How I Finally Took My Mother’s Advice (Kind Of)

(I published this on Linked In, but I thought it worth a share here, too.)

When I was in fourth grade, I came home from school, and found my mother in the kitchen.

“I’m going to be a writer when I grow up,” I announced.

My mother stopped whatever she was doing and turned to me. She got down to my level.

“Why don’t you go to pharmacy school, and you can write in your spare time?” she asked.

This idea was completely anathema to my plan to becoming a famous writer. It was like we were speaking two different languages.

Last week, I published a post on polypharmacy. It made me think of my mother and that long ago conversation, and then chuckle.

My mom is now enjoying her retirement. She was a pharmacist who, after years of working at the independent pharmacy she and my father started, branded herself a consultant, and started her own business. Her specialty was going into long-term care homes and reviewing patient charts to look for exactly what I had blogged about.

My mom reported possible dangerous drug interactions to the long-term care home nurses and physicians. She flagged patients who were probably taking too many medications, or taking medications they didn’t need to be taking any longer. She was working on polypharmacy and deprescibing long before such terms existed.

I went on to get my journalism degree at Duquesne University, which was my parents’ alma mater (it’s where they met). Being a journalist was invaluable to my current career as a marketer.

Also key to my success are my pharmacist parents, who encouraged each of their children to cultivate their strengths and their passions, which is how they ended up with a doctor (dermatologist), a chiropractor, and a writer.

I now work in the healthcare field, and no doubt many conversations with my parents, plus working a couple of summers as a delivery driver for their pharmacy, helped land me here. I still have that novel I’d like to see published, but writing about topics that I can also chat with my parents about when they visit is rewarding as well.

Thanks, Mom, for always cheering for me, and recognizing my passion was writing, and not organic chemistry!

What’s some advice your parents gave you that you ended up taking, if in a round-about way?

(I have told a version of this story before, with other good advice from my mom.)

How Not to Harass

Don’t touch another person. It is that simple. Especially if you are in a place of work, from a restaurant or a bar, to a corporate office. Keep your hands to yourself.

Don’t comment on another person’s body. Don’t comment on their weight or the way their clothing fits.
You can compliment a person without commenting on their body. “Those are cool shoes!” “Your hair looks great.” “Where did you get those leggings?” “I like that shirt.”

Don’t make sexual innuendos. You never know who will laugh and be amused, and who will be made uncomfortable – and even if someone laughs and is seemingly amused, he or she may simply be covering up their discomfort. They don’t want to be seen as a poor sport or viewed as without a sense of humor.

And don’t make sexual overtures at work. Don’t ask for dates, massages, or “private meetings.” Keep your clothes on.

++

I listen to these stories in the news – who’s been fired, who’s been harassed, who’s been raped or assaulted. Nearly every woman I know posted to the #MeToo campaign. (I did too.)

I am raising a son, and every day I teach him something else about consent. I tell my children to keep their bodies to themselves. I know he has a good example in his father, and in other men around him.

We let our children decide to hug someone (or not). My children are very naturally affectionate, so it’s more often me reminding them to ask if it’s okay to hug someone.

I am not teaching my children caution because I want them to be scared to touch or to be touched. I am teaching them consent, and how to ask for it or offer it, so that they recognize their own and others inherent bodily autonomy.

My body is mine. Your body is yours. Her body is hers, and his body is his.

Communication is key in consent. Asking and answering. It starts at home, listening to our children when they aren’t in the mood to hug or cuddle, or wrestle for that matter.

++

Stop treating women and girls like they are disposable. Stop protecting men acting badly – even if they don’t do anything to you.

Girls and women exist in their own right. We aren’t decoration or entertainment. We have just as much right to decide how to live our lives and how to move through the world in our bodies without having to fight every day. For the right to speak. For the right to be heard. For the right to not be commented upon or touched.

If we just acted like every person was a person – with complete autonomy, and worthy of respect and dignity, how much better the world would be.

Be. Here. Now.

This has become my mantra as of late. Especially when I feel the anxiety coming on, the tightness cinching around my chest.

Deep breath, ‘be here now’ in my head, and an assessment of my surroundings. What can I see? What can I hear? Do i have hot coffee or cold water to anchor me?

In therapy, I describe a terrible event — a worst case scenario of what I was sure was going to happen because i forgot to so something on my to-do list. Things cascade until I am living in my parents’ basement, slowly killing myself with cigarettes and bad food.

My therapist studies me. “That’s a little extreme,” she says.

“RIGHT?” I say. And then i burst into tears.

Crying is good. I don’t like crying, it’s not my favorite. Not crying is better, in my opinion. But I think crying is progress.

