Monday, October 24, 2016

Birthday Wishes--For You and for Me

Someone we know will turn 55 tomorrow. Yeah, that's me.

I may not exactly embrace this newest number, but I sure as hell won’t run from it either. I plan to face it through a steely eyed stare-down and then show it--and whatever follows it--who’s the freaking boss.

I hope you'll all join me in making this next year of our life all it can be. After all, we're each in charge of our own story. We can fear the next chapter--or we can view every experience and every year as a bookmark, before turning the page to see what's next.

What is a birthday but a day to celebrate life? Especially a life reimagined.

Imagine your life story the way you wish it. And celebrate every chapter you write, every step you take, to make it so.

Bring it on, 55. You have great stuff written all over you.

Birthdays: Something you celebrate or not? What was the favorite birthday gift you've ever received? How will you make this year the best chapter in your life?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Picture This

Thirty years can pass, and a single image takes you back like it was yesterday.

In my first job out of college, I worked as a reporter and photographer for a twice-weekly county newspaper in rural Northwest Ohio, about thirty miles from my hometown. At the age of twenty-one, I didn’t much appreciate the small-town atmosphere: one bar (that closed shortly after I moved there), no movie theater, and a seemingly different mindset than my own.

I worked long hours and was often on call. I covered barn fires in the middle of the night, tedious county commissioner and school board meetings, and news that often didn’t seem like news at all.

My first apartment was on the second floor of an old downtown building, above a realty shop operated by my landlord. Located next to a busy railroad track, the building shook every time a train passed. The train horns and subsequent rumbling along the tracks were so loud that I had to pause all phone conversations and wait for the train to pass.

My rent was $125 a month, including utilities. It was a fortunate bargain, considering I made $9,000 a year.

For the first time in years, I revisited Wauseon, Ohio, last weekend. I had volunteered to register voters, and the offices in Wauseon and west Toledo were equal distances from my current suburban home. I decided the tiny office in Fulton County could probably use my help.

I drove in early, figuring I’d scope out the area. While stunned by the new restaurants and stores lining the main highway into the town, I found my memory easily led me toward downtown.

I had heard the building that housed my very first apartment had been lost in a fire. So as I turned onto Fulton Street, I hit my brakes when I spied a familiar building across from me. Apparently the connecting structure, as apparent by a now vacant lot, had burned down. But the remaining narrow brick building, with the windows of my apartment looming above, still stood.

I parked and stood outside to gaze at it. In mere seconds, I was once again a twenty-one-year-old new college graduate.

It’s strange how the years render the past so hazy, but a single image sharpens your memories in other ways.

In that very first apartment, I learned to live on my own.

Over my next year and a half at that job, I sharpened my writing and interviewing skills. I learned to master the feature story and was told I had natural photography ability. I was taken far outside my comfort zone when I was sent out to cover a story about the dog warden and another one about Fulton County’s first murder in twenty years. That murder was never solved, and it was recently cited as possibly being linked to a very recent murder in the same county—by a potential serial killer.

I learned quite a bit about time management and meeting a deadline, skills that have aided me not just in my career but also in my personal life.

When I look back over all my life’s experiences, I realize that first apartment and job helped forge the path for a creative and independent life.

I didn’t truly appreciate their value back then.

But sometimes it takes three decades—and a virtual glimpse of your past—to understand and appreciate how much one place and one short time period in your life, has played a part in your life.

When I envision how I am who I am, I will now picture this.

What images have taken you back? What was your first real job? Why are you who you are?

Saturday, October 8, 2016



Throughout this election, I have tried desperately to avoid posting political views on my Facebook page or my blog.

I am on Facebook and the Internet for enjoyment and enlightenment, not argument. By nature, I’m a peacekeeper. I also am a writer, with my first book being published next summer. This clearly is not the time for me to alienate friends or potential readers.

But I can no longer stay silent.

I don’t think this man represents the ideals or beliefs the Republican party has always stood for. If John Kasich or Paul Ryan were in the running, I would not be writing this. And we would not be witnessing such a division in the Republican Party, with countless and prominent members who have chosen to no longer support him.

I don't believe this man represents family values. I can’t fathom that being married three times, and by all accounts cheating on his first two wives with his next two, makes him a better Christian than a woman who stood by her unfaithful husband through a 40-year marriage.

I don’t think this man, who represents a platform that is “pro-life,” values the lives of the many people he demeans and disrespects. If he is elected, I fear how many lives around us might be lost in other ways.
I don’t believe this man is simply saying what people are thinking. I think he has simply tapped into the anger of people who are unhappy with the status quo. I understand the concept of discontent. I agree that change can be good. But different is not always better.

I tend to be a positive and happy person. This campaign and its polarizing effects have saddened me. But mostly, I am alarmed and frightened by the possibility of the outcome.

If this post prompts readers to unfollow me, and if I sell 100 or 1,000 less books because of it, I can live with that. I am not so certain I will survive four years under the reign of someone I feel is so unfit to lead our country.

I don’t expect to change any minds with my words, and I don’t care to entertain any debate in these comments. I am stating my beliefs and I will leave it at that. Because I can’t stay silent any longer.
I am better than that.

