Friday, October 28, 2016

Charlie, I love you

No, I am not leaving Rick but I love Charlie Chat.

Our relationship began on Amex when I realized I had an expired card and no replacement.

Something between my telephone and their verification system were not in sync and I could not get thru to anything relating a human who could help.

Then I found Charlie on Live Chat. At first I thought he might be a computer, a very smart computer, and he did utter a lot of customer service friendly gobblygook (I've trained customer service people so I appreciate the attempt although sometimes I expect them to respond if "I say, I want to blow up your headquarters" with "we appreciate your attention to our firm").

He offered me a telephone line to call but stayed with me during "our chat."

The operator said the number wasn't in service.

He gave me another number to try.

The operator said the number wasn't in service.

I suspect it was the cross countries problem.

He gave me a third number.

It worked.

Charlie stayed with me until the problem was resolved.

I thanked him and wished him all easy calls for the rest of his shift.

He thanked me as a valued Amex customer.

He sent me a follow up message asking to me to "click here" for a customer response survey.

I did.

It didn't work.

I would have loved to praise Charlie Chat to the hilt.

There's a PS...

Today going thru some papers I came across my replacement card that I didn't realize was there.

I don't think I'll tell Charlie.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Xmas shopping done

My Christmas shopping is done--well almost. 

I need to buy things for my daughter, but I can only get them in Geneva and I suspect I will be able to wind that up in about 15 minutes because I know exactly where to go. When I am back there next month, I will do it ASAP so I won't have to enter a store the entire Christmas season.

Yesterday, I spent about multi-hours on Amazon--and no, not everyone is getting books. And I was able to find things I really believe the recipient will like.

It would have been faster if I wanted the gifts shipped to one address, but some things needed to be sent to Geneva and some to Argelès where we won't be here to receive them. Thank goodness for a friend who will take them in.

Accompanied by cups of tea, it went pretty smoothly despite an expired credit card and a couple of things that could not be shipped to Europe. Those will go to my daughter for forwarding.

Granted Argelès is already putting up Christmas decorations because one company covers the whole region.

I won't feel Christmasy until early December but there is no pressure now to do anything but enjoy each day and then enjoy the holiday season.

Ho, ho, ho!!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Writing about grief is hard work


Witnessing real grief is easy. Turn on the news. An Iraqi father holds his dead daughter, a Pakistani refugee looks numb as she sits in a camp and tells of the hacking of her family and how she is the only survivor. 
Anyone who has seen FAHRENHEIT 9/11 remembers the mother of a dead soldier who goes to Washington, DC. A woman attacks her verbally. Then the mother walks toward the White House. Suddenly she bends over in a pain that permeates from the screen into every cell of the watcher.

An example of shown grief can be found in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. The lover holds a shirt against his body and we know it contains a memory, and we know he regrets not having the courage to go with his lover. The mother, devastated by her own grief, lets him take the clothing away without ever admitting she knows the true relationship between her son and the guest. The pain is there, but it is never spoken. The actions say more than any dialogue.

This pain is what a writer needs to capture, not just for the three-minute newscast but what happens the next day, week, month, however long the character stays with the story. The reader needs to know how the loss is internalized into the character.

This is where showing versus telling comes into play. Writing about grief is one of the hardest things to do because it is so easy to slip into sentimentality that dilutes the pain.

Details show grief. They show how the character is changed by the tragedy whatever it is. Is there rage, a shutdown of emotion, fear, denial or acceptance – all the normal stages according to the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross? The stages make fertile ground for a writer.

We don’t want to tritely run our character through the stages showing a situation for each stage. Having different characters caught in different stages can set up conflict that adds to the drama of your work. A sister who refused to think about her dead brother, a mother who accepts his death because it released him from the pain of AIDS, his father’s anger that his son was gay can all illustrate grief over the same death.

Recovery from grief is not a timed event. A woman that twenty years later is still massaging everything her ex-husband said and did when he walked out is frozen in her grief but is in a different situation from a woman when cleaning the attic comes across some photos from her first marriage that triggers the rage she felt when her husband left her despite having a happy life since then. The way the grief is handled by each tells more about the character than if you said one was depressive and the other optimistic or whatever seemed appropriate.

A writer friend had to kill off a beloved character to develop another. She cried as she wrote the funeral, but she said that it helped write the pain of the fictional person. When I read what she had written, I knew she’d nailed it, despite having the good fortune of never having lost anyone close to her.


1. “Remorse is not nothing. Grief is not useless. It changes the heart of a people. It cautions them to think better, to think in new ways, before they are once again tempted to bomb and beat a people into submission, into ‘freedom.’ It makes them new – and eventually the society with them. One person at a time finally learns to feel. It’s called ‘soul.’