My therapist thinks I have an unresolved trauma that is causing the catastrophic thoughts. She wants me to explore mindfulness.

Be. Here. Now.

I go in for my annual physical. (I am an adult; I schedule annual physicals now!) I get a flu shot. I talk to my doctor, whom I like, a lot, about anti-anxiety medications. I ask about Xanax. She says she can prescribe that if I want, but it’s not her first suggestion. She likes Lexapro as a first line.

A drug like Xanax, she says, or ativan or klonopin, “chases the anxiety.” That is, when the anxiety starts, it’s what you take to try to stop it. An SSRI, like Lexapro, can prevent the anxiety from starting. It’ll even things out, smooth things over.

We talk about side effects, and a make plan for the next six months.

Even just knowing I have a prescription to fill creates a lightness in me. We have a plan. I have a way to manage.

Be here now.

I have a lot of work to do. What is the trauma or traumas i still have to process? What does mindfulness look like for me? Will medication help me figure this out, smooth the edges so I can work on a way to make my life into what I want without meds, with manageable anxiety?

Copyright for featured image: mantinov / 123RF Stock Photo

An Open Letter to The Afghan Whigs

Dear Guys,

Everyone who loves music, and especially everyone who loves live music (which I have come to realize is not everyone) has that band. We own all the music, wear the t-shirts, watch the videos, stalk the set lists. We have the band or artist we will go out of our way to see.

For me, that band is you.

And, after making my second trip to Cincinnati to see you play a live show, I just have to drop you a note of thanks. If logistics allowed, I would take in more than one show per tour, and maybe next tour I will get that lucky. But this tour, I only got one show.

Thanks for leaving it all out on the stage.

Since I discovered you, which by most accounting is fairly late (cough*2014*cough), you have been my obsession and my catharsis, my chemical and my comfort. Especially, of course, in frontman Greg Dulli, who speaks to darkness not in order to banish it, but instead to show us that we are not alone in the darkness.

For better or worse.

I bought a VIP ticket to the show in Cincy because it was the only one I could attend, which in addition to admission to the show also got me a t-shirt, a tote, a poster that you all signed, and admission to the sound check. Thanks for doing “Demon in Profile,” with Greg on vocals. Nothing against Har Mar; he’s got a great set of pipes. But I’m glad I got your take on it.

I just want to thank you, pretty much for everything you do. Thank you, first of all, for letting us into your grief for Dave Rosser. He is sorely missed by your fans, and I can only imagine the way you all are grieving him.

And thank you, most of all, for giving everything you have, during every show that you perform. The night I saw you, you came out of the gate on fire, and you didn’t let up. I was the barrier chick in the gold lame, dancing and singing to every. damn. song. (John Curley saw me.)

Patrick is a beast on drums – some might say, an animal – and has a rare smile that is real and warm when it appears.

Jon Skibic has serious chops, and a lean guitar player aesthetic that is widely appreciated.

Rick is immensely, immeasurably talented. And has the most beautiful eyes.

John Curley anchors the Whigs with his solid bass playing. I have encountered Curley offstage at each of the three shows I have attended, and he has been the sweetest, loveliest man.

Me and Curley
Ladies and gentlemen, John Curley.

And, of course, our muse, our main man, our savior of misbehavior Greg Dulli. Thank you for doing what you do, and please continue to prowl the stage in all your virile glory.

++

We have to take these times, these events, these days to celebrate what we love. When each day can bring news like we got early yesterday morning, when each day can take our heroes from us (R.I.P. Tom Petty), it’s especially important to show our appreciation.

Thank you, Afghan Whigs, for being that band, not just for me, but for all your fans. Thanks for continuing to make music and go on tour.

We’ll be there. I’ll be there, as often as I can be.

Love,
rpm

Football player taking a knee

Take A Knee

I know why I’m not blogging — it’s because I have too much to say, not that I don’t have enough.

Plus, some of the issues I am dealing with, especially with my two girls, are more private in nature.

In the good news column: Michael got a bicycle, and has been on it every day since Saturday. He’s even taken a couple of spills, and STILL jumps on it at the first opportunity.

The thing that’s been driving me insane this week is the national conversation about the protests at NFL games.

It’s not an anthem protest.
It’s not a flag protest.
It’s not a protest of the military.
It’s not even a T*ump protest. Is the President wrong tweeting that the NFL should fire players that kneel? Yes, yes, he is. (I am hard pressed to think of ONE THING the current President is right about, though, so YMMV.) Should people “boycott” the NFL over players that take a knee?? I mean, sure, go ahead.

