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The blog and beyond

Donna CavanaghWhen writers are starting out, the first tidbit of advice they receive is to start blogging.

Honestly, this is great advice because it is an easy way for a writer to force himself/herself to write constantly.  The problem with blogging is that starting out can be a daunting task, and when writers get overwhelmed, they often quit — and that is a true shame. The reason why writers become overwhelmed is that they don’t understand the blogging process. They have concrete ideas on what to write; they just don’t know where to write.

Before writers set their pens or keyboards to any blog, they need to ask themselves one question:

“What type of blog suits me?”

There are basically two options: the community blogging site or the single blogging site. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

A community blog offers a built-in fan base where other writers on the site are willing and ready not only to encourage you and read your work but also promote you as well. A well-run community site should be adept at social media and willing to push your work out which will in turn build your brand — which I know sounds businesslike — but it’s essential in today’s world.  The downside of a community site: You share page space with other talented people who might or might not get more attention than you. You have to realize on community blogs that Tweets, Stumbles and Facebook posts that go out into cyberspace are not all about you. There might be days when “your best post ever” has been blown away by a photo of an elephant talking to a car salesman with a caption that reads, “Tell me what do you need for trunk space?” It’s sad, but it’s true.

If you have a single blog, you have a lot of work cut out for you. There is no riding the coattails of more established writers plus the social media is all your responsibility. Social media is not easy, and it is time consuming. The upside to a single blog: you get to be the one and only writer. You are the star! You get to experiment with your writing and let that blog be the place where you push the envelope and try out that edgy material that will make your mother cry in shame or your fellow PTA members blush with embarrassment.

As a single blogger, you can join blogging networks, which can offer a sense of community without the commitment. That might help you get your work out, too, but you have to be diligent in keeping those connections strong.  Let’s face it: Blogging is not for the weak.  It is the most important weapon in a writer’s arsenal.  Your posts possess the capability to take you to other publication opportunities or to books or to videos or to podcasts or to wherever your dreams want to go.  In today’s digital world, blogging is the first step on the long journey for all writers.

Before you decide how or where you want to blog, think about long-range goals. Are you hoping to publish a book or develop a screenplay? Are you to hoping to become a media maven? What your goals are now should direct you to what type of blogging you want to do.

Will your goals change? Absolutely. Can your blogging platform change? Absolutely.  As you venture past the blog and into other spheres of writing, you will look back and appreciate your blog as the jumping-off point that allowed you to become the writer you always wanted to be.

— Donna Cavanagh

Donna Cavanagh, part of the 2014 EBWW, is a humor entrepreneur and founder of, an online humor magazine that features the work of more than 100 writers, screenwriters, filmmakers, actors and stand up comics.  She is also founder of HumorOutcasts Press/Shorehouse Books and is co-host of Write Out Loud for the URBusiness Network.  A veteran journalist who detoured into humor writing, Donna considers humor as “our best weapon against the challenges of today’s world.” Her books include Life on the Off Ramp, which was a finalist in the USA Books Contest, Try and Avoid the Speed Bumps, and her latest, A Canine’s Guide to the Good Life.

Why wear a towel in the locker room

EBWW- Ronna BenjaminI was getting dressed in the locker room at my gym last week when I overheard a conversation between two ladies about the tough cardio class we had all just barely survived. One lady was in her bra and panties, the other naked, but for a towel.  I looked over at them, about to commiserate on the ass-kicking, when I realized the woman in the towel looked familiar.

“You look familiar,” I said to her, forgetting my comment about the class. I am always a little nervous when I say the words “you look familiar” because I have Prosopognosia and I expect replies such as, “that’s because I’m your sister-in-law, you moron,” or “that’s because I was at your house for dinner last week.” But I was safe this time.

“Well, yes, you look familiar, too,” she said smiling. And then she told me her name.

“Oh,” I sighed, “you look familiar because you’re my gynecologist!”

And everyone around us had a nice laugh as she made a lighthearted comment about how she didn’t recognize me with my underwear on.

And this is what went through my mind: “Thank God she was wearing a towel, because I do not need to see my gynecologist naked.  And thank God I had my panties up because my gynecologist is only supposed to see me naked in her office exam room with my feet up in stirrups.”