And I believe we are better than this.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hot Damn!

I just sent my final manuscript for my book about The 52/52 Project (title pending), which will come out in August 2017, off to my publisher.

Please join me in shouting "Hallelujah" or else screaming "What the hell have I done?"

Stay tuned.

When's the last time you were simultaneously relieved and freaked as hell?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Read All About It

For those who may have missed the news: My book about The 52/52 Project will be published by She Writes Press in August 2017!

I'm pretty pumped.

It's been a long and incredible journey. While it's hard to envision waiting another twelve months to see this to completion, I'm sure the next year will pass far more quickly than many of the items on that unbucket list: say, nearly drowning in a sensory deprivation tank or enduring a Brazilian wax.

The coming months will be busy with edits and proofreading, cover design, and planning a number of reading and signing events. I hope you will continue to stay tuned for book news here and on The 52/52 Project Facebook page.

 As new life experiences go, this one may prove to be my very favorite.

P.S. Book events? Where should I head?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Turning the Page

Check it out here
Check it out here
Check it out here
When I'm having a rough day, I often head to my favorite place: a bookstore.

I order many books online these days, particularly if my local stores don't carry them. But there's something special about brick and mortar bookstores: seeing the colorful shiny spines all lined up in neat rows. Smelling the ink of a newly pressed book. Experiencing the magic of discovering an author for the first time.

Lately, my favorite thing is to search the shelves for books written by friends. In some cases, it's their first. For others, it's the latest in several successful novels or memoirs.

Regardless, it always turns my mood around. It leaves me with a sense of joy for their accomplishments, a sense of hope that not all dreams are castles in the air, and a sense of confidence that my day will get better even if it's taken a bit of a plot twist.

And, before I leave the store, I make sure to pull out copies of these books and turn them with the covers facing out on the shelf--so everyone can see them. After all, what are friends for?

How do you brighten up a bad day?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Drowning Out the Voices: A Memorial Day Tribute

Grandma Stanfa, Uncle Bob, and my dad, Denny Stanfa
My Uncle Bob lived with my grandmother all her life—all except the years he served in the Korean War. And then, the times he was in and out of veterans’ hospitals.

As young children, my sisters and I alternated between observing him in hushed laughter, being afraid of him, and attempting to treat him the way the mentally ill should be treated.

After my grandmother died when I was thirteen, we worked together as a family to try to allow my uncle to live alone in her house. We brought him occasional meals and took him to doctor appointments. My cousins mowed his lawn, and my mother and I took his half-feral cat to the vet. We joked that the cat was crazy, too—probably insane from the half-dozen weather radios that Uncle Bob kept blaring at all times throughout the tiny house.

He told me on one of those visits that the radios helped drown out the voices.

I didn’t know how to react when he asked me if I heard the voices too, or when he mentioned receiving messages from the “All Powerful” who was spying on him.

As a child, I had never heard of post-traumatic stress disorder. Not until I asked my dad to tell me more about my uncle did I gain a better understanding.

“I remember him being a loner, perhaps kind of unusual in some ways,” said my father, who was ten years younger than his brother. “But when he came back from Korea, he wasn’t the same person. He had changed. He just wasn’t… right.”

I’m still not certain if my uncle had early signs of schizophrenia before the war, or if PTSD from his service in Korea—including the day he witnessed most of his friends around him die—was the cause of his mental illness. But I have no doubt that his time in Korea altered the rest of his life. No amount of medication, therapy, or electric shocks—the popular treatment at the time—ever seemed to help.

As an adult, I’ve grown to understand he was not alone.

All gave some. Some gave all. Some, like my Uncle Bob, ended up lost somewhere in the middle.

If he were here today, I would hug him and finally say thank you.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Picture This

While continuing the never-ending ordeal of organizing boxes in my basement, I came across this sketch. From the reference to "Algebra I," I can date the drawing to my freshman year of high school.

I've changed in many ways since I was 14. But by the daydreaming depictions of a few of my favorite teenage things--music, beaches, animals, and creative writing--it's clear some things haven't changed at all.

A picture of my life at 14.
I ended up flunking freshman algebra. Probably I should have paid attention, shown up more often to class, and managed to receive fewer demerits. Regardless, I made it through the next 40 years without ever needing to use an algebraic equation. Don't most of us?

I'd like to think I've fared better since then, in my pursuit of the knowledge of life. I show up every damn day. I try to be attentive to what matters to me, and I attempt to give it my all. 

Yet I still daydream--a lot. Daydreams often prove to be rewarding, especially when you chase them.

When it comes to the subject matter of Living, I'd give myself a solid B. Over the last few years, I might get a B+ for effort. And as far as demerits? Yeah, some of my life decisions and behavior have definitely warranted a handful of those. But I regret few of them, either. 

As artists of our own lives, we can't erase all our mistakes. But we can always draw a brand new picture.

Whether we're 14 or 84, life remains an open canvas. I suggest keeping a sharp pencil at hand. Who knows what will result?

You can draw your own equations.

How have you changed--or remained the same--since high school? Regrets--do you have a few or too few to mention? How would you sketch the future pictures of your life?