Inspiration Archives

Coloring My World With The Reverse Generation Gap

Parents spend a lot of time introducing their young children to things.

But the fun really begins when the child is old enough to start exposing you to new things.

My two teenagers have made me aware of retro music, art and comics/manga I never would have noticed on my own before.

When I was a teenager, mass culture was still the norm. That is, to be a 16 year old girl in 1982 meant you almost certainly listened to Duran Duran music, or were at least very aware of it.

Today that’s no longer the case. Mass culture is over and we are all about subcultures now.

This means a teen girl is as likely to listen to Frank Sinatra or other music from the past as she is Lady Gaga. It’s possible for her to be interested in indie artists most of her peers have never heard of.

It also means my daughters listen to music I wouldn’t have given the time of day at their age because it’s music from my parents’ generation. It wasn’t cool to do that back when mass culture dictated what you listened to.

It’s like a reverse generation gap. Recently my 17 year old daughter pulled into the driveway and Frank Sinatra was blaring from the speakers.

A Madonna song was blasting from my computer speakers because I was doing an exercise workout. I quick hit the mute button, much like I would have back when I was a kid and one of my parents walked into the room.

Anyway, I now routinely listen to retro music, thanks to my kids.

One of the things I’m now studying as a result of my oldest daughter’s interests is Andy Warhol.

I only gave Warhol the merest edge of attention when I was a teenager. I probably thought it was weird that he liked to paint things like Campbell’s soup cans.

But when I listen to my daughter talk about how we was able to notice the beauty in everyday objects, I decided I needed to check out Warhol’s art.

So at the library the other day I did exhaustive research…I checked out a children’s picture book about Warhol. (Of course my daughter checked out a giant Warhol book that’s two feet long and several inches thick.)

This picture book was a very fun read.

It’s called Uncle Andy’s and was written and illustrated by his nephew, who is an artist. It’s a very charming look at his visits with Uncle Andy and gives you a look at Warhol’s art and everyday life.  Even if you couldn’t care less about Warhol, you’d enjoy this book.

It’s a good thing I checked out the Warhol picture book instead of the giant book, because there’s a stack of books my 14-year-old daughter checked out today, in hopes that I’ll read them. Keeping up with their interests could become a full time job.

She’s the one who exposed me to Color My World by Petula Clark from 1966. It’s one of her favorite songs and it’s now one of mine too. It’s an appropriate name because her and my other daughters’ interests really do color my world.


Wall of Women: Adding Charm To Even These Four Walls

The interior of your home tells a story.

Because I have four daughters, work from home and lacked design skills, the story mine has told the past several years is: “OMG. Please send help!”

Help has finally arrived in the form of Robert and Cortney Novogratz, who run Sixx Design in New York City.

My daughters and I became addicted to their TV show 9 By Design because it tells the story of their design business and how they juggle clients along with raising seven kids.

We also page through their book Downtown Chic: Designing Your Dream Home: From Wreck to Ravishing kind of obsessively because the decorating tips are told in the context of the story of how they have built and sold several gorgeous homes in New York city.

It’s kind of laughable that I, of all people, would pore over a book called Downtown Chic.  I guess my design story could be called Downtown Chic Meets Small Town Cheek.

As a writer I live in my head and in the world of ideas, not drapes, paint colors and art.

But then I heard Robert say in one of the episodes that you can add charm to any four walls.

He also says: “Good taste doesn’t come with money. You need creativity, and that can happen anywhere. It’s our goal to get that across.”

All of a sudden I looked at our four walls as a way to tell a story. Interior design doesn’t have to be about perfection and fussiness, which is how I used to view it.

While paging through Downtown Chic I noticed they had a “Wall of Women” – a wall of prints and posters of women.

I got the idea to create our own wall of women, but with a different twist.

This would be a collection of photos of women in movies, comic books, literature, TV, etc. who I and the four girls have been inspired by or just plain enjoyed together.

My oldest daughter (unlike me she has actual design sensibilities) thought this was a great idea and we spent a Saturday afternoon printing out photos and buying frames at local thrift shops for less than $1 each.


(Click here for a larger version of the photo.)

If you’re looking at this wall and going, “What in the world are Mrs. Brady, Seven of Nine and Flannery O’Connor doing on the same wall??” then… welcome to my family.

There’s a story behind each photo. I smile every time I look at this wall.

And that’s not all. We’re working on other small projects inspired by them, including a unique “installation” of our kids’ art.

Thanks to Robert and Cortney I no longer view my four walls as “too small” or as something I can improve only when I have enough money.

And as Robert says about houses in this video, “Enjoy it, it’s just a house. It’s the people in it that matter.”


Happy (and Unhappy) Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day thought from Peacebang wouldn’t work on a Hallmark card but acknowledges the complexity and compassion often missing from typical Mother’s Day sentiments:

For all the ones who are hurting today: missing their mothers, missing children whose Mother’s Day greeting they long to hear, grieving cold and rejecting women who could not mother them, and those who want to become mothers and whose dreams are not yet fulfilled.

Please darlings, avoid sentimental cliches about mothers today; or at least recognize that mother love is not forever, unconditional or instinctual for all mothers. Remember those who are grieving today. Give real, live women (and all those born to them) space to accept the reality of mothers. Leave the saints for the Church.

On a happier (although still not Hallmark-y) note, check out the below video. A 12-year-old with Asperger’s interviewed his mother and StoryCorps set the audio to this animated video:

Q&A from StoryCorps on Vimeo.