2. Mawmaw goes to the Vietnam War Memorial wall to see her grandson’s name. The memorial is a long black wall with all the names of the soldiers killed arranged chronologically. She was too short to reach it, so someone gets a stepladder so the old woman can climb.

“Mawmaw reaches toward the name and slowly struggles up the next step, holding her dress tight against her. She touches the name, running her hand over it, stroking it tentatively, affectionately like feeling a cat’s back. Her chin wobbles, and after a moment, she backs down the ladder silently.”
Bobbie Anne Mason IN COUNTRY

3. “That night in the hotel room, I looked at myself in the mirror for a long time but I didn’t shave off my beard or cut my hair. I kept thinking about Sean under the frozen ground and I had a crushed feeling in my stomach. I decided when my time came I wanted to be burned. I didn’t want to be down there under the ice.”
Michael Connelly THE POET

4. “I’d close my eyes more tightly or increase the flow of the faucet or turn up the radio. I didn’t let myself admit that the only way I might see you, again, was in that last moment when you would be back to gather your footsteps like an armful of brilliant dessert flowers, a consolation prize, you would present to me in return for losing you forever.

5. After great pain, a formal feeling comes
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round
Of Ground, or Air,
or Ought A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone

This is the Hour of Lead
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons recollect the Snow
First-Chill-then Stupor-then the letting go


1. Set a timer for ten minutes. Pick up a pen and paper and write until the timer goes off starting with the sentence “I never hurt so much as when…”

2. List all the things that happen a week after a funeral, ordinary, related and unrelated.

3. Describe what happens when a man aged 35 goes back to work after his three days of leave for his wife's death in a car accident.

4. Write 50 words describing the reaction of a mother as she listens to a doctor tell her that her child has cancer.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


This year we will have been in nine countries including the two where we live. Whenever we go to a new city or place within a city such a museum, we try and find a magnet for us and a mug for my daughter's collection.

We are not souvenir collectors: no ash trays, cloths, clothes, plates or do dads that have to take up space. However, the magnets do not encroach on the room we have.

Placement varies but I did laugh at Rick's putting Teddy Roosevelt next to our Swedish Bull Moose.

Our next two stops are Berlin and Prague.

Magnet and mug shops here we come.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Marriage job appraisal

At work we get job appraisals.

How about a marriage appraisal, to be filled out and signed by each party on the anniversary date.

They could have boxes to check.
  • Exceeds requirements
  • Meets requirements
  • Needs improvement
  • Poor
Then a section for comments under each category.

Categories could be:
  • House maintenance
  • Financial management
  • Affection
  • Truthfulness
  • Sexual accommodation
Each category would have a comments section.

Goals for the coming year would be the final section.

Both spouse would sign.

Just an idea.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


When I worked for DCU, one of my nicknames was Bitty Bladder. As a member of the High Five, the top five managers, I often excused myself for the ladies room.

I can claim to be a toilet expert from the most luxurious Japanese toilet that not only washes you with warm water, I suspect makes sushi if you put the right ingredients to the basic French toilet with the place to put your feet and angle.

I've been in rest stop toilets, behind a tree when there are no toilets, etc.

Thus I was surprised at the condition of the JFK toilets. While waiting for my flight to Europe, I needed to use four.

All smelled of urine.

Two had metal plates hanging from the side panels.

The door handles on two did not fasten properly.

The flusher on one did not work and was loose on another.

JFK is said to be a world class airport.

Not according to their ladies rooms.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


They say a house is not a home.

A home is where one feels safe physically and emotionally. It doesn't mean that everything is perfect.

A home can be anywhere from a studio to a château.

My first favorite "home" was a condo 394 The Riverway in Boston. I lived their five years with my daughter and one year with an exchange student. It was my first "only mine" home and every minute in it made me feel good.

Although the company flat in Môtiers, Switzerland was ugly, it was a refuge from a hard working situation. The culture change from US to Switzerland was not as great as from city to bucolic. I fell in love with the countryside.
The third home I had was the 11 years at the Francois Lehman, Grand Saconnex complex or the international ghetto because so many people worked at the alphabet UN organizations in walking distance. I made not only friends, but developed family of choice members, wrote books.

There was something special about sitting at the kitchen table on a Sunday morning, a cup of hot chocolate and watching now fall on the château across the street.

This week I had a revelation about a "home" that surprised me. It applies not just to the people I am visiting, but to those that I know in other places.

The next step up from home was my discovery. The word is life. A life is embedded in a home. It has nothing to do with the furniture, art but everything to do with memories, good and bad.Some of the people I know have been in their homes more than 50 years. That's a lot of memories. That's a lot of life.