The last time I recall swinging a tennis racket was during the second Clinton administration. The Kid was about 7 years old, and I took her out a few times to play. The last time I played seriously (if you can call my play “serious”) I was single, and in my early 30’s.

For a while, I played fairly often. Throughout high school, I played regularly with a couple of friends. In my early adult life, I had a couple of friends I played with on weekends and in the morning before work.

My court time was limited by my extreme self-conciousness: I did not want to play with anyone I did not know. I was just easing out from under this self-imposed limitation, expanding my play into a small group of mixed double players (mostly coworkers), when Dr. T and I got together. An avid player himself, he encouraged me to try his league. I demurred.

The last time I played tennis was not intentionally the last time I played tennis. I don’t remember it at all.

From time to time, I considered playing, but nothing ever came of it. Although I have embraced other forms of exercise, tennis never happened. At the peak of my physical condition, roughly ten years ago, I was ready to try tennis again. We had joined a small fitness club, very close to home. I was taking classes 5 days a week: yoga (Wednesdays and Saturdays), aerobics (Mondays and Wednesdays) , strength training (Tuesdays and Thursdays- at 6:00 a.m!), and a ballet/Pilates based class ( Sundays.)

The ballet did me in before I could get back to the game.  Something bad happened to my right knee in the course of leaping across the room at the end of a class. I hadn’t wanted to leap; I was there for the stretching. It wasn’t the leaping of course, but the landing that did me in. By the time I made the five minute drive home, I could barely make it upstairs to bed. I couldn’t go to work the next day. Nothing was ever the same.

I got a certain, small satisfaction in telling people that “I blew my knee out in ballet,” but my routine was forever disrupted, and I abandoned my fantasies about flying around a tennis court.

By the time I was able to resume my classes at the gym, they were being cut due to competition from a newer, fancier fitness center in town. Things changed, time passed, and tennis was forgotten.  I defaulted to the elliptical machine and  bouts of yoga.

My exercise routine since returning to Durham has consisted of walking, some home-based yoga and hand weights. (Emphasis on “some.”)

Dr. T has continued to play tennis, and encouraging me to play too. I’ve continued to think that maybe I should try again. The knee has recovered, after all. Early this year, I spotted a notice for “pre-tennis conditioning.” I decided to give it a go.

For the last three Mondays, I’ve been sprinting, lifting weights, and engaging in Mountain Climbers and Fast Feet, among other depredations. There I was, in a group of actual tennis players who all knew each other, some of them younger, and all of them more fit than I.

And it was fun, and they were friendly.

Last Monday, I stayed to play “mini tennis” (Did you know that was a Thing? I didn’t) with a fellow conditioning classmate.  This was well beyond my comfort zone. I had just met her. Her nickname on the court is “Evil Judy” due to her deadly drop shot. She’s been sidelined for months because of shoulder surgery; I’ve been sidelined for decades because of inertia. Other members of our class were playing real, live tennis on either side of us.

I surprised myself. My stroke was stronger, my feet were slower than I expected, but it felt familiar and comfortable. I want to do it again. And again. With strangers, even.

How many of you are familiar with Marlo Thomas? If you are my age, you may recall her as the spunky, spritely Ann Marie in the 1960’s sitcom “That Girl.” ( I wanted to be her.) You kids out there may recognize her as the spokeswoman for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, founded by her late father, the comedian Danny Thomas.

Somewhere between That Girl and St. Jude’s, Ms. Thomas married talk show host Phil Donahue, and more notably, generated the idea for a children’s book and album entitled, “Free to Be You and Me,” which celebrated diversity among all people.

I was too old to be in the target audience for that admirable endeavor, but the catchy title has stayed with me.

I’ve borrowed and adapted it for the title of my Icebreaker Speech this evening, which is:

Free to Be Me and Me

As a child, I learned to view the world simply. There was Good and Bad, Right and Wrong.

Doing what I was told was “Good;”  sassing or talking back, “Bad.” Simple, right? Especially for a kid with a burning need to be “Good.” I tried as hard as I could to be good. It was the only way to be.

There comes a moment in every kid’s life when childhood collides with reality, and shades of gray begin to color a previously black and white world. At some point, we must accept that we will not do everything right, all of the time, no matter how hard we try.