If I Had My Life to Live Over, by Erma Bombeck

Today is the anniversary of Erma Bombeck’s death in 1996 so I thought this column of hers from 1979 would be an appropriate one to post today:

If I Had My Life to Live Over by Erma Bombeck

Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.

My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.

If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.

I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.

I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.

I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.

When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.


Remembering Erma

Yesterday while gardening I started thinking about one of my great inspirations, Erma Bombeck, who wrote syndicated humor columns in the 1960s-1990s.

I looked at her Wikipedia entry and noticed that the anniversary of her death is this week on Thursday.

She died on April 22, 1996 and even though I never met her, I sobbed when I heard about her passing on that day.

Erma Bombeck humor columns ranked right up there with orchestra class and the golf course as a refuge and source of much needed laughter during my teen years. I continued reading her columns until her death.

I exchanged a few letters with her in my early 20s when I first started writing freelance columns for local newspapers and it was such a thrill for me to receive letters from her.

As much as I might want to say that I learned the most about writing from my favorite high school and college English teachers, in reality it’s Erma Bombeck that had the greatest influence on me as a young writer. I marveled at her ability to tell funny stories about everyday life.

The library used to have an audio cassette of an interview of Erma Bombeck conducted by Writer’s Digest. I checked it out many times and listened to it over and over. I very much enjoyed listening to her talk in detail about her writing process.

I longed to write humor columns like hers. She talked about how her columns were 450 words and how hard it is to write that concisely.  It’s no surprise to me that today most of the copy I write for clients is short copy (500 words or less) and my blog posts are about that same length.

I found an interview with her from 1991 that is similar to that one. In this one she also talks a bit about converting to Catholicism in college, which was noteworthy to me, as in her columns she never touched on religion or politics (she described herself as a “flaming liberal Democrat”) much.

Here’s what she says in the interview about her writing process and how she encouraged her son as a writer:

UDQ: Tell me about your writing process.  How do you write?  Do you set aside a certain time of the day, and if so, why aren’t you writing now?

Bombeck: I am.  You just interrupted me at a page and a half.  Discipline is what I do best.  I can’t imagine any writer saying to you, ‘I just write when I feel like it.’  That’s a luxury, and that’s stupid.  The same for writer’s block.  If you’re a professional writer, you write.  You don’t sit there and wait for sweet inspiration to tap you on the shoulder and say now’s the time.  We meet deadlines.  I write for newspapers, and newspapers don’t wait for anybody.  You write whether you feel like it, you write whether you’ve got an idea, you write whether it’s Pulitzer Prize material.  You just do it, that’s it.  Discipline is what we’re all about.  If you don’t have discipline, you’re not a writer.  This is a job for me.  I come in every morning at 8 a.m. and I don’t leave until 11:30 for lunch.  I take a nap, and then I’m back at the typewriter by 1:30 and I write until 5.  This happens five, six, seven days a week.  I don’t see how I can do any less.

UDQ: A deadline is a great motivator, isn’t it?

Bombeck: It is!  You can’t fool around.  A lot of people who want to be writers sit around and say, ‘You know, when I get the kitchen cleaned up, when I get the casserole made, when I pick up the kids from school, when I get the carpet cleaned, I’m going to sit down and write.  They procrastinate all the time.  Writing has to be a priority.  I have a son who’s a writer in Los Angeles for made-for-television movies.  He had a job in an advertising agency, and I told him, ‘If you’re serious, then you have to put it on the line.’  You have to take a risk.  You have to say, ‘I am a writer,’ and quit the job.  There comes a time when you have to stop talking and start doing.  So he quit the job.  If you’re going to make your living by it, that’s exactly what you have to do.  Then go the beach.

I’m going to make this Erma Bombeck Appreciation Week on this blog. I’ll post a column of hers each day and perhaps a few more tidbits about her (click the Time magazine cover above if you’d like to see the 1984 Time cover story about her). May her memory be eternal.


Sam Sheepdog vs. Ralph Wolf

As much as I like Bugs Bunny, I think my favorite Looney Tunes character is Sam Sheepdog.

Sam Sheepdog spends his days protecting the sheep from Ralph Wolf.

On the surface it often seems like Sam Sheepdog is doing nothing.

He just sits there and his eyes are covered with fur.

Yet 100% of the time, without fail, he’s all over it when Ralph tries to steal a sheep.

He either whips out just the right tool from under his fur to disrupt Ralph or gets himself to the right location with amazing speed even though it seems impossible he could do that.

By contrast, Ralph spends his days in constant motion.

He orders various Acme products in the hopes of trying to catch a sheep without Sam noticing.

He digs tunnels, climbs trees, hangs out on cliffs.

All so he can finally try to snag a sheep.

In the meantime Sam Sheepdog just sits… even if a boulder is rolling towards him. He knows that at the last minute the boulder will hit a rock and stray off course so he doesn’t budge.

It’s hard to scan the horizon for opportunities like Sam Sheepdog does if you’re in constant motion like Ralph Wolf.

This type of sedentary behavior  – alert and aware but not lazy – appeals to me all the more as I age.

It’s the Ralph Wolf types that always trot out the “I’m so busy” lines. Whereas the Sam Sheepdogs put the hours in and get the job done without fuss.

I also like how there’s nothing desperate about Sam Sheepdog. Whereas Ralph Wolf is the very definition of desperate.

Not surprisingly, Sam drives an ancient jalopy and Ralph tools around in a sports car. Yet despite their profound differences they bear no ill will toward each other once their shifts are over.

Here’s one of the Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf cartoons: