Telling Layla’s story

Telling Layla's story


I didn’t understand when I volunteered to help write biographies of transgender people who had been murdered in 2020 exactly what the plan was. (I’m sure that had all been explained in a meeting, but I was new to the group.)

In short, we were assigned to write a longer biography that would be online and a shorter one that would be displayed at an installation in memory of the victims. As it turns out, the coordinator had us concentrate on the long versions, and someone else cut the biographies down for the displays. (The display versions were solely celebrations of the people; the online versions contained details of how they died — this was the big difference between the two.)

What I didn’t get was why it mattered for a group of people in Tallahassee to do this when the list of the (at least) 37 people is widely distributed, on national websites and elsewhere.

Having been through the process, I get it now.

I understand why there needed to be brief display versions.

I understand why there need to be long versions.

And although I suppose 50 different individuals in 50 different towns and cities around the US may have done this exact exercise, part of the point (at least for me) was about what I needed to learn about the story of the person I honored, Layla Sanchez.

Some writer somewhere could have done what I did. Maybe there are versions out there that look remarkably similar (there’s not a lot of information available in some cases as it relates to these victims).

BUT … it was in spending time with Layla’s story, reading about her grandmother’s grief, learning about her hopes and dreams, and packaging all of the information up that I was given the …


… the sentence above was going in the direction of “I was given the opportunity and privilege of sharing her story,” but that doesn’t get at the heart of what I intend.

I will never talk to Layla’s grandmother, but in reading her account of Layla’s life, I grieved too. Stories are one of the ways grief settles in a different place in our hearts, bodies and communities.

Telling Layla's story

Layla was not given dignity in the last moments of her life; telling her story is a way to restore it.

Telling Layla's story

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

It was smart not to cancel

It was smart not to cancel


I started playing Lumosity regularly again a few months ago.

I had played it for a few months in late 2016/early 2017, because I felt a strong need to keep my brain engaged. Living with a person who has dementia, as was the case for us at the time, rapidly makes you worried about how healthy your own brain is.

Once I started freelancing for SmartBrief, though, my brain was getting plenty of workout time every day. I had to rapidly read articles and summarize them into two-sentence summaries. The topics ranged from legal content to crop insurance casinos to pet apparel. It was the perfect mental gymnastics.

Fast forward to now. I’m now a full-time editor for SmartBrief. I still love it, but those concerns about growing mentally stale have been hounding at my brain.

One day, I wrote a summary about a story that covered Ketchikan, Alaska. I referred to Juneau the whole time. When the copy editor asked me why I talked about Juneau instead of Ketchikan, I truly had no clue. WAS I LOSING IT?! (To be honest, I don’t recall which two cities in Alaska I confused. This was a really long time ago, shortly after I became an editor, but if anyone can prolong a concern and turn that molehill into a mountain, it’s me.)

Enter Lumosity again. I’ve been plugging away for months.

Recently, Lumosity players were invited to participate in the US Memory Championship.

I signed up, laughing at the irony of the fact that the whole reason I do Lumosity is because I worry about my fleeting memory.

I could have canceled, but I didn’t.

There were 258 competitors. I definitely didn’t make the top 8 (these people were AMAZING). Yet, it reassured me to hear the other competitors talking about how hard the games were.

They’re probably as difficult in Ketchican as they are in Juneau!

In all seriousness, thank you to the USA Memory Championships for a challenging and fun afternoon. You can watch the entire event here. The final two events are at the 2:50 and 3:22 marks.

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

It was smart not to cancel

Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

I usually write my “favorite stories from last month” wrapup on the first Sunday of each month, but last week I felt compelled to write about voting and common decency.

Now that we at least have results from the election, it’s back to regularly scheduled programming with my favorite SmartBrief stories from October.


Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

I always look forward to hearing about the newest group of MacArthur Fellowship winners. There were 21 winners this year. I enjoy the challenge of trying to squeeze as much information as possible about such accomplished people into our two-sentence summaries (as you can see, in this case I added a rare third sentence to try to give more winners their due). These people are in good company, with one of the many accomplished alumni being Lin-Manuel Miranda (class of 2015).

Business Transformation SmartBrief

Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

A Black-owned bank gave Ryan Williams an opportunity when many other potential financiers had turned him down. Here, he discusses why it’s so important to provide capital to companies owned by Black people and explains why that correlates to reducing racial disparities.

International City/County Management Association

Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

This flood-protection system in Venice has come up in SmartBrief before. They were put to the test for the first time, and worked (for the most part), leading one business owner to say she was “somewhere between incredulous and happy when it worked.” Maybe it would have been a more dramatic story if it had failed, but 2020 needs some success stories and I’m happy this system protected businesses and a vulnerable city.

