Beware of staring ducks

It happens this way …

QU10COVERHALF-1-800x1200Yesterday I received my paperback copy of the summer issue of QU, a literary magazine published by Queens University of Charlotte, NC. I knew they had accepted a poem of mine, but wasn’t aware it had already been posted in a digital version on May 19.

Anyway, what I want to share today is how persistent inspiration can be when it won’t let go of you. The poem is called “Anatidaephobia.” Huh? That mouthful means having an irrational fear of being stared at by a duck. Double huh?!

This word was coined by Gary Larson in this Far Side cartoon.

Far Side

The set-up is hilarious and so is the made-up word

However, I didn’t see Larson’s cartoon initially. Rather, while I was watching a You-Tube interview with the incredible Judy Dench, she used the word off-handedly. At first I couldn’t understand what she was saying, so I played the video back several times and guessed at its spelling. By now I was hooked and was compelled to find out more about it.

People often ask writers and artists where they get ideas for their work. In this case it was happenstance – coming across the Dench video – combined with sleuthing to find Larsen’s cartoon, and then weeks of hard work shaping the poem into images that played with the original definition and then expanded it to be more universal.

The fact is from childhood on, I hated being stared at. I could feel myself blush whenever I walked into a room – whether it was a classroom as a student, a party with people I didn’t know, or a department store when I was approached by a salesperson. Being invisible was so much more comfortable!

Even as a management trainer, I always made sure my audiences had handouts. Not only did these keep me on track with the ideas I wanted to share, but they also got folks to look down rather than at me.  I would actually become disconcerted when someone, who was probably more auditory than visual, kept staring at me. So, believe me, I know firsthand what this phobia is all about. I just substitute people for ducks.

Who knew a made-up word for a made-up phobia would lead to a real life truth? Inspiration did!

To the last days of August …

It happens this way …


Notes from an August Gardener

 In the depths of winter, I finally learned that

within me there lay an invincible summer.

– Albert Camus

 Sunday morning

and not one bird makes a sound.

They’re watching me

cut each gladiola down,

keeping silent in respect

for my grief over orange,

purple, white, and mottled pink.

Until next year, I relegate

each stalk to recycling.


I’m enamored with intensities

that startle and invigorate

before they slip away:

day lilies, four o’clocks,

Rose-of-Sharon trees,

lovers on rebound,

lightning strikes of poetry.


Still, around the yard –

patient and long-lived –

hostas, daisies, and geraniums

ride the summer out.

They’ll hang on until

first frost – if affection’s paid.


Just as the lid drops on

what has been, empathetic birds

turn their muteness off.

They remind me

when summer is invincible,

there’s no mystery in falling,

falling in love again.

Make More Mistakes

It happens this way …

Last week’s post about my lying to cover up mistakes uncovered a distant memory. It was 1980 and I was standing at the kitchen sink in our Woodbridge home, washing dishes with my Aunt Florence. I blurted out, “I’m thirty-five and I’m still terrified to make mistakes.” I don’t remember what prompted that admission, but I do remember the angst in those words.

It took me decades to become a recovering perfectionist and to earn the freedom to make more mistakes.

I used to blush ferociously when a driver honked at me for some perceived traffic gaffe. I must have been doing something wrong.

I used to feel it was my fault if a meal I ordered at a restaurant wasn’t up to par. It was my mistake for ordering it.

I used to feel gut-punched when an editor rejected a poem. Wrong publication, wrong editor,  wrong piece. My fault.

Today – older and somewhat wiser – I’ve learned that there really are no mistakes.

FilmThey are only mis-takes – to play with movie parlance – that lead me to the surprising and unexpected.

That wrong turn I took because I was distracted led me to a route around a traffic accident I didn’t know happened. Who knew?

The fancy blouse I bought three years ago and never wore was perfect for a social event this year. Who knew?

Five poems rejected by one publication got accepted individually by three others.

And so it goes.

I’ve decided to embrace what Tallulah Bankhead once said: If I had to live my life over again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.

 I won’t wait for the next life to make more mistakes sooner.  Today’s a good day. In the process, I hope to discover how much more intriguing life can be after each mis-take.

Oh! What A Tangled Web We Weave …

It happens this way …

Big Little LiesRarely does a book so captivate me that I stay up late and get up early to finish it. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarity was one. I knew the title from the award-winning HBO mini-series starring Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Reece Witherspoon, and I wanted to read the book before I saw the TV version.

That turned out to be a good strategy because, when we finally got Season One from the library, it would have been a challenge to follow all the characters and their relationships without the text.  As we watched this almost spot-on transformation of book to TV, I was better able to track and untangle the tangled web of lies these characters wove.

This post is not meant to be a spoiler alert, but a springboard into the issue of why people lie. I would be a liar if I didn’t acknowledge I’ve done it innumerable times. One of my earliest memories of this behavior happened in kindergarten. Sister Geraldine had set down the rule that we five-year-olds were not allowed to erase as we practiced forming our ABCs. I’d like to think there was a good pedagogical reason behind her dictate, but it made no sense at the time.

When she walked up and down the aisles checking our work, she stopped at my desk, saw my eraser-smudged paper, and chided me for breaking her rule.

That day I would rather have been sent to the principal’s office or the guillotine than admit what I had done. So I denied, denied, denied until the good Sister gave up. Why did I do that? I have no idea what was in that five-year-old’s mind, but I can only guess it had something to do with trying to cover up the fact that I made mistakes – perhaps I was already a perfectionist-in -the-making? – and was caught in the process.


In his June 2017 National Geographic article, “Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways,” Yudhijit Bhattacharjee posits:

Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones. Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.


