the position, writing the de rigueur follow-up letter and placing occasional calls to check on my status.
Each time, I reached her voice mail. As weeks went by and I grew frustrated with the lack of communication, I concluded that pursuing this job, and any job at this time in my life, was a mistake.
My frustration with The Process would bother me on the job as well. As though to buttress my decision, a poorly written letter rejecting my candidacy arrived in the mail.
Was I discriminated against because of my age, my motherhood status, or because my experience lay largely in the volunteer arena? I'll never know, but I do recognize I was treated callously compared to years past, for whatever reasons.
So for the time being, I remain pleasantly free to accept freelance writing assignments at my own pace. Whenever I want, I can take a walk with my older daughter, who lives at home and attends community college, and I can exit the ''office'' at 3 p.m. to watch my high school sophomore's field hockey games.
When my nest empties, I'll reconsider this whole concern, and I'll be an experienced woman on a mission. If my age seems to be an issue, that very subject may be the niche I seize: advocating for older women who have raised the younger generation of workers and are still well equipped to succeed in the workforce. That is, if they choose to be there at all.
The Boston Globe, July 24, 2005
Test Reveals a Clash of Personalities in Home Office
I like working from home as a freelance writer, but sometimes I feel left out of the stimulating activities happening in "real" offices. At those times, I imagine a room full of professionals sitting around a mahogany table. The leader begins a PowerPoint presentation, and soon everyone is oohing, aahing, and marveling at the upcoming year's strategic plans.
More likely, I remind myself, those meetings are mostly "boor-ing," and the various personalities are simmering, beaming, bickering, or doodling in the same way they were back when I worked in high-level jobs in Boston.
But that was a long time
ago, and today I work in the lower level of my house. I'm free to create
my schedule and to choose my assignments, work style, and, to some
extent, the people with whom I associate. I adore it all and miss little
about working en masse.
I am a frustrated psychologist, never choosing to pursue it as a profession, but always helping friends sort through personal issues. Combining psychology and work via personality testing with colleagues fascinates me.
The only way to avoid feeling left out of this process, I decided, was to carry out the testing at my home office, albeit in a simplified manner.
I studied up on Myers-Briggs, the most popular of the personality type studies, which borrows from Jungian typology. The Myers-Briggs process determines a person's partiality on four scales, with each scale representing opposite preferences. Depending on participants' answers to a series of questions, they are designated a "letter" for each scale.
Combining these four letters determines a person's "type code," one of 16 possible combinations. The letters stand for introverted/extroverted (I/E); sensing/intuitive, (S/N); thinking/feeling (T/F); perceiving/judging (P/J). The goal of learning one's "type" is to help individuals better understand themselves and their interactions with others.
To begin the process, I answered 72 wide-ranging questions on an online test posted at one of the Myers-Briggs pirate sites (apologies if this is like illegally downloading music). Questions asked everything from "Do you get pleasure from solitary walks?" (You mean there are people who don't?) to "Do you feel involved when watching TV soaps?" (Is that what people think I do all day long here at home?) to "Do you value justice higher than mercy?" (Do I really need to reconsider my stance on assisted suicide to learn my type?)
The test results, tabulated in minutes on the website, discerned that I'm an "ENFJ," which in Myers-Briggs speak means I tend toward being an extrovert (E) who makes decisions based more on intuitive (N) thinking instead of senses, and I rely heavily on feelings (F) instead of analysis of cause and effect.
Translation: I tend to shoot from the hip rather than analyze, or in Dave Barry-speak, I eat before checking for mold.
The personality test also revealed that I am a well-organized planner (J) who dislikes spontaneity. Put into action, this means if my neighbors ring my bell at 9 a.m. and ask me to go for a walk, I will chase them away, because while it looks like I'm hanging around in sweat pants watching TV soaps, in reality I'm about to begin writing an article wearing my finest work attire.
Once I possessed this newfound grasp of my personality, I thought about what it all means and landed on this: It means nothing without co-workers.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I considered "typing" my kids and husband to learn which of the personality types they might be, and how we can tweak our dealings with one another to reach greater harmony. But I already know my husband is the complete opposite of me. Do I really need Myers-Briggs to tell me that?
And my daughters? At nearly 15 and 20, their brains are in major flux right now; why would I want to document insanity?
The only alternative was to perform a Myers-Briggs evaluation on those who keep my work life flowing well. So I tested my office mates, two cheerful cocker spaniels. They prefer being around people to being alone (extroverts for sure), but they do sleep an awful lot during the workday, so they probably have an introverted streak. When it comes to making decisions, they rely solely on their noses, without forethought or planning ... definitely ESFPs.
Next I evaluated the
fellow in my "shipping department": the shy UPS guy. He drops off
packages without ringing the bell. He's either introverted or afraid of
the ESFP dogs that like to tug at the pant legs of men driving noisy
brown trucks and wearing brown outfits. The UPS guy is definitely a
planner, arriving at 10 a.m. sharp, and all he wants are facts, facts,
facts, no talk about feelings, not even any acknowledgement of how angry
I was about a recent late package. An ISTJ for sure.