I normally am naked for as little time as possible in the locker room, engaging in a method of covering up while the underwear goes up that employs not less than two towels and a few minor gymnastics moves. But there are other women who seem completely oblivious to their nudity, happy to strut about naked in the locker room or to blow dry their hair dressed only in their birthday suits. And yes, I think that is a bit odd.

I entered the locker room with a friend the other day, and her comment, after she almost collided with a naked tush, validated my feelings. “I just can’t deal with the naked bodies,” she said. She’s quitting the gym; I’m not (I like to eat way too much.). I’m not offended by the nakedness — I’m intrigued.  I’m fascinated by the complete and utter lack of modesty, and I truly think it is wonderful that women of all sizes and shapes love their bodies and are proud of them. But do I need to love their bodies, too?

At the risk of being un-PC and prudish, the answer is a resounding “no.” I’ve given this a bit of thought (can you tell?), and I have come up with 10 reasons why women might want to wrap themselves in a towel before they go prancing around the locker room.

1. The body near you might be your patient or your client.  They don’t need to see you in the buff before you appear in court on their behalf (or worse, on your ex-husband’s behalf), before they drill your teeth, or before you show them their next dream house. You can’t “unsee” a naked tush; especially one with cellulite.

2. Twenty-somethings do not need a good look at what their bodies (however fit) will look like in 30, 40 or 50 years.  You naked old people might singlehandedly be contributing to an already unacceptably high suicide rate among young adults.

3. 50-year-olds do not need reminders of what their bodies once were, or in my case, what their bodies once were not.

4. Is there a term for the female version of the Pecker Checker? There is a natural curiosity when others have what you don’t have — huge, pendulous breasts for example, or hair versus no hair (don’t we all want to know if the Brazilian is in or out of favor?) I don’t want to look — really — but sometimes, you know, one can’t help oneself, especially if it’s (literally) in your face.

5. The gym locker room is not your home bathroom. While gyms often do provide razors, Q-tips, soap and shampoo, note the lack of a) doors, b) a 10X magnifying mirror, c) your toothbrush and d) anyone passing gas with impunity (the men’s locker room may be another story.).

6. There are cell phones with cameras in there.

7. The gym provides a perfectly acceptable place for toweling yourself off in private. Toweling off in the shower area prevents minor flooding on the locker room floor near where I am walking in my socks (and not because I think bare feet are bad).

8. The locker room is neither a place for a show (if you are especially fit), or a place to make a statement (if you are not quite so fit). Whether you intend it or not, that is what it seems you are doing when you engage in any of the following activities completely naked: a) blow drying your hair, b) rubbing lotion all over your body or c) applying your makeup.

9. No one wants to sit in the spot in the sauna where your privates have been sweating.

10. There are a lot more people who are uncomfortable with nudity than are totally comfortable with it. Majority rules.

So ladies, let’s get the locker room etiquette down; especially at any gym where the towels are plentiful and free. I am happy you love your body, but remember, the person next to you might not.

— Ronna Benjamin

About the time Ronna Benjamin turned 50, she had an epiphany. After 28 years , she realized she couldn’t stand being a real estate attorney for even one more minute (can you imagine?). She jumped into the world of writing as her “encore” career and never looked back. Ronna teamed up with Better After 50 founder Felice Shapiro, and soon became a partner, managing editor and weekly humor columnist for BA50. She writes about the things BA50s are concerned about: adult children, aging parents, illness, anxiety and insomnia, to name a few.  She is a native Bostonian and loves to spend time with her wonderful husband and three adult children. She also loves to cook, sail, ski, run and bike, and she is always on the look out for the next great diet.

Measuring up

McKowen, Dahlynn(Posted by permission from Dahlynn McKowen, who’s part of the faculty for the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. This story will appear in the seventh book in the Not Your Mother’s Book series: Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Mom. It will be released on April 8.)

Moms. We are always on the go, go, go and many times, ignore ourselves in the process.

I used to be one of those busy moms. Back in the day, I held a full-time, high-level management position which ran me ragged. Up early, kids off to school, commute to work to earn my very, very nice paycheck. When it was time to head home, my day went in reverse. Commute, pick up the kids from after-school care then prepare dinner and help with homework. I nary had a moment for myself, except for an occasional glass of wine after the kids were tucked in.