After citing his own foray into lying as a third-grader, Bhattacharjee explains:

Like learning to walk and talk, lying is something of a developmental milestone. While parents often find their children’s lies troubling—for they signal the beginning of a loss of innocence—Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, sees the emergence of the behavior in toddlers as a reassuring sign that their cognitive growth is on track.

Double whoa! I guess I was cognitively on track in kindergarten!

Here’s a challenge I’m posing to myself this week: How many times will I fudge the truth to be polite (“Oh, I love your new haircut”)? How many times will I try to maintain a façade of perfectionism (“No, it wasn’t me who left the back slider open!”)? How many times will I try to protect my self-esteem (“I really didn’t want to be in that journal anyway!”)? Not that there’s any thing wrong with any of these motivations – they are human and lightweight – but it will be interesting to see when/where/how I digress from deep-down truth. 


PS: I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit I thought Shakespeare had written, “Oh! What a tangled web we weave/ when first we practice to deceive.” The truth? These words belong to Sir Walter Scott in his poem, “Marmion.” There. I feel better now.


In Praise of Left Hands

It happens this way …

It only took minor minor-surgery to make me realize how important a left hand is. (For all the lefties out there, read “right hand.”)

The image that popped up consistently this week? An anchor. For example: How do I unscrew a bottle cap without my left hand anchoring the container in place? How do I rip up solicitation mail or dead-head flowers or wash my hair or sweep the floor or cut meat without its steadying influence ? Even though I have four working fingers and the crook of an arm to help me, the ease with which my left hand has performed these activities in the past – without calling attention to itself, without expecting gratitude – is eye-opening.

left handOf course, I did some research on hands. The entire hand contains 27 bones and the fingers account for 14 of them. Since I talk with my hands, I guesstimate that half of my oral output has been stifled this week. In addition, some researcher on the Internet claims that “Each hand is dominantly controlled by the opposing brain hemisphere.” I think the opposite may be true. My right brain seems sluggish and poems are not flowing as they should. I chalk that up entirely to a limited left hand.

One thing’s certain: When the bandage is unraveled next week, I’ll pour gratitude on a limb that humbly does its job helping me get stuff done, talk, and write – all achieved without complaint.


Many of you have had much more serious surgeries than I will ever have – from hips to knees, from brains to kidneys, from colons to hearts. I can only say my minor inconvenience has made me much more empathetic to the pain and limitations you’ve experienced. And, it has also made me aware of how I take parts of my body for granted.

Just in case the Universe thinks I might need future lessons in body-gratitude, I‘m going to execute a pre-emptive strike right now: Thank you, brain, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, jaw, and all other parts of this carbon-based life form, inside and out. Keep up the good work, dear body. I’m grateful!

Changing the Hospital Narrative

It happens this way …

I used to hate hospitals. When I was in sixth grade, I fractured an ankle while ice skating on Woodbridge pond on New Year’s Eve. I walked about a half mile on it before an aunt and uncle, who were on their way to pick me up on this bitter cold day, found me and got me to a hospital.

Image spending a week in a hospital bed waiting for swelling to go down before the ankle could be casted. I don’t think insurance companies would allow that today.

Anyway, after a week in the children’s ward where I learned how to master a bedpan, I went home. Because our elementary school didn’t have wheelchair access – it was the ‘50s – I stayed home for six weeks and developed a “nervous stomach” because I was missing school. (Over-achiever back then!) It took until sophomore year in high school not to get sick before taking tests.

And it took decades to get over my aversion to hospitals. So yesterday’s trip to Portland’s Adventist Medical Center for minor hand surgery was a delightful adventure. Between the time I arrived at 6:30 a.m. to register and left at 1:20 p.m., I met sixteen staffers and gathered a number of great stories. (Hey, writers find material wherever, right?)

One of my favorites was the young Seventh Day Adventist Chaplin –  2O’s, tall, slender, trimmed beard, cute – I met early on.  A near-by nurse shared he was pining over a beautiful ER doctor and didn’t know how to approach her. On the spot we concocted a fantasy scenario: I would go outside, feign a heart attack, go to the ER, and ask for a Chaplin.  Sounded good!

Since we had made this fun connection, when he arrived at my bedside before surgery and asked me if I wanted to pray with him, I didn’t hesitate. What did I want to pray for? he asked. How about my doctor and anesthisologist? How about all the nurses who work in the hospital? All the patients? The universe of this beautiful place?

We held hands while he said a touching prayer I could easily pray with him. When I asked him if being a Chaplin was his calling, he surprised me with “no.” He was a scientist and was using this experience to keep himself “holistic.” The division between science and religion didn’t exist for him. How refreshing and enlightening.

There were many more wonderful people with stories that touched my heart. I’m sure I’ll be processing them for weeks to come. What a long way from that sixth grade hospital stay – and I’m grateful!


This morning! Little pinkie surgery can’t keep a gardener down!

The East Coast Diaries, Part VIII

It happens this way …

July 5: We left Philly for a final visit with my mom and a delightful lunch with my Mount student Ampy Pikarsky (’72) and her incredible husband Jeff. We landed back at the Mount to rejuvenate and spend time with old friends.


The House of Prayer


Mt. St. Mary Motherhouse and Academy


Me and Sister Maria


Kathy and Sister Maria


Sister Mary Jo (left) drove us down the Garden State Parkway to Bradley Beach to visit with Sisters  Rosemary, Janice…


… Kathy with Sister Eileen


… Sister Linda with Molly

Tuesday, July 9: We woke to the cloudy, cool weather of Clackamas and the abundant colors of early July. More blooms to come! There’s no place like home –except in all those places where people make you feel at home. Thanks, New Jersey and Philadelphia!