I started “boycotting” the NFL years ago, after a slow process of disillusionment. So don’t act like boycotting the NFL over protests is admirable. It’s not.

Colin Kapernick started kneeling during the anthem last year (here’s a timeline). He did it to protest the treatment of people of color in America. To quote:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said, via NFL.com. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

And that’s what the media should cover, and what we should be talking about. Instead of counting heads — who knelt, who stood, who stayed in the locker room or tunnel (hi, I’m looking at you, Pittsburgh Steelers) — instead of talking about who has the right to say what, and who is allowed to protest and how, we need to return to the conversation.

Maybe instead of showing up in a sports bar and asking patrons what they think of the NFL or the protests, we need to ask harder questions. What do you think of racial oppression in this country? What do you think of white officers shooting black men, and getting acquitted? What do you think of white supremacists?

I could go on.

I have respect for those decide to protest something, especially something as wrong and as pervasive as racial inequality. Kapernick put his livelihood on the line to make a point.

We need to talk about WHY Kapernick and other players are protesting. The protests are not the news. We need to have more difficult conversations about race in America. It’s not going away. I don’t know that it’s a solvable problem, but if we don’t start talking about it, we’ll never know.

Copyright for featured image: ostill / 123RF Stock Photo

White Like Me, Part II

When I was in my mid-20s, I was working full-time and freelancing. My full-time job was at the University of Pittsburgh, and I was struggling to be a successful freelance writer and editor. I placed a small advertisement — in a paper newspaper, no less — for my copy editing services.

I received a call from the New Pittsburgh Courier. The New Pittsburgh Courier (and its predecessor, simply Pittsburgh Courier) is an African-American owned-and-operated newspaper, based in Pittsburgh. I think it’s the longest running African-American focused publication in the United States, if you go back to the original 1907 date. (More information here. It has a fascinating history.)

The New Pittsburgh Courier was looking for a copy editor who could come twice a week, in the evenings, to proofread the paper before it went to print. I interviewed with the man who is still the editor and publisher, Rod Doss. I got the job.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I would take myself down to the Courier offices from about 6 p.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. I was mostly just looking for typos in the pages that were already laid out. My biggest task was to rewrite press releases for the Features department. I was usually there with then City Editor Sonya Toler (look her up; she works for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto now), Mr. Doss, and three women in the graphic design department.

The graphic designers were Terra, who was black; Deb, who was white; and a third woman, whose name I don’t recall now, who was also black.

I enjoyed the job very much. The copy in the news section was usually pretty clean, but I would catch one or two things. I had to get used to a couple of unique style notes the newspaper had — for example, when referring to people, Black was always capitalized.

The graphic designers gave me a hard time about re-writing press releases, but otherwise they would simply reproduce them as-is, with attendant CAPS LOCK and high praise for whatever film or book was coming out. Sometimes, the press releases would capitalize the names of the movie or actor through-out. “THE COLOR PURPLE starring OPRAH WINFREY will be in theaters this weekend. THE COLOR PURPLE tells the story of…. THE COLOR PURPLE is adapted from the novel of the same name by ALICE WALKER.”

You get the idea.

Now, because I don’t understand racism, I have to tell you I didn’t stand around in the NPC offices thinking, “I am working with black people.” Like, it literally didn’t occur to me to dwell on. And I don’t mean it in an “I was colorblind” way. I just didn’t feel one way or another about it. Not intimidated or worried about it.

Along with differences in our skin color, there were age, religion, marital status, parenthood, and educational differences. I think I was more aware that I was working with mothers than I was that I was working with black women. Does that make sense?

The newspaper covered issues and stories that impacted the black population more than, say, the Post-Gazette did. Almost all of the writers and editors were people of color. I thought they were providing a public service to the black population, not just of Pittsburgh, but of their national service area. I understood that news I read and followed wasn’t necessarily balanced to show the perspective of people of color. I understood the NPC fulfilled a need for a population that I wasn’t intimately familiar with. I didn’t feel threatened by the idea that black people had access to news and views that affected them. “White journalism” wasn’t endangered.

When I first started working there, Terra had long, braided hair. One evening, after I had been there a few months, I came in, and Terra’s hair was short.

“Oh, Terra!” I exclaimed. “You got your hair cut.”

Terra leveled a long look at me. Then, turning back to her computer she said, “Deb, tell Dawn how black hair works.”

This is when I learned about weaving.

I honestly did not have the first clue.

Deb explained the process, and that Terra hadn’t gotten her hair cut, she had simply had the braids removed. I was the object of some good-natured ribbing that evening, that’s for sure. I hope I took it in stride and with graceful good humor.