To top everything off, perimenopause was beginning to frustrate me to no end. From sagging body parts to fledgling chin hairs, from fading eyesight to a fading memory, I tried my best to ignore all the signs. I also tried my best to ignore the fact that daily exercise and eating right were not a part of my normal routine. Getting used to this phase of my life at age 43 was slowly becoming a reality. But no one could make this fact more evident to me than my then 10-year-old son Shawn.

From the day he was born, Shawn had always been on the small side. To keep up his self-esteem, the family made it a point to praise him for growing taller, using everyday household objects to gauge his growth. From the first time Shawn was able to see in the bathroom mirror by himself without having to use a stool to being able to sit at the family dinner table without the help of a telephone book, growth milestones in Shawn’s life were a constant in our home.

A favorite growth milestone for Shawn was the kitchen countertop. He loved cooking with me, but had to stand on a stool to help. Shawn dreamed of the day he wouldn’t have to use the stool anymore to flip pancakes or operate the hand-held mixer.

Then the day came — Shawn finally grew tall enough to see over the counter and the stool was retired. It was then I realized I had to come up with yet another new growth milestone. Looking around, the next obvious one was the top of the refrigerator — at 5-foot 7-inches tall, I couldn’t even see over the top of this large appliance. Stumped, I decided to compare my darling son’s height to mine, and to use my boobs as his new growth milestone.

My favorite thing in the world is to get hugs from my boy, who is lovable, caring and compassionate. Upon setting the new milestone, whenever he would hug me, I’d say, “Oh, Shawn! You’re almost as tall as my boobs!” He’d giggle, mainly because I would over-enunciate the word “boobs.”

One morning, when I was enjoying my wake-up hug from Shawn, I was shocked over how tall he was, compared with my boobs. It was as if he had grown four inches overnight!

“Shawn, look how tall you are! You’re taller than my boobs!” I exclaimed, mid-hug.

Shawn pulled away and looked up at me with sleepy eyes. He mumbled, “Duh, Mom. You’re not wearing a bra.” He then headed into the living room to watch TV.

I stood in the kitchen, dumbfounded. Looking down at my perimenopausal body, I realized that Shawn hadn’t grown four inches overnight, but quite the opposite—my boobs had decided to sag four inches.

Thanks to my loving, compassionate, caring and honest 10-year-old, I had a breast reduction and lift the following year. Now Shawn is 17 and way taller than my new boobs, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

— Dahlynn McKowen

Dahlynn McKowen, a national award-winning author with more than one million books sold, spent 10 years co-authoring titles for Chicken Soup for the Soul before launching her Not Your Mother’s Book anthology in 2012. To date, six NYMB books have been released, covering such topics as parenthood, home improvement, dogs and being a stupid kid. She plans 30 more books on everything from dieting to menopause. She also is CEO and publisher of Publishing Syndicate, based in Northern California. Since selling her first feature article in 1987, Ms. McKowen has sold and published more than 2,000 works, including business features and travel articles.

Five things I should be able to do but can’t
from least to most difficult

Janene Dutt5.  Sing song lyrics correctly.

I get called out all the time for this. I remember years ago my husband and I were in the car listening to an Alanis Morrisette song.

Me: (singing loudly) “Does she speak Ebequenese?”

Brian: “What did you say?”

Me: (annoyed at my singing being interrupted) “What?”

Brian: “What is the line you just said?”

Me: “Does she speak Ebequenese?”

Brian (laughing): “It’s “does she speak eloquently?”

Me: “Seriously? I don’t think so. I sing this song all the time.”

Brian:  “Yes, seriously. What the heck is Ebequenese? It’s not even a word.”

Me (sheepishly): “I thought it was the language of a country I’d never heard of. But, yeah, I guess eloquently makes more sense.”

There have been many, many of those sorts of conversations over the years.

 4.  Pronounce the word “familiarity.”

I know the definition. I can spell it perfectly. I just literally can’t say it. Don’t know why; it just won’t roll off my tongue. Every couple of years my family tries to make me say it and then marvels when I still cannot.