Nobody’s perfect, especially me. This was a tough concept for me to grasp.

Although I like to see myself as a certain sort of person, the reality is, I’m not just one way.

A hard worker, capable of staying on task for hours and producing great results, I am also capable of spending hours online, playing Lexulous with my friends,  filling shopping carts with shoes I will never buy, watching cat videos, and clicking through long slide shows with titles like, “8 Secrets about (the movie) Mean Girls.”

I’m a loyal friend, but very likely to forget your birthday, or worse, buy a gift that sits unwrapped and unmailed in the trunk of my car for months.

A health-oriented individual, I  nonetheless drink 3 cups of coffee each morning, wine nearly every evening, and my exercise routine fluctuates between walking my dog three to six miles five times a week, and sitting on my you-know-what for months, lifting nothing heavier than an ice cream scoop.

Despite a desire to present myself as put-together, I can spend an entire weekend in the same sweatpants, with my hair  doing whatever crazy thing it likes.

I’m the most morbid optimist I know, fretting into the wee small hours, equally certain of impending disaster and that everything will be just fine after all.

You get the picture. Despite my lofty aspirations to be the best, most productive version of myself, I fail. This used to discourage me to a degree that I would give up, and berate myself over every failure. I was just never good enough, smart enough, or anything enough. It’s the kind of faulty world view that leads dieters to eat the whole pack of cookies because they’ve already eaten one. (Not that I would know anything about that…)

It’s easier for me to recognize  and accept  conflicts and contradictions in others than  myself, but I’ve been working on it. If I can forgive you for disappointing me, shouldn’t I extend myself the same courtesy?

I  am serious and earnest, and silly and snarky. I ‘m a shy show-off.  I  dread going to parties, but I’m often among the last to leave.

Back when I was kid, I  wanted  to be a free-spirited single girl like Ann Marie. Today I’ll settle for  being Free to Be Me and Me. I encourage  you to be Free to Be You and You, too.

If you have been following this blog at all, you know that I am not exactly where I want to be in my life. Not that things are all bad- I am in reasonably good health, my marriage and The Kid are in good shape, I really can see some progress around the house, and I’m expanding my involvement in my community. The missing piece of my life’s puzzle is a “real” job. Actually, not just a job, but an outlet for the considerable (unfocused) energy and ambition I seem to have been accumulating over the last year or so.

My logic-based efforts at finding full-time employment have not yet been successful, so I am enlisting another piece of myself. It’s time to go with my gut. I hope it won’t be too mad at the way I’ve so often ignored it.

Many years ago, when I worked in my worst job ever, I mysteriously found myself in extreme gastric distress every Monday morning. It took  weeks to make the connection; it wasn’t Sunday supper, but  the job that was making me ill.

I’m much more sensitive to negative notes now, but still working on recognizing the positive messages my gut is trying to send.

My gut hasn’t been considerate enough to dictate specifically what I should be doing, job-wise, but I have been receiving hints and signals:

When logic instructed me that I had to get over my absurd levels of self-consciousness, my gut sent me to Toastmasters. It also sent me to a two-day blogging conference, and a workshop for people looking to make changes and/or find direction in their lives and careers.

My gut got all giddy at the prospect of working as an Employee Relations Consultant, which would employ a full range of my existing skills in a new context. Logic hopped on board, and I’ve joined a professional group which will allow me to meet people in the field of Human Resources, and study to become a better candidate.

My gut jumped up and down, waving its arms and yelling “Yes” when I sat in on trials of the Moral Monday protesters with Dr. T, and again when we attended a banquet honoring the 120 volunteer lawyers representing them.

My gut was apparently attending to other matters when the prospect of extending my little job to full-time status first arose, but has recently started giving me funny looks when I consider it. It recently joined forces with logic to remind me that there was no reason to miss meetings of any of my new, career-boosting groups in order to work a shift at a job that does not sustain me. I will be changing my availability accordingly.

Logic tells me that I am a smart person with some skills, a desire to serve, and a sense of justice. My gut seems to be telling me that if I trust myself to do the right thing, I will find the right thing to do.