++

The gulfs that separate black and white people are bigger than just not knowing about hair weaves. And they are fully on display in our country: the wounds of slavery and the Civil War; the impotent anger of the white supremacist movement now finding its footing; the inability of the men in power to denounce the evil that only exists ON ONE SIDE.

It’s not up to us to declare any kind of victory (because “we” elected a black man President, or because “we” enacted civil rights). And it’s not up to black people to educate us. It’s not up to them to fight the fight alone anymore. We white people have to step up to the front lines and join our voices to those who have been aware of what’s been going on for decades.

How My Journalism Degree Supports My Marketing Career

I posted this on LinkedIn, and I’m proud of the writing, so I’m posting it here, too.

I’m sure degrees in content management and digital marketing exist. However, way back in 1992 when I graduated from college, the internet was barely a thing.

My BA is in *print* journalism, and while that may sound quaint in this digital age, journalism is the foundation on which I’ve built my current career track.

Journalism taught me how to write short, relevant copy, backed up with supporting facts, and delivered with clean text (with one space after a period!). It taught me that proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation are all important, and that fact-checking is not optional.

1. Style

My journalism professor Clark Edwards, God rest his soul, taught an entire semester-long class on the AP Stylebook. I had had a good grasp of grammar and punctuation rules upon entering college; English was my favorite subject in high school, and I already knew I wanted to be a writer. But AP style addressed the very specific needs of the newspaper publishing industry, answering questions about spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, as well as issues regarding libel and media law.

The AP Stylebook is published each year with updates and clarifications. Above all, AP style strives for consistency, clarity, and professionalism. With the exception of the Oxford comma (in which I default to the Chicago Manual of Style), the AP Stylebook is my source for writing standards.

2. Research

Any good news story starts with the right question(s), and then uses supporting facts to answer the questions. It’s important to know how to find the right answers. Journalism taught me about how to decide if a source is reliable, and how to report on facts. Digital marketing, like journalistic reporting, is less about selling or sensationalism. It’s about being a trusted source for information – and telling good stories.

3. Make it interesting

Blog posts are meant to be short and informative. The most important information goes into the first paragraph. Especially now, the way people take in information online, the lede has to immediately prove to be relevant. News writing taught me the reverse pyramid structure: Put the most relevant information (who, why, where, what, how) in the opening paragraph. The following paragraphs should contain important details to support the lede. Ideally, a blog post will be short and to the point, using subheads and numbered or bulleted lists instead of blocks of text, but the delivery structure is the same.

4. Meeting deadlines

Most of the deadlines in digital marketing are self-imposed. We have a social media and blog posting schedule that we have created as a department. But even a self-imposed deadline is a deadline, and as someone who has worked on actual print newspapers, I find deadlines compelling and helpful.

Digital Is Different

All that being said, digital marketing does expand on the basics of journalism and good writing in different ways than contributing to a news site would. The biggest challenge for me as a marketer who uses social media is making the goal to write for people, not for bots. Yes, SEO is important in digital marketing. But if you fill your article with lots of keywords to show up on Google, and make the headline read like clickbait, you aren’t doing your readers a service. [My work blog] isn’t purely meant as a sales tool. It’s about bringing news to our customers, and making them aware that we know and care about the issues that affect them.

Waiting IS the Hardest Part

Writing a book isn’t easy.

It takes a lot of time, and a big commitment to putting in that time. Spending an hour or two a night in front of a computer, trying to get my characters on paper — after spending eight hours at work, and taking care of my family in those other daytime hours — that was HUGE.

But once I did commit, and I had support from my husband and family, I did it. I sat down daily and got the words on the page. Except for Thanksgiving vacation, I mostly wrote at night, sometimes starting as late as 9 p.m.

Part of my 2015 NaNoWriMo experience was spent in Wilmington, NC, for Thanksgiving vacation with my family. My sister had just had a baby, so we were there for that. It was Thanksgiving, so we were there for that. My parents, my brother and his wife and children, my sister and her family, who live in the area, Dan and our children.

And every day — including THANKSGIVING DAY — this group of people LET ME WRITE. I mostly wrote in the mornings that week, with a cup of coffee or two.

That November, I wrote 50,000 words. In the next three months, I added roughly another 20,000.

Then I put the book (working title: Lone Wolf) away for a few months.

The rest I have mentioned here: second draft, line edits, beta readers. Both my beta readers had helpful feedback AND were very kind, so much thanks to them (Cari and Trista). Third draft.

And now it’s the hardest part: querying and waiting.

So: thing I learned about publishing last year at my very first writers conference: an agent, if you do not plan on self-publishing, is a necessary step. An agent is the one who is going to take your book and help you do the final shaping for publication. One does not send to publishers, one queries agents.