3.  Understand my sixth grader’s math homework.

In 1982 I was a straight A sixth-grade student. In 2014 I cannot understand even the instructions in the sixth grade math book. Has math changed since the 80s? How could MATH change? The only explanation is that I have become dumber, which makes me sad. Thank God I married a math and science geek who can even help my daughter with high school geometry.  Remember that, all you young and single people (none of whom would actually read my blog) — consider mathematical ability when choosing a mate.  Your future children will thank you.

 2.  Score above 10 on Flappybird.

Damn you, you crazy little addictive game. My 5-year-old’s high score is 43. I have the lowest high score of anyone I have ever met, young or old, who has played the game.

1.  Open the thin little produce bag you pull off the roll at the grocery store.

What is the deal with this? Am I the only one who stands there like a moron for what seems like an eternity trying to open that stupid bag? I check and double check that it’s “THIS SIDE UP” and then I pull at it and pick at it every which way and it just will NOT open. I feel like I’m on candid camera, like people are snickering at me from behind the potatoes. The other day I got so frustrated that I recklessly threw down the bag and just let my fruits and vegetables roll all naked and willy nilly down the conveyor belt at the checkout stand, like uncivilized little produce savages.

— Janene Dutt

Janene Dutt is brand-new blogger who has no legitimate writing experience to speak of and was, therefore, panicked when asked to write this bio. She recently relocated from Southern California to a small island in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three children. Her mother said her blog was funny so she now has grandiose and delusional dreams of becoming the next Erma Bombeck. You can read about her experiences at

My new nom de plume

Meryl BaerBy Marcel Borfes

The byline is me. I have decided to use it from now on as my pseudonym. And I have John Travolta and his abysmal Oscar Night appearance to thank for my new name.

Travolta’s Oscar performance will rank as one of the worst ever. But as a result of his faux pas a new term, named in his honor, has been coined — Travoltify — the mispronunciation of a name.

Travolta looked awful, by the way. Walking onto the stage, I just stared at this individual, so cute and awesome in his younger life as a wiseass teenager in Welcome Back, Kotter, star of Saturday Night Fever and Grease and a few years later, Pulp Fiction. He worked in more recent movies, and his family made headlines in 2009 when his son died.

Nobody stays young-looking forever, but the 60-year-old Travolta hit a new low as the product of Hollywood hell — the wrong side of a plastic surgery knife.

Apparently Travolta does not admit to any surgical procedures, but I cannot believe the natural aging process would make him look so —  so — unnatural.

Anyway, for those who missed his brief appearance Sunday night, he introduced the singer Idina Menzel. I did not understand what he said when he announced her name, but figured I was not listening carefully.

But I was wrong. He totally messed up her name.

Everyone — specifically, the media — immediately jumped on his outrageous mispronunciation. Now several websites offer to Travoltify a name.

In other words, how would John Travolta pronounce your name if he was on stage introducing you? You can go to this site and find your Travoltified name!

My Travoltified name is Marcel Borfes.

There is one problem. Marcel is a male name. I am female. Always was, always will be.

But I like the idea Marcel is a French name. Gives me an aura, a foreign flair, an exotic, mysterious and refined air. My new nom de plume imparts a whole new personality.

I do not particularly like the last name, but guess I am stuck with it.

Now I must transform myself into a Marcel.

The first step is to review my wardrobe, discarding items that do not measure up to my new name and personality. I doubt Marcel would wear sweatshirts, sweatpants or white socks.

I look forward to heading to the outlets and buying some tight-fitting tops and leggings. Black, of course. Marcel would not wear loose or colorful clothing.

On the other hand, I strongly doubt Marcel would be caught in an outlet store.

And makeup — I may have to begin wearing dark eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara and red lipstick. I have never worn red lipstick, preferring pinks and naturals. Marcel, however, is bold and expressive. The redder the better.

This is going to be difficult. I did not realize how much time and money it would take to morph this 60-something Grandma into a whole new urbane, sophisticated person.

On second thought, maybe I will stick with my given name. And wardrobe. I like most of my clothes.

My clothes and my name have suited me fine for over 60 years.

— Meryl Baer

Meryl Baer is a freelance writer/blogger, whose past life included a career as a financial professional. She writes about her life at the shore, her new career, travels, food, family, friends — and any other topic she finds interesting. She also writes occasionally about business and the markets, and has had articles published on the Motley Fool, Demand Media and Nerdwallet websites.

