The Solemn Art of Face Painting

(Click the picture for a larger image.)

Here's another photograph from my days as a cub reporter at the Melrose Free Press. I love how serious the girls look. I also like the tight composition (it's cropped a smidge from the right), but I probably should have shot this as a vertical, with a little more of the image showing at the bottom.

I've been working on my clips, which are looking better than I thought they would -- a good photocopier set at high contrast works wonders on even the most yellowed and faded newsprint. Maybe the clips will look so good that no one will notice the publication dates.

I can't believe that, at my age, I'm still struggling with a variation on that old news conundrum: you can't get a job without (recent) clips and you can't get (recent) clips without a job.

Who wants Ice cream?

(Click the picture for a larger image.)

I took these photographs years ago at the local library's ice cream sundae party for kids who took part in the summer reading program. I was working for the Melrose Free Press at the time--I was just out of high school. If I took this picture today, I would stand right in front of the speaker to get a more head-on view of the kids' faces.

(Click the picture for a larger image.)

Personally, I like this photo better. It's more intimate and it shows the ice cream and the awards. They were both published, along with a third that I can't lay my hands on at the moment. But the owner/publisher liked the first one best, because he knew that all those kids' parents would be buying several copies of the paper that week. You see cute faces. He saw dollar signs and circulation numbers.

To Market, To Market

If I seem a little distracted lately, it's because I've been doing some hard thinking about my current career path and my short- and long-term career goals. And I plan to be distracted for the rest of the week, while I continue to work on my goals (and my resume and my clips).

Meanwhile, here are a few more job search links for your browsing pleasure. I'll add them to the job search section in the sidebar (lower right-hand side of this page) later.

The Burry Man Writers Center has a huge list of links to freelance job listings and other resources for writers. The Association of Alternative Weeklies has help wanted page with a handful of editorial positions, though some are outdated. Then, of course, there's Editor & Publisher, which has a national classifieds jobs section. No one I know has ever gotten a job that way, but I guess you never know.

That's it for now. I need to go obsess over my resume and fret over my ancient and yellowed newspaper clips.

"I Just Read the Misquotes File ...

And I'd Like to Say I've Been Misquoted"

While I was going through my clips yesterday I found a print-out of the "misquotes" file we used to keep at one of the papers I worked for. It's full of funny quotes from members of our pod, which included three reporters and the editor of a regional edition of the paper, the two-person business desk, the education section editor, the paper's columnist, a regular stringer and the film critic, who didn't sit with us but wandered over often from his own nearby pod.

In one of my favorite exchanges, the columnist asks the film critic if he ever shops at Miltons.

"Yeah, ever since I lost my clothes in the plane crash," the film critic says.

"Hey, you were on that DC-10?" someone asks.

"Ah, I might have been," the film critic says.

At this, the columnist launches into a story about how he was the Sunday editor on the day of that plane crash and how he ripped the front page apart to get it into the paper and ended up beating the Boston Globe to the story.

Just as he reaches the crescendo of his story, the business reporter cuts him off.

"You know," he says to the columnist, "You have a great story. But [the film critic] was on that fucking plane. I want to hear what he has to say."

God, I miss working in a newsroom.

Did You Spot the Difference?

You've seen them, right? Those sweet-but-apropos-of-nothing little illustrations that pepper the pages of the New Yorker? Well, they've gotten a makeover, albeit a subtle one. An article in the New York Times explains that the tiny line drawings that appear at random in the pages of the magazine now have a narrative.

"Starting with the magazine's 80th anniversary issue last month, those quirky illustrations - known as spots to the magazine's staff - have been quietly unspooling through each issue like minimalist silent films, sharing a running theme or even telling microstories."

Microstories ... How cool is that?

You can read the rest of the Times article here. Be sure to check out the slide show, which features a series of spots by illustrator Richard McGuire. By the way, the last time I checked the New Yorker website, it was still under construction. A lot of their content is online now, including current fiction.

There's a Place You Can Go

Well, it only took me two weeks, but I did it -- I joined a gym. There were three in my area to choose from. The first was the local mega-gym, with lots of prettiness and buffitude, not to mention lots of the grunting and slamming down of weights (even though there's a rule against that), one million machines and one million televisions and very peppy salespeople who greet everyone by name as they enter and who now call me daily.

The second was a luxe all-women's fitness center and spa, decorated in shades of white on whiter, dotted with potted palms and stocked with fluffy white towels and robes and a whirlpool shaped like a teardrop -- a tempting utopia (massages! pedicures!) but also extraordinarily expensive.

The third was the YMCA nearest to me, a large, gritty, city Y; a multicultural place with lots of activity, from the kids in the day care marching up and down the halls in rows of two to the high school students shouting on the basketball courts to the folks who rent rooms there at a weekly rate pacing back and forth outside the entrance smoking cigarettes.

