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?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Of Retirement, Ramen, and Really Bad Pets

Looking contrite? Don't feel sorry for him a bit.
So, over the weekend I toyed with some retirement planning. This consisted mostly of pondering how I might still go on fabulous trips and to amazing concerts--while finding 500 fun ways to cook ramen noodles in my makeshift shelter under a viaduct.

My prospects of retiring in 10 years or less weren't looking real promising--until I realized I probably wouldn't be spending half my monthly retirement income on my dog and four cats. With a 10-year-old dog and three geriatric cats, it's unlikely any but the fourth and youngest cat will be here longer than five more years.

It was an abominable and depressing thought. I fed them all massive piles of treats, hugged them, and told them in whispered baby talk that they can never, ever leave me.

When I got home tonight, I discovered one or more of the cats had created two new Great Lakes on my basement floor landing. Along with a small Feces Mountain. Not knowing who was responsible, I cleaned it up while cursing all four.

Then, I wandered outside to get the mail, accompanied by Ringo the Wonder Retriever--who'd obviously become my favorite pet child.

Within minutes, Ringo had scooped up two baby birds. I managed, too late, to get him to drop the first--which I still have not gathered the gumption to remove from the sidewalk. He finished off the second one in a single gulp.

It's inconceivable that my neighbors failed to call the police, with all the screaming entailed.

Now, my entire menagerie is begging me for affection and treats.

Bastards.

I'm tempted to make them live off ramen for the rest of their sorry lives.

How's your retirement looking? Any bad pet stories you'd like to share?

Friday, March 25, 2016

From Strangers to Friends

Two years ago, I invited seven strangers to my house for a dinner party. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know each other, and—as a requirement of my invitation—they each came alone. We ranged in age from twenty-two to seventy-three, and we had little in common.

The night had all the ingredients for Awkward Scenario of the Century.

Yet within hours, we found ourselves sharing our life dreams, highlights, challenges, and most embarrassing moments. We conversed, laughed, and hugged as if we’d known each other forever. I’d never been at a party like this, never met people quite like these.

We’ve stayed in touch ever since. Last night—as we’ve done so many times over the past two years—The 52 Stranger Danger Club, as we call ourselves, gathered once again.

Is it possible for a group of strangers, brought together for a single night as part of one woman’s odd personal journey, to become lasting friends?

Stranger things have happened.

When's the last time you did something for the first time? And did you enjoy it enough to do it all over again?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Back in the Saddle

I've been busy writing, planning some new life adventures over at The52at52Project and--apparently--putting on a few pounds.

Pictured here is my new dieting plan: Before I feed my pie-hole, I've gotta pay the toll.
Genius, yes? Right. We'll see how this scheme works out. I'm crossing my fingers but not holding my breath--because I'm too busy breathing out heavy sighs in the direction of my refrigerator.

Stay tuned for an update on that, as well as news about my new book. I hope to share that soon.

So, what's happening with all of you, out in Cyberland?







Friday, August 7, 2015

Harry, Carrie & Garp


Son #1 and me at Radio City Music Hall, circa 2006
With Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show this week, I was reminded of the time I inadvertently saw him in New York City.

In August 2006—almost nine years to the day of the final Daily Show—I took Son #1 to NYC for a reading at Radio City Music Hall, titled “Harry, Carrie & Garp.” The authors appearing: Stephen King, John Irving, and JK Rowling.

If the author lineup wasn’t blow-you-away-worthy enough, the three writers were introduced onstage by a few surprise guests: Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Bates, and Jon Stewart.

It was like a real-life version come true of that great party question, “If you could invite any three people to a dinner party…”

Here, thanks to a transcript I found online, were my favorite lines that evening.

Jon Stewart (the story about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant had broken that same day): “I was running a little late and I was talking to my friend Mel Gibson on the phone. He hopes that tonight's mishigas puts a smile on your panim.”

John Irving: Irving’s short talk was terrific, but the highlight was when he read a passage from A Prayer for Owen Meany, one of my very favorite books of all time. *swoon*

JK Rowling (on the perpetual female attraction to bad boys): “Oh you girls and Draco Malfoy. (She shakes her head.) You've got to get past this.”

Kathy Bates: “It’s no wonder at all why I have been asked to introduce the first author (Stephen King). After all, I am his #1 fan. I used to be the #2 fan up until about 15 years ago when a woman named Annie Wilkes came off the list and the top spot opened up.”

Stephen King (on what scares him): “How about standing in front of 6,000 people? And checking to make sure that you've zipped your fly. Everything scares me so I just try to turn it around. That's the best I can do, I mean. Elevators— they talk about power blackouts in New York and I get in an elevator and I think, ‘Oh my god!’”

Whoopi Goldberg: “Harry, Carrie, and Garp. Somebody maybe should have put them all together a long time ago. Did you know, if one of those boys from the Hogwarts School had asked that poor girl—you know, the one at the prom—if somebody had just asked that poor child out for a date, a lot of people would have been saved a lot of grief.”

What an evening. And so, the question begs to be asked: If you could invite three (or in this case, six) people to a dinner party, who would they be?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lalalalala--I Can't Hear You (Still)!

This is me. Far too often. But don't I look pleased?
I haven't touched base here on the old blog for a while. Most of the action has been happening on my Facebook page, The 52/52 Project. I hope you're following along there, but I promise to spend more time here, too. Here's what's up:

Over the past three weeks, I’ve needed a dryer repair, a central air repair, new tires, and new brakes. All said, it totaled just short of a gazillion dollars. And Mercury isn’t even in retrograde.