The disappearance of the third dimenson

Bob Niles“Aaaaannnd smile.” Click.

“What are you taking a picture of?” asks the wife.

“Well, if you must know, I’m taking a picture of a check to send into the bank.”

“Oh, and where did you get a check from? Did you see a picture of a job?”

“No,” I assured her, “I don’t go to those websites. The bank now only needs a picture of my paycheck. So, I’m sending in a selfie of me and my check. It’s just like me being there, but with one less dimension. Apparently the sense of depth, which a piece of paper is short on anyway, is no longer a requirement at the bank.”Sketch 2014-02-27 19_53_47

“Their lack of a sense of depth in the first place is the only reason they let you open an account there, honey. Now how about I get a picture of you cutting the grass? Because it, unlike this conversation, has a lot of depth!”

Height, width and depth define our three-dimensional world. And depth is the least favorite dimension in this digital age. It’s the lack of depth that makes our lives easier. We do a lot of our shopping with only two dimensions on our I- (me, you, someone else’s) Pad. We see heights and width on the screen and, if we’re interested in something, we  choose “Description” and we read about it in depth.

I no longer hold books, magazines, catalogs and newspapers in my hands but view them on an illuminated flat screen.

I never lose the dice for my Monopoly game under the couch anymore now that I have an app for it. And it’s the apps that have killed depth! Games, cookbooks, maps, CDs and other third-dimensional items are now all flat and wide and lacking in depth.

I don’t play outdoor games with the grandkids anymore. If I run around in the three-dimensional world, I could possibly break a hip. They sit on my lap and play with the iPad. I can’t remember the last time I played Angry Birds using real birds.

Television and commercials make us think we’re not healthy if we have depth. When you turn sideways, you’re barely supposed to cast a shadow. TV stars and models are dying at an alarming rate falling through the drain grates!

Having that third dimension just makes things heavy. My height and width are okay, but if I turn sideways to experience my depth, I look like a mama kangaroo with all the kids home!

Great works of literature, on my computer, once heavy because of depth created by many pages, now weigh the same as my favorite Scooby-Doo comic.

In heavy industry workers no longer climb up ladders and walk for miles to physically examine temperatures, pressures, input and output on gauges. They now sit in front of a bank of flat screens like Homer Simpson and maintain safety levels.

The only way to experience the third dimension nowadays is to pay big bucks at a movie theater and wear magical glasses to see a motion picture about some fantasy.

“What’s that honey? You’ll show me depth?” She’s yelling something from upstairs. Something about placing her shoe up some ???side if I don’t start cutting the grass. Well, I’d  better get started then.

Excuse me while I remove a bit more depth from my three-D world.

— Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names), honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs here.

The stories we tell

Suzanne Braun Levine(This piece by Suzanne Braun Levine, the first editor of Ms. magazine, first appeared in the Huffington Post on March 6. Reposted by permission of the author. Suzanne Braun Levine is part of an all-star faculty at the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.)

Back in 1972, when I signed on at Ms. magazine, our mission was to document the history women were making every day. Early detractors, like newsman Harry Reasoner, dismissed those efforts by pronouncing the material too sparse to sustain a magazine for more than a few issues. But Ms. kept on filling its pages. It became the place to find out about women athletes, women scientists and executives as well as the brave rebels who were speaking truth to power — women who went unremarked in the rest of the media.

Also unremarked were women whose accomplishments had been lost to history, because no matter how awe-inspiring a woman’s story would have been if she were a man, it was rarely deemed worth including in the record of human accomplishments; if it had been suggested back in the 70s, the phrase “women’s history” would have been considered an oxymoron.

“Lost Women” was launched in the third issue and became one of our most popular features. Month after month, it answered such questions as: Why were there no women composers? Not because women didn’t have the creative genius, but because the women who did were “lost.”  (In 1975 Ms. even organized a concert of music by women that we had retrieved.) And why, you may ask, were there no women in the major orchestras (except the angelic harpist)? Not because there were no accomplished musicians, but because their skills were not tested. As soon as auditions were held with the candidates behind a curtain, the balance began to shift. But it was decades, until 2007, before Marin Alsop made history as the first woman conductor of a major American orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony.