Last night, after a 20-minute tour, I picked the Y. There wasn't a potted palm or a fluffy white towel in sight. The women's workout room doesn't have a single TV. The women's locker room was messy and the whirlpool looked like someone had dropped beef bullion cubes into it. I think the steam room had a crack in the door.

But you know what? I felt comfortable there. I wasn't afraid to meet people's eyes and smile. Most of the people I encountered actually smiled back. I didn't feel like I had to run out and buy all new workout clothes so I would fit in. I wasn't the fattest person there (not even close) and so I didn't stop to consider losing some weight before starting my membership.

Plus, you know, there's this:

"Young man, there's no need to feel down. I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground. I said, young man, 'cause you're in a new town there's no need to be unhappy.

"Young man, there's a place you can go. I said, young man, when you're short on your dough. You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find many ways to have a good time."

(boom, boom, boom, boom, boom)

Everybody now!

"It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A. It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A-A ..."

Fifty Words: Spring Has Sprung

This week's Fifty Words prompt is up. I'm trying something a little different for this week's challenge--it's an open-ended prompt to write about spring. I'm hoping the general nature of the prompt will entice some more people to participate. We'll see how it goes.

I never did get to last week's challenge, but I plan to ... I have a good story in me about my first memory that I've been meaning to write for a long time. It's all up there in my head, just waiting for me to make the time to put it down on paper.

Girl Meets Boys of Summer

Can you spot J9 in the crowd? I know she's in the first picture. And that might be her in #12. But beyond that, I'm not sure. Fifty-three pictures? That's not a photo essay -- it's a photo novel.

Writer's Weekly

I'm not sure how I missed this site in my never-ending quest for work, but Writer's Weekly has a pretty decent markets and jobs section. The site also has a ton of articles on writing. The ones I looked at seemed well-written and well-researched. Especially useful are those with links to paying markets in areas such as online fiction, historical fiction, book reviews, and personal essays.

I'll be posting other new freelance job search links in the sidebar (on the right) today. Look near the bottom under the heading "freelance jobs."


I think we need a new punctuation mark to indicate sarcasm. Personally, I like to use the exclamation point, but that only works if other people know that you wouldn't normally use an exclamation point unless there was some kind of an emergency and people's lives were in danger. And, let's face it, probably not even then. No, what we really need is an ironic exclamation point. Maybe an exclamation point with a little smiley face at the bottom? Or a winky face? Or an asterisk?

The great thing about an ironic exclamation point would be how much easier it would be to communicate. Writers wouldn't be restricted to using mere words to convey their meaning. And readers wouldn't have to actually read the writer's words in order to understand them.

When was the last time we got a new punctuation mark, anyway? Don't you think that it's high time we did? I say we draw up some plans, take a vote on the best design, circulate a petition and then ...

Shit. Who's in charge of new punctuation marks? Anybody?

This Photograph is One in a Million!

(Click on the photograph for a larger image.)

I have about one million photographs of this dock, which is just outside the Harbormaster's office at King's beach in Swampscott. I've shot it from all kinds of angles, at every hour of the day and some hours of the night, in all four seasons, in all kinds of weather and in all different kinds of light. Once I even shot it in the dark. (That didn't really work out.) Out of the one million different photographs that I've taken of this dock, there are only three that I like. This is one of them. And I don't even really like the other two.

Photography is so easy. All you have to do is point the camera and press a button.

Fifty Words: Early Memories

The new Fifty Words writing prompt is up. This week's challenge is to write about early memories. I'm also experimenting with the submission rules -- this week, writers can submit by leaving a comment on the main post or via email.

All Your Mobile Devices Are Belong to Us

I can't figure out why publications that are geared toward writers and editors consistently have such terrible writing and editing.

This is from a newsletter for writers: "Who hasn't heard of mobile devices such as cell phones and PDAs these days? Whether phone calls, or just checking a brief weather update, chat with online pals, playing games in spare time, these trendy, digital gadgets can provide a variety of functions."

Still Crazy After All These Haircuts

Why do hairdressers always try to convince me to flip my hair out at the bottom? Do they really think the flip-do is going to come back all these years later? Do they really think that it should? Have they never seen pictures of that girl? Or, worse, this girl?

I'm very happy with my new haircut. I look a little less back-woodsy now, though I guess I still look a little crazy. That's not exactly something you can fix with a $20 wash, cut and blow dry.

Grrr: Where's My Axe?

The end of winter is the ugliest time of year. Dry skin and hair. Pale, pasty skin. Big, lumpy clothes and clompy shoes. I don't usually wear makeup but right now I feel like I should apply it with a trowel to my entire body.

And that's not to mention those extra pounds the human body puts on every winter, a left-over genetic predisposition from the days when humans were cave bears who ate lots of berries and bunnies and shit and then went to sleep for four months. Everybody knows that eating a big meal right before bedtime is a bad idea. Just ask Oprah.