National Association of Social Workers

Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

We had so many great stories in this newsletter last month. We discussed the elections, challenges of the pandemic, an asexual person’s take on life and more. However, I have a soft spot for farmer mental health, owing in part to having worked on the Crop Insurance SmartBrief before I was an editor. I’m always happy when we can share a story that can help fortify a farmer or help a social worker be prepared to serve someone in that profession.

National Emergency Number SmartBrief

Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

The Journal of Emergency Dispatch has such informative articles about the profession. This one, “You Drive the Incident,” was no exception. The author explains how the way a dispatcher modulates their voice can make a notable difference in how a call goes. She also recommends dispatchers listen to themselves on a recording. Do any of us like listening to ourselves? I don’t particularly love it, but when I’ve forced myself to do it when preparing a speech, etc., it has helped me to a better job. I’m sure the same is true for dispatchers.

Reserve Officers Association

Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

This article itself is nice, with its focus on holistic health. What caught my attention, though, was the inclusion (for the first time) of postpartum health considerations.

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society

Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

I’m pretty excited that female astronauts finally have a toilet that is more tailored to their needs. Space is a pretty bad place to have an uncomfortable experience in that area of life.

UN Wire

Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

This was a brief mention from a newsletter standpoint, but I was drawn to the fact that India and Pakistan cooperated to undertake “control operations” to prevent locust infestations. The two countries have a tense relationship, so this was heartening news. What if countries (and individuals) took account more often of the risks faced by being stubborn and found a way to come together?

The STEM Summit is a wrap!

On October 22, I had the opportunity to be a part of SmartBrief’s STEM Education Pathways Summit. Our speakers included Nadia Lopez, author of “The Bridge to Brilliance,” who opened a school in Brooklyn that made an incredible difference in its students’ lives. I got to moderate two sessions and help with the social media of the day’s other sessions. It was such a joy to work on this with my colleagues and to virtually meet so many fantastic educators among the 1,000+ participants. You can access the recordings on-demand by visiting this link.

Geniuses, better toilets in space and more
Geniuses, a better toilet in space and more

About working at Future/SmartBrief

Each month, I share the open positions at SmartBrief and Future for anyone who is interested in being a part of finding and sharing stories through business-to-business newsletters.

wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here, which may help answer any questions you have. As always, I’m happy to answer inquiries and provide more information about the process.

Open positions at SmartBrief and Future plc can be found at this link. If you are interested in applying and have questions, please email me so we can discuss further.

Here are a few of the most recent US-based positions that have been advertised:

Editor (finance) for (NYC)

News editor for (NYC)

Managing editor at (NYC)

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here. We’re also still producing a brief specific to COVID-19 on Tuesdays, and you can subscribe to it here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us at the site of our parent company, Future; on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram.

Voting and common decency


I attended Souls to the Polls here in Tallahassee today. I’ve never been to a Souls to the Polls before, and I’m sorry that’s the case. But they’re on my radar now!

Obviously with only one under my belt, I’m not an expert, but the most basic idea is to encourage church congregants to vote early, by marching to the polls on the Sunday prior to Election Day and voting after church.

There were so many soundbites from today’s event, but here are the two that made it to the very top of my list:

“This [election] is about common decency.” – Loranne Ausley, who is running for Florida Senate District 3.

“We can’t sit back and watch what happens; we have to decide what happens.” – Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Like many people, my emotions and fears are swirling right now about how Tuesday’s voting is going to turn out. Down ballot, there are people I’m supporting who I hope will win, and I’ve done my best to support them with time and money. If they don’t win, though, I know they are the kind of people who will still find ways to contribute to our world in ways that help it be a better place.

At the top of the ballot, however, I am aghast at the degree to which common decency has eroded.

*** end of five minutes ***

I’ve already voted, and the only way I know to try to make a difference is to volunteer as an Election Protection volunteer on Tuesday. If you have questions about voting, or if you have tried and been told there’s a complication that will keep you from casting a vote, please call 1-866-OUR-VOTE for help.

I was thinking today of the phrase “souls to the polls.” Although today’s event was at a Baptist church, the gathering of people and the march to a literal poll for people to cast their votes was an example of what we should do for each other, no matter the denomination (or if someone isn’t a believer at all).

Dr. Jill Biden walked in to “We’ve come this far by faith.”