Ms. magazine

Ms. magazine

“The truth will set you free,” Gloria Steinem has said, “but first it will piss you off.” There was plenty of truth-telling in Ms. and plenty of pissed-off housewives, factory workers, teachers, political helpmates (those tireless volunteers who got men elected but were never considered potential candidates — even by themselves)  who stood up to unfair treatment.

To me the greatest fighter of all was “battling” Bella Abzug whose big mouth and even bigger heart embodied the courage and chutzpah it took to speak truth to power. I got to know her words very well years later when Mary Thom, a former Ms. colleague, and I put together an oral history of her life. For a generation of women raised on regular admonitions to keep their voices down, Bella’s became a test of fortitude for all of us. Gloria Steinem recalls being appalled at first and then inspired by her courage to speak out loud and clear. The women who worked for her had a harder time. When Mary and I asked one what happened when Bella yelled at her, she replied, “I didn’t get my period for two months!”

Today, we have a grip on our history, but that means there are more, not less, stories to tell. MAKERS — a co-production of AOL and PBS — is an ambitious documentary composed of interviews with the change-makers of recent history, many of whom I worked alongside of — like Robin Morgan, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Gloria Steinem, Marlo Thomas, Alice Walker — and others of whom are the next generation of activists that I have encouraged and been inspired by — Amy Richards, Shelby Knox, Courtney E. Martin.

What is even more exciting is that the project reflects our ongoing history by adding new MAKERS to the narrative on a regular basis. I am proud and honored to be the newest one and the first of Women’s History Month. Producer Dyllan McGee is clear about her mission. “Maybe in the next 50 years declaring yourself a ‘feminist’ will be gratuitous because everybody will be on board with gender equality and we’ll be living it.” But, she emphasizes, we are not there yet.

Recently, my path has crossed with another MAKER — the pioneering movie executive, Sherry Lansing. We are on the Board of  Encore. org, an organization that is building the next social justice movement — to combat ageism. As the population shifts toward what used to be called “retirement age” and has a longer life expectancy, it is essential to take note of the talent, energy, experience and commitment we bring to our work and community. It is time, as the founder Marc Freedman puts it, to liberate “the most underutilized civic resource” and promote the notion of “second acts for the greater good.”

We old movement types just never stop.

Another case in point. In 2005, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan founded the Women’s Media Center to monitor and enrich the current means of recording our history.  Just recently the WMC released its latest report on “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media.” While noting barriers broken by women like Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, the 2014 report offers such distressing findings as:

• Newsroom women staffers continued to hover at 36 percent, a figure largely unchanged since 1999.

• At the nation’s three most prestigious newspapers and four newspaper syndicates, male opinion page writers outnumbered women 4-to-1.

• White men continued to dominate the ranks of Sunday morning news talk show guests, except on a single MSNBC show with a black female host.

During the 17 years I edited Ms. I learned how to identify our history-in-the-making: if one woman is experiencing something, there are surely countless others who have been keeping quiet, convinced that they are either the only ones — or simply insane. After I moved on to other forms of storytelling, I kept on listening to women, including myself; so when I began to experience weird behavior — going on an Outward Bound trip at 50, talking back to condescending sales people — I was sure there were others in the same boat, and I set about trying to understand what was going on with the women of my generation in our 50s and 60s. As we share the discoveries we make about an unprecedented stage of life — a second adulthood as it has been called — we are living a new chapter in women’s history.

I wrote four books about life after 50, but I am now beginning to think about life after our 50th high school reunion. Women I talk to are finding that our 70s definitely “feel different from our 50s and 60s,” but we have yet to chart this latest stretch of unknown territory, unknown since no generation before us has entered it with such energy, confidence and well being.

We are beginning the process of telling the truth about this decade. We seem to be on a new path — shedding things, people, expectations and zeroing in on what really makes life worth living. Jane Fonda put it beautifully in a recent blog on her web site: “Maybe because I’m older my heart is wider open, like a net that wants to catch all the things that matter.”  Another story to tell.

— Suzanne Braun Levine

Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and nationally recognized authority on women, families and media. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine (1972-1988), and the first woman editor of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. She reports on the ongoing changes in women’s lives in her books, on television, radio, at lectures and on her website. She’s the author of four books, including You Gotta Have Girlfriends — A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good For Your Health. Watch her interview on

Scared out of bed

My childhood was regularly haunted by screams in the night of, “Spiders!  Spiders everywhere!”Hillary Ibero

If that won’t give you arachnophobia, I don’t know what will.

I never could resist mummifying myself from the neck down and scanning  the dark ceiling anxiously as I waited for Dad’s gruff reply to my mother,  “There aren’t any spiders! You’re dreaming again. Go back to sleep.”

Mom always took it well. “They’re going to kill us, but fine…fine!”

My sweet mom had night terrors. These differ from nightmares in an  important way. During a nightmare you’re likely to cry out with your eyes  closed, startling yourself awake. During a night terror you’re likely to cry  out, eyes wide open, before you kill someone, startling them awake, in self defense. Or so you say.

Dad’s strategy was to throw his body across Mom’s at that first suspicious  movement or sound, locking her in an embrace of iron. This was an  important preventative measure because my mother had been known to run full speed through a dark room full of furniture, to brutally wring the cotton out of bath towels and to search for convenient weapons to use against gnomes.

Dad may not have had a choice, but I voluntarily put myself in the crosshairs of Mom’s bad dreams on steroids when I was 14 or so. She had spent a whole day in her room with a migraine. It was a double whammy; she was ill and had been sleeping heavily. Nevertheless, I crept in to say a quick goodnight to my (daytime) saint-like mother, ignoring Dad’s warning to leave her alone. As I entered the room, Mom sat bolt upright in bed. Her large brown eyes were wide in the dim light from the hall and they fixed on me like motion sensing lasers. I halted.

“Hi, Mama,” I said cautiously. “I just wanted to say goodnight.”

I took a step closer but was arrested by her strange query, “Hillary, what do you have in your mouth?”

“Uh, nothing, Mama. I don’t have anything in my mouth.”

“Yes, you do. Come here.”

Fear gripped me. My mom was obviously reliving some incident from my childhood when I used to chew on raw hot dogs as pacifiers and shove half a banana in my mouth at a time, prompting my parents to chant, “Small bites, chew them well!” until I entered adolescence and acquired some manners.

“Mom, I don’t have anything in my mouth!” I cried, attempting to be firm.

“Hillary, come here. Get that out of your mouth right now!”

“What, Mama? What do you mean? All I have is my tongue,” I uttered pathetically. “See…”

As she started to rise from the bed, I quickly pulled my tongue back in and wondered whether I could learn to swallow without it. Back to the wall, I must have managed to squeak out a weak, “Help!” because Dad suddenly appeared and jumped between us.

“Hillary, I told you not to disturb her!” he cried, locking her in his arms. “Now, get out of here now!”

I would never again disturb my mother’s slumber without backup.

However, as I said, Dad didn’t have a choice. Thank heavens he always reacted in time. Except one time he didn’t.

Mom claims she woke up and saw a little man on Dad’s side of the bed. Another menacing gnome, dammit! He was coming toward her and she didn’t have a weapon at hand. She promptly flipped up the mattress to create a defensive barrier.

When he hit the wall and floor, Dad joined the party. The first thing he saw was his wife coming around the bed toward him with that otherworldly gleam in her eye. His yells of bewilderment, outrage and terror didn’t succeed in snapping her out of it, but his consequent mad dash past her did.

We kids were awakened, not by cries in the night, but by an argument in the living room. We wandered out to find Dad sitting imperiously on the arm of the sofa, head back, arms folded, shaking his head adamantly and saying, “Nope. Uh-uh. I am not going back to that bed with you.

Mom, half giggling, cajoled, “Honey, you know I don’t know what I’m doing. Come back to bed. It won’t happen again.”

To which Dad’s only answer was, “Humph!”

It took her all night to win him back.

And he’s by her side to this day, protecting the world (and her) from a gentle, saintly, lovely woman who on one night every month or so turns into The Incredible Hulk…the one who is afraid of spiders.

-Hillary Ibarra

Hillary has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and fifty loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Reflections of Erma