Finally, there was the sweet, hard-working women from Brazil in my "facilities department." They vacuum and dust my office, not to mention nine other rooms in this three-level structure, and they never complain. There's no category for that on Myers-Briggs, unfortunately. (If so, I can imagine the new questions for the survey: Do you point fingers outward at others or inward at yourself? Do you think of "wine" as a beverage or something you do all day long that's spelled with an additional "h" whine?)
By the way, I didn't bother to test the hamster. He spends half of each day in his wheel pretending to be busy while, in actuality, going nowhere and getting nothing done. He's just like someone I once fired.
After collecting all of this data, I shared it with everyone involved. I told the canines to start being more productive, or no more treats at break time, fellas! They lifted their heads, passed gas, and returned to sleep. The UPS guy began leaving deliveries at the bottom of our steep driveway, probably wondering what kind of a pervert I was, tracking him instead of my packages.
The webmaster asked for a pay increase because I called her a spontaneous "P" when she insists she's a methodical "J." The cleaning people kept smiling like they always do, because they're kind, considerate, and smart.
So instead of using the Myers-Briggs test at my home office ever again, or envying friends with access to such stimulating projects at work, I put things to rest: I took a nap. Can't do that in the middle of the workday in a cubicle, no matter your personality type.
The Boston Globe, April 22, 2005
The Pain of the Prom
I FELT LUCKY my sophomore year at Lexington High School because Frank, a cute boy I'd dated three or four times, invited me to his junior prom. Looking back, all I can picture is a sea of yellow: the ugly lemon-colored chiffon gown my mother insisted I wear, the bouquet of daisies and baby's breath Frank awkwardly handed me, and the carnation I inexpertly pinned to the lapel of his white tuxedo with the pale yellow cummerbund.
That moment on my parents' doorstep, with their camera bulbs flashing, was the beginning of the end. Frank spent most of the night sitting at a table with his friends. Without me. So I plunked myself down with my friends, prom king Jim and prom queen Sally, and spent most of the night stirring my Coke.
No surprise, that was Frank's and my last date, yet as I said, I felt lucky he invited me to his prom, because the next year, when Bob asked Mary and Doug asked Kathy and all the matches were made for my junior prom, I waited for an invitation that never came.
It wasn't that I wasn't pretty, or well-liked, or never dated, and I looked good in all the short skirts and low-hipped jeans styles of the era.
But I am Jewish, and back then that was still considered something freakish. The Christian boys I hung out with, who years later revealed their attraction to me, weren't willing to risk being teased to ask me out. At least that's the excuse I've always clung to.
So on the night of the prom, I joined my friends Marianne and Lisa -- one too tall, one too short, and thus uninvited, too -- in an evening of make-believe: making believe we didn't care that our friends were dancing to ''He's So Fine" while we stuffed chips in our faces.
Another year passed. The senior prom loomed closer. Confident that the boy I'd been going out with for a month would invite me, I waited for an invitation that never came. Two weeks before the prom I forced the issue. He looked down at his feet and said, ''When Kate and I broke up, we promised each other we'd still go to the prom together."
While our friends danced to ''So Happy Together," Marianne, my ''tall" friend, and I doubled up to baby-sit, sharing the popcorn, the profits, and our pain. Lisa, my ''short" friend, made it to this prom.
Eleven years ago, not long after a divorce that dredged up similar feelings of being left out, I brought a new man in my life to my 20th high school reunion. As we danced, he sang into my ear in a booming voice to ''You'll Always Be Beautiful in My Eyes."
Feeling an adolescent-like horror that people were probably watching and snickering, I hushed him. ''You're embarrassing me," I said.
''I'm feeling really good that I'm here with you, holding you tight," he responded, ignoring my self-consciousness. He continued to sing, undaunted.
Across the ballroom, my friend Lisa, the ''short" one, joyously danced the twist with her best friend who had long moved away. Each came sans husband to party together unencumbered. Noticeably absent was my ''tall" friend, Marianne, busy elsewhere with her wonderful husband and four children. She no sooner wanted to attend the reunion than sign up for a time-tunnel trip to the 1970s. Jim and Sally, the former prom king and queen, broke up just after graduating from high school. They no longer speak.
As for me, I married that man who sang to me at my high school reunion that night, because between his shameless choruses, I realized he would love me far longer than one night at a reunion or at a junior or senior prom, and he would stay with me no matter what, whereas my first one bailed at the first sight of stress.
We are raising two daughters, one from his first marriage, another from mine. We raise his Catholic and mine Jewish; somehow, it works. His daughter is just past prom age; mine about to enter the scene. Although kids today attend with a friend, or in a group, not necessarily with a date, prom time still stands as an anguishing measurement of high school success in love. Pity. Truly a pity.