I’m grateful to have a faith system. I loved the gospel choir’s singing today. I loved the speakers, including George Floyd’s brother and sister, who reminded us in no uncertain terms that their family member’s “blood is on the ballot,” along with other civil rights pioneers who came before Floyd.

We may not share the same faith. You may not have a faith. Whatever the case I won’t stop writing, marching, speaking and advocating for you to be heard. Common decency has to have a chance to stay alive.

PJ and Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s siblings. Learn more at the George Floyd Memorial Foundation.

Editor’s note: I usually do my SmartBrief wrapup the first Sunday of each month. I’ll do the October wrapup next Sunday; this week’s message needs to be shared before 11/3.

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 


A tribute to my first boss

My first boss, Tommy Spires, died October 19 after contracting COVID-19. He hired me to be a cashier at Spires IGA grocery store in my hometown of Lake Butler, Fla., when I was 16. 

A tribute to my first boss

I’ve said multiple times in all kinds of conversations, “I think about my first job — at Spires IGA — almost every day of my life.” That’s saying a lot considering it’s been almost 40 years since I worked there.

Here’s a loose collection of memories and anecdotes that may explain why

The early 80s were relatively low-tech compared to now

My tenure at Spires IGA occurred before scanners and barcodes. We had to enter the prices into the cash register item-by-item. We had to know what was taxable and what wasn’t. We had to know what was on sale that week (the sale prices came out in the newspaper on Fridays). It will surprise no one who knows me that I did flashcards at the beginning to try to memorize the sale prices. 

I might as well admit how the skill of making change took some practice (it’s still a good skill to know, even though cash registers do the thinking these days for the most part). I remember someone’s bill being, for example $19.25 and them giving me $20.25 so I would give them $1 back instead of $0.75. I remember a customer saying to me once (as if I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, LOL): “You need to give me $1 now.” 

**Note: In my defense, I was the valedictorian of my high school class, but it wasn’t on the strength of my math skills. I think these kinds of situations are why to this day I harp on the need to teach common-sense skills and I gravitate toward people who have them. Maybe I’m still hoping they’ll rub off on me! 

But working at Spires got my head out of theory and into reality … I will always be thankful for that.

Teenagers can be flighty

I guess this goes with the comments above, but there was one day that sticks out in my mind. I had to replace the paper in the cash register (another of those common-sense skills — is there a theme here)? I got the process started, but then the little roller kept going and there was paper spewing out of the machine. I couldn’t stop laughing as the customers (probably not laughing…) piled up in my line. I got on the microphone to page Mr. Spires and it was probably impossible for him to tell he was being paged because I was laughing so hard. 

Over a lifetime in the grocery business, I imagine this type of thing was commonplace. I think he had more patience than I have ever mustered.

But this teenager could be inflexible

Flexibility has never been my strong suit either, although I have gotten better with time and experience. At my current job, I say, “flexibility is the key” often, sometimes in my head and other times to others. I remember a customer once buying, for example, 10 packs of cigarettes and handing me 10 dollar-off coupons for the purchase. I insisted he could only use one. This transaction turned into a production, with Mr. Spires eventually honoring all of the coupons. I’m not sure if he was just humoring the customer or if I had misread the fine print. It was one of those situations where I probably should have stopped insisting on being right sooner and sought help. It would have been easier on the customer and saved Mr. Spires the time involved in resolving it.

He gave me many opportunities

Mr. Spires gave me varied opportunities to expand my skills, be involved with his family and earn more money. 

I babysat his youngest daughter, Sarah. 

I tutored his middle child, Michael. The last time I was supposed to tutor him, the guidance counselor gave me an opportunity to put the gold seals on our diplomas (it was my senior year). I, unfortunately, made some excuse to the Spires family and put the seals on (what was I thinking, seriously?) instead of helping Mike prepare for final exams. I’m sure missing one tutoring session didn’t derail Michael’s career (he now runs the store), but I’ve always regretted that. Another time when talking to all parties involved would have possibly led to a resolution that made everyone happy.  

I spent some time with his oldest child, Shelly, when she visited Tallahassee. 

One of the biggest opportunities was when the store FIRST got a computer. I took the day off school to work with Fernie Spires, Mr. Spires’ dad, on trying to figure the computer out. (Remember how I could barely make change when I started?!). We’re talking floppy disks and thick manuals. This was going to be a process. They wanted me to come back the next day, but my mom insisted I go to school. This was probably a good decision, because we were all clueless, and I don’t think I was too sad to have to return to school. It meant a lot, though, to be asked to help.