Anyway, you know things are bad when you complain about how horrible you look and people don't even bother to contradict you. On Tuesday, I said I needed a haircut and my mom told me that I do look a little like a crazy backwoodsman. She didn't even say crazy backwoodswoman or crazy backwoodsperson, for crying out loud. She's right, though. My hair has gotten a little out of control: it's as long as it's ever been and getting more and more gray every day.

So today I decided to do something about it. I washed that gray right out of my hair. I tweezed my shaggy eyebrows. I exfoliated and shaved and moisturized all the areas that needed to be exfoliated and shaved and moisturized. And tomorrow I make a solemn vow that I will go and get a haircut. Honest.

But the best thing I did today was to call the cable company and cancel all my premium channels, from TLC to HBO. I'm putting the money and time I'll save each month into the gym. I love TV. But I'm willing to give it up to get a jump start on spring.

Which, paws down, is the prettiest season of all.

Kids These Days

Katie and I were walking the dog on the beach the other afternoon. It was cold and windy, and on the way back we started walking faster and faster as the sun set and the cold seeped through our clothes. Suddenly I remembered those corduroys we used to wear when we were kids, the brightly-colored ones that went snick-snick-snick when you walked. The ones that, in cold weather, left the skin of your legs red and chapped.

I wondered aloud why that doesn’t happen anymore, and Katie said it’s because they make nicer pants nowadays. Softer material. No big seams running down the inner thighs.

“Kids these days don’t know how good they have it!” I said. “When we were young our pants made us bleed!”

[Fifty Words: Tall Tale]

Gray Sky With Lines

(Click on the picture for a larger image.)

I don't mind criticism. In fact, I find it preferable to silence. Because my imagination fills in the blanks of silence with comments that are invariably harsher than anything any real-world critic might say.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I've been reduced to tears by mean copy desk editors. And although I still harbor feelings of ill will for the ones who were particularly nasty in a personal, non-constructive kind of way, I know that without criticism, without feedback, you don't get any better.

Gray Sky

(Click on the picture for a larger image.)

[Moody Monday: Abstract]

Mysterious Doings

The new Fifty Words writing prompt is up. This week's challenge is to write a tall tale.

Something really strange is going on with my templates. If you look at the sidebar on the Fifty Words site, under the "previous challenge" section, you can see my little spacers, which are supposed to make the list of entries nice and neat, with one entry on each line. The word "space" is supposed to be the same color as the background, so you can't see it. And when I look at my template, the code looks right to me -- I didn't change it, anyway, and it worked before, OK? So why is the text suddenly showing up black?

And on this site, all of my photos suddenly and inexplicably have spaces between the pictures and the borders. This has messed up the spacing for posts like this one, which used to have two pictures side by side in a row. And again, I didn't do anything to the code. So why would it all of a sudden change?

Is there a ghost in the machine? Or have my amateur attempts at tweaking my template finally caught up with me?

Late February Sky

(Click the picture for a larger image.)

I took this photograph in late February, around 5:30 p.m. I was hoping for a good sunset, but it was too cloudy and the sun went down without much fanfare. I like the color of the sky in this picture, but if I had PhotoShop I would definitely tweak it. I would like to bring out the white of the surf and the little shells and rocks in the foreground and also brighten up the clouds on the horizon line.

I think sometimes that people overdo the whole post-processing thing. There's a certain point where the photograph looks manipulated and fake. But I'm not opposed to it. Although it's easier to do with digital photographs, it's not like you couldn't manipulate your prints when you made them in a darkroom with film and an enlarger. You just used different techniques and tools. In school, we used to burn and dodge with funny little wands and cutouts we cobbled together from wires and cardboard and masking tape. You could fix a lot of problems in the darkroom. You could still go overboard with the burning and dodging and use of filters, though. I guess it's no different just because you're using a computer program instead.

Maybe Money

I've been doing some "marketing" lately. And by "marketing" I mean "job hunting." You call it "marketing" when you are self-employed in order to take the sting out of the fact that you have to do it all the freakin' time. I applied for a bunch of little jobs yesterday. They don't pay well but they shouldn't be too hard to do, either. I could use a little "pin money." I have no idea why you call it "pin money." I don't actually need any pins. My mother calls the money I make from freelance writing "maybe money." As in, "Maybe you'll get the money, maybe you won't."


It's not funny.

Four Friends Art Show

(Click on any of the pictures for a larger, clearer image.)

My mom and three of her friends had an art show and sale in Reading this weekend. Those are three of my mother's paintings, on the left. If I had my way, which I rarely do, they would have sent the photograph on the right to the newspaper instead of the traditional police line-up. The four artists are, left to right, Fran Nola, Christine Riccardi, Cheryl Warner Foley, and Diane Sawler-McLaughlin.

The show included original oil paintings, watercolors, and photographs, as well as matted originals and reproductions. Three-dimensional artwork included these corn dolls and the (anatomically correct) goat pictured below.

If you are in the Boston area and you own a pair of black shoes (you want to fit in, don't you?) you should stop by the Artist Shoppe and Gallery, 281 Main Street, Reading, MA. Call (781) 944-6424 for store hours.