One needs a query letter to do that — I have learned a lot about queries, synopses, and pitching in general.

Yeah, I didn’t know that stuff before I wrote a book. It’s actually good I didn’t know too much about the process, because I would have overthought it.

Of course, as I go forward, I have to work very hard not to overthink it.

At this time, I have a handful of (very nice, very polite, and VERY encouraging) rejections under my belt. Rejections are good, it has been pointed out to me; it means I’m doing something. And, they have, to an email, been encouraging, as I said. The gist being: Thank you for querying; this isn’t for us at this time; keep going because someone is going to love it and pick it up.

Yeah, it could just be a form letter, but it’s better than 1. Being ignored and 2. Being told I stink and should throw in the towel.

Speaking of throwing things, I decided to throw my hat in the ring for Pitch Wars as well. In short, Pitch Wars gives writers the opportunity to work with a published author (mentors) to polish a manuscript. Mentors each pick a mentee from the submissions they get, they spend two months shaping the MS, and then there is an agent round.

If you’d like to watch me and other writers freak out about #PitchWars on Twitter, you can go check out that hashtag. Its both fun and masochistic at the same time.

Pitch Wars closes on August 6, and mentees are announced August 24. At this point, I have subbed to three mentors and one mentor team. They get the query and Chapter 1. I am *trying* to not obsessively track the #PWTeaser(s) on Twitter, but sometimes I just have to give in for a few minutes.

It’s out of my control, now: whether I get a mentor, whether I get an agent, whether I get published. And that is a difficult thing to sit with. If I don’t get a mentor, I will just continue querying agents. I gave myself a year, and I started this process in May.

In the meantime, time to get back to that *other* WPI (work in process), another few weeks of 9 p.m. computer time.

No matter what happens, I have written I book. I am working on another book, and I have yet a third in my brain. I can do this part.

And I can wait. I just don’t have to like it.

Is waiting the hardest part for you, too?

Letter to Congress: Health Care, Yet AGAIN


I drafted this letter before the ridiculous vote in the Senate last week. I was on vacation when I tried to publish this, and a little bit behind. But a version of this did get to Senator Toomey, and a thank you to Senator Casey. 

Dear Senator Toomey,
I am writing regarding the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the healthcare bill from the Senate, and about the Senate’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare in general.

Just, stop it.

The BCRA is a disaster of a bill that will hurt Pennsylvanians, not just those who have been able to get healthcare under the ACA. The ACA increased the number of Pennsylvanians who were able to get health insurance, financial security for low-income people, and access to treatment for opioid addiction and mental health issues.

The BCRA is worse than the House bill, the American Health Care Act, which is impression, because the AHCA is pretty terrible. Here is what the BCRA does worse:

  • Kills Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania, leaving the state to cover, over the next three years, 90 percent of the cost of people added to the program. This creates a $3 billion annual funding gap, which would effectively lead our state to dropping the Medicaid expansion program — leading to sick people unable to get care.
  • Reduces funding overall to Medicaid. States will have to make up the difference with their own funds; cut programs by reducing the number of people they serve or the number or health benefits they receive; cut payment rates to providers. This will reduce access to health care for low-income populations.
  • Makes insurance subsidies less generous. This would most affect older, lower-income citizens. A silver plan for seniors under the ACA (with seniors defined as 64 or older) costs $6750 a year in premiums. Under BCRA, that cost nearly triples to $18,250 per year.
  • Consumer protection: BCRA allow insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions more. It also ends certain essential health benefits at the insurer’s discretion, ending things like maternity care, prescription drug benefits, and addiction treatment.

Don’t pass this bill. Vote no. The President, the leader of your party, has the lowest approval rating of any President, and he’s only six months into his term. Why would you give him a victory at the cost of the people in your state depending on you? You can be a hero, Senator Toomey.

I strongly urge you to vote NO on Trumpcare, and NO on “repeal now and replace later.” Work with your colleagues in the Congress, both moderate Republicans and Democrats, to shore up the ACA, and make it continue to work for the American people, especially the most vulnerable populations, including children, the disabled, and seniors.

Thank you for your time.

Your constituent,
rpm

Source

Give Me Your Money!

Just kidding.

Give the Congenital Heart Walk your money, via my page.

I am walking to raise money. My friends Katrina and Kevin had a little boy who was born with ToF. You can read more about him here. They are pretty great, he is pretty great, and I’d like to do something to help.

Thanks!

ETA: I met my goal! Thanks to all who contributed, especially my father, who donated so much, I actually upped my goal. 😉