It brought to mind a similar cluster a few years back. I had told myself then that I had to tighten my purse strings with a triple knot. I would allow no superfluous spending for three months.

Yet later that same day, I found myself in the middle of this conversation with myself:

Wednesday, 1:45 P.M:
Sensible Sherry: "So, that's that. If this spring's financial fiasco wasn't a wake-up call, this week's emergencies surely were. Broken rider lawnmower (beyond repair), car air conditioning (quoted fix of $600-$1,200), and central air (replacement costing $2,500), You need to make some significant changes in your life."

Stupid Sherry: "Yes, yes, you're right. I will change my lifestyle right now. I will start by playing the lottery every day and by switching to Natty Light beer."

Sensible Sherry (glaring): "What I mean is truly tightening your purse strings. No more eating out, no more vacations, and no more spending a fourth of your grocery bill on adult beverages."

Stupid Sherry: "Wow. You are a tough taskmaster."

Sensible Sherry: "I am. And from now on, you shall be my bitch."

2:15 P.M.
Sensible Sherry: "Um, excuse me? Is that you, clicking around on Orbitz.com?"

Stupid Sherry (glancing around and whistling): "Who, me?"

Sensible Sherry: "Jesus. It's like I don't even know you."

Stupid Sherry: “But listen to this! Remember back in April, when I found that unbelievable deal for taking the Megabus to New York City? A round-trip ticket from Toledo for $4.50? Four dollars and fifty cents! I booked it right then, just in case I could make it work."

Sensible Sherry: "It WON'T work. Cancel it. And walk away from the computer."

Stupid Sherry: "But I just managed to change my bus reservation! Instead of spending three nights in Manhattan, I'll only spend one! Look at the money I've saved myself already!"

Sensible Sherry: "So, you will sit on a bus for 12 hours, stay in New York for a single day and night and then turn around and spend another 12 hours on a bus?"

Stupid Sherry: "Yes! What an adventure it will be!"

Sensible Sherry (sighing): "That's what the Donner Party said."

2:38 P.M.
Sensible Sherry: "No. Tell me you didn't."

Stupid Sherry: "Can you believe my good luck? A hotel room, on Manhattan's lower east side, for only $100!"

Sensible Sherry: "Did you notice the fine print, about the 'shared bathroom'?"

Stupid Sherry (shrugging): "I won't shower for 48 hours. And I'll cross my legs."

Sensible Sherry: "What about bed bugs?"

Stupid Sherry: "Bed bugs? The hotel amenities didn't list those."

Sensible Sherry: "Right. And what will you do in New York, with no money?"

Stupid Sherry: "Oh, there are tons of fun and free things! I'll visit the public library. I’ll walk through Central Park. I will pass by homeless people and learn to truly appreciate my life."

Sensible Sherry: "Mm-hmm. How will you eat?"

Stupid Sherry: "I plan to pack a bag of peanuts and six PB and J sandwiches in my duffle bag. And drink from public water fountains."

Sensible Sherry (closing eyes and shaking head): "You are so full of shit."

Stupid Sherry: "You’re right. Not realistic or practical. No, I’ll survive on $2 hot dogs from street vendors. And I will ask for extra mustard packets and make an entire meal out of them."

Sensible Sherry: "You need professional help. Although you can't afford that either."

Stupid Sherry: "Come on! How could anyone let a practically free trip to New York go unused? That's like telling Ed McMahon to go away when he shows up at your door with a giant check."

Sensible Sherry (checking dead-celeb dot com): "Ed McMahon died in 2009. If he happens to show up at your door, promise me you'll tell him to go away."

Stupid Sherry: "OK. But I am definitely going to New York."

Sensible Sherry (rolling her eyes): "Fine. Go ahead. Spend 24 hours squeezed into a bus seat and another eight hours sleeping in a frightfully cheap hotel."

Stupid Sherry: "Yes. Yes, I will. Sounds delightful. Jeez, you're such a worrier. I mean, with a great plan like this, what could possibly go wrong?"

Sadly, I found myself with a scheduling conflict, and I had to cancel that trip. I’ve made up for it with loads of amazing trips over the past few years. But this week I proclaimed another moratorium on traveling.

As I recalled that cancelled plan yesterday, however, I found myself curious about the going rate for Megabus tickets to NYC. I hopped online and randomly searched travel dates—purely for research purposes, of course. Round-trip fares were mostly in the $60 range. But then I spied it: a trip to NYC for $15 and a return trip for just $1.00. Round-trip from Toledo to New York for $16.

And, I then discovered if one was truly SERIOUS about a frugal roadtrip of this sort—which I wasn’t—one could still find a hotel near Soho with a tiny cabin room and a shared bathroom for $100 per night.

Within fifteen minutes, I had my room and travel booked. Two nights instead of one, because over the past few years I’ve grown far more practical. And I made certain my reservations were refundable, in the event my transmission dies in the next two months. Or in case I come to my senses.

I figured the long bus ride would allow hours of writing. An ultra-efficient use of my time, really. And the hotel/hostel commenters on the internet mentioned how interesting it was to meet other guests, while sitting out on the roof or the fire escape. Chalk up another fascinating life experience.

I planned a single year of strange new adventures, through The 52/52 Project, to be a mere one-off period in my life--before I returned to my regularly scheduled program. Yet, here I am.

I may need an intervention.

Are you a traveler or a homebody? What's the craziest thing you've done lately?