February, or as I have taken to calling it, “Mulligan Month” or “This Time I Really Mean It Month” may be my new favorite.  January may be the official start of the new year, but I think we can make a case for February.

In January, the stores are still cluttered with worse for wear holiday markdowns, we’re still getting back to our “normal” routines, and it gets dark too early to feel much ambition. (OK, maybe that last one is just me.)

By the time February rolls around, the sun is staying up a little later, which always helps. The year is still fresh, and there is room for optimism. Conference play has begun in NCAA basketball, but it’s early enough to hope your team will get it together in time for the tournament. (Again, that might be just me- Come on, ‘Heels!)

In February, you get a sense of which of your resolutions and aspirations may have a chance of sticking, and can tweak or add to them before it’s too late. You can also do a fairly good job of catching up with the goals you intended to reach during  the first month of the year. (I tend to spend too much time in January thinking about what I want to accomplish. By February, I am itching to do it.)

Four compact weeks with no messy left-over days:  adhering to an all month regime is easier  in February. And, don’t forget- right in the middle, you are encouraged, if not obliged, to eat chocolate. And be loving.

It’s a short sweet month, and it’s over before you know it, like so many other things. Enjoy, get something done, be loving, and have a little chocolate.

(and Go ‘Heels!)





So the three times weekly (M,W, Sat) publishing experiment has been unsuccessful, to put it kindly. And I am on a mission to be kinder to myself. So rather than berate myself for failing, I will consider the last two weeks a bit of a break, and start again today.

The new year has been interesting so far, in a good way: I’ve been to Raleigh with Dr. T to observe parts of a Moral Monday trial (he is representing some of the protesters pro bono) resumed lessons with BR, attended a meeting of a new group, attended my first Toastmasters meeting as an official member, and socialized more than usual too.

As to my self-photo a day resolution, I will say this: I am rapidly losing interest in myself as a subject. I expect this will result in me “getting over myself” and having a photo I can stand to use on LInkedIn soon so I can move on. Making sure to take a picture and post an entry daily has been a challenge. I dropped the ball on January 7, but I am giving myself a pass because although I didn’t take my own photo, I did cause photos of myself to be taken. (Publicly, even!) I am enjoying the app I am using for the project though: Day One, a nifty journaling tool. Check it out.

Not living a highly scheduled life since I’ve come back home has not really agreed with me. I intend to build more routine and structure into my life this year. I can hardly wait to see how.

Happy New Year. I wish you luck with whatever goals and intentions you have for 2014. Please feel free to share them as a comment.

I do not photograph well. This is not false modesty. I am reasonably happy with my looks. There is just something about having my picture taken that feels like torture, and it shows in the finished product. I look awkward and self-conscious, every time.

This was not always the case. I have pictures of myself as a young child, and that girl is smiling, wide open to the world. Pardon me for saying that I was adorable then. Back when I had my baby teeth.

Then I hit the stage of teeth too big for my face, compounded by the fact that curly hair was not in style at the moment. Between trying to hide the teeth and contain the hair, I lost the joy of hamming it up for the camera.

Photography used to be more of an investment, when pictures required film and processing. There was more pressure to look good. I knew the silent reproach of a drawer full of school photos, unworthy of sharing or trading. Just stacks of little rectangles on a page, all big teeth, lumpy hair, and eyes pleading for approval.

Over the years, I have seen a few good photos of myself, mainly taken when I was completely unaware of the photographer, or when I was just too caught up in the fun of the moment to remember to worry. So I know I can take a decent picture, I just don’t feel I can.

Things might have been different for me if I’d had grown up with digital photography. Don’t like that snapshot? Delete and try again. And again. Hey wait, I can do that now. To overcome my “photo phobia” I have set a challenge for myself: at least one photo of myself daily, until I can get comfortable with the process and/or have a picture suitable for my LinkedIn profile.

It starts today. Cheese.

We love to talk about whether a year has been “good” or “bad.” (Or is it just me?) The real answer is usually “both.” For purposes of this post, I am only addressing my own progress, or lack thereof.

For the first time, I chose a personal “Word of the Year” for 2013.

Did I live up to it? No and yes.

No, in that I have not done yoga every morning. Or most mornings. Yes, in that I can still kick higher than my head, and have actually done so unsupported by furniture recently. (No guts, no glory.)

No, in that I haven’t posted as regularly to this blog as I intended, nor have I added any visuals. Yes, in that I have posted about more personal topics, and haven’t abandoned the blog. Also, I’ve linked to posts from my Facebook page, and shared posts directly with people I don’t even know, including real, live, published writers. Another yes: I attended WordCamp this fall.

No, in that I have not found a “real” job. Yes, in that I have, with the help of my friends, a new resume, and some ideas on what I would like to do next. Yes, in that I have applied to some interesting jobs, and made it to a phone interview once. I’ve joined a professional group in a field of interest. Yes, in that I am actually telling people I am looking for work.

Yes in that I am reaching out and developing new friendships. Yes in that I have pushed myself far out of my comfort zone by joining Toastmasters, and will be giving my “Icebreaker” speech on January 28th.

I plan to choose another Word of the Year for 2014. I was considering the following: Control, Connect, or Direction. I think now I prefer “Momentum.”

Recently, as I perused employment listings, I was delighted to see an addition to the usual generic job posting:

“Questions? Please contact:  job poster@prospectiveemployer.soandso”

I had questions.  I included them in a concise and courteous message, along with my resume. I said that I would be very appreciative of any feedback before filing my formal application electronically.

I told myself I would allow 48 hours for a response before just going ahead and filing my application.

Within 24 hours, I saw the email. Hooray! My effort was rewarded. I clicked in anticipation, and saw this:

“Dear Applicant,

We thank you for your interest in (prospective employer.)  Please ensure that you also make application to the ( position) listed on the (prospective employer) HR website.  We will be screening the applicant pool for those candidates who most closely match the job description.  Your resume and cover letter should reflect that you meet the minimum qualifications for the position.

Again, thank you for your interest,

(Person posting the job , direct phone line and email address)”

I’m still trying to decide whether or not to bother filing the application.



The worst thing about blogging and job hunting and blogging about job hunting (especially blogging about job hunting) is probably the complete lack of response that follows a given post or application.

I didn’t necessarily start this blog for an audience, and have, in fact been reluctant to draw much attention to it. I have to admit though, that a “like”, a comment or a “follow” can make my day. The problem is that now that I’ve had a taste, I want more, (There. I said it.) and I fret a bit when I don’t generate a reaction.

That’s nothing to how I feel after submitting an application. I am pathetically grateful for an automatic email response, or a chance to track my application online. Something truly is better than nothing.

The best thing about blogging and job hunting is that there is always another chance. All I have to do is write something else, and find another job that looks interesting. Practice may not make perfect, but it should make better. I can find a new topic, or refine my arguments that I am the best qualified applicant.

In the meantime, I remind myself that I do exist in the real world. My family and  friends, the people at my little job, and the folks at the Literacy Center, B.R. in particular, provide a warm-blooded context to counter the cold-blooded isolation that is writing and looking for work.

Tonight was the second to last meeting of the semester for my literacy student and me. We’ve had quite the year. Despite a number of personal challenges for both of us, we’ve persevered, and seen some high points:

When B.R. and I began our work, assessment tests were a huge source of stress for him. Things are different these days. In the last month or two, he has taken three tests. He did so well on the first one, he had to take another. And again. He took the third test last week, on the Wednesday we would normally have had our class.

Tonight, in response to my questions about the test, he said, “It was hard, but it was fun.” (This from a man who was so distressed by our first test that we had to stop before it was finished.) We found one of the Literacy Center staff members to get his results. They were great.

When he came to the Center in 2011, B.R. was at level two. At the end of last year, he tested at level three. This year, he is at level FIVE.  B.R. was astonished that he had been able to remember everything we’d worked on. I was delighted to be able to say, again, “It’s in there. You’ve got this.”

B.R. received a computer tablet as an early Christmas gift. He will be starting computer classes at the Center in January.  He is as confident and optimistic as I have ever seen him.

On Wednesday, we will wrap up our current section, and talk about what is ahead for us next year. I think both of us are a little more certain that we will be ready to tackle what’s next.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (

Greggory Miller

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