Structure is a good thing in a job for me

I’ve been thinking as I prepared to write this about the parallels between that job and the one I have now. I’m so glad I had my career at Healthy Kids; I loved the cause so much and the things I learned there are irreplaceable. However, when I look back, I realize I always struggled a bit with a job that was relatively unstructured. 

At Spires, you showed up, rang up groceries, and went home (whenever I wasn’t ringing up groceries, I was looking for something to do. The freezer case was right in front of the registers at the time, so I was always straightening the ice cream and freezing my hands off). There are parallels with my current job. Although there are always extra things to do, at its core the main demand is editing newsletters and getting them done within a certain time frame every day. Then I can look for other projects. But I end every day knowing I at least did the minimum of what I needed to do.

Standing up all day is intense

My job at Spires taught me rather quickly the exquisite pain of standing on your feet all day (hats off to my pharmacist relatives, among others). It didn’t matter what type of shoes I wore or what strategies I employed. It’s simply physically demanding! I have friends who are my age (or older) who are still working at Publix most days every week. I truly don’t know how they do it.

I also realized all the little mind tricks you need to play on yourself to get through this type of job. We had an 8-8 shift and an 11-8 shift on Saturdays. The latter sounds “easier,” but if I recall, there was only one half-hour break. With 8-8, there was an hour lunch and at least one break (maybe two). I learned to evaluate some options in my life not by the sheer hours involved but by the way they would be arranged.

A last reunion

The last time I recall seeing Mr. Spires was at a 50th Anniversary celebration for my Aunt Faye and Uncle Marvin, who were very close to him. Wayne and I sat down at a table and a man said hello to me. The man obviously knew me. Cue my faceblindness (and to be fair, his appearance had changed drastically over the long period of time since I had seen him last). Anyway, I had to ask him who he was. He told me and all was good, but of course I was embarrassed not to recognize him. 


Peoples’ memories of their first jobs probably vary widely. I’m fortunate that mine are so good, and that my first job laid the groundwork for how I would approach the work world for the rest of my life. 

As I’ve mentioned in this post, there were a few situations that I wish I had handled differently. But I guess most of us can say that about our first jobs. I’m thankful I was shown grace, given an environment where I could learn some real-life skills and — most of all — shown an example of decency.

I’m sure there are decent bosses like Mr. Spires in other industries besides grocery, and in cities and towns of all sizes. 

But it was to my benefit to have my first job at a small-town grocery store, with such an outstanding boss. The takeaways have stayed with me in jobs in New York City, in Tallahassee and now as a remote worker for a global company. 

Thank you, Mr. Spires.

5 reasons for joy amid the madness

This pandemic, with its undefined end and the constant worries about health, is a constant drain in many ways.

Kat Bouska asked us to share five things that are bringing us joy right now, and that’s a good idea. Here are mine:

Wedding planning with my daughter

Tenley is getting married next May, so we have a lot to do! Even though the to-do list is long and I don’t have the ability to write the blank check I’d like to write, it’s still fun … and positive … and uplifting.

The day we went wedding-dress shopping at The White Magnolia – Jacksonville was so much fun. I enjoyed the time with Tenley and her friends. I enjoyed the experience of watching her evaluate her choices and pick her dress. Even with the dresses she eliminated as options, the craftsmanship on all of them was just so beautiful. I enjoyed the reminder that people still take pride in their work and believe in intricate detail.

5 reasons for joy amid the madness

The Hamilcast

I finally got to see “Hamilton” a few months ago when it premiered on Disney+. Of course that only made me want to see it in person even more. And of course there are no live performances to see right now due to the pandemic.

Therefore, I’m doing something that is helping scratch that itch a bit. I started listening to “The Hamilcast: A Hamilton Podcast” when I walk. I started from the very first episode, recorded in January 2016. I’ve worked my way up to September 2016 (episode #35) and have 204 more to go (and that’s if they stopped recording new episodes today).

I love this podcast so much. I feel like I’m watching an infant grow up (I guess maybe it’s at the “elementary-school age” stage right now?) as the hosts evolve and gain more technical skills (along with VERY FAMOUS GUESTS such as Lin-Manuel Miranda himself). Honestly, though, as much as I’m looking forward to that, I’m enjoying all of the guests (most recently, the hosts interviewed Amber Fang, the creator of the Twitter account @hamiltonasdogs. The account doesn’t seem to be active anymore, but it’s all new to me, so I can enjoy the posts from a few years ago, such as this!

5 reasons for joy amid the madness

My job

I still love my job. That’s a life gift I never take for granted.

Speaking of my job, I get to do one of the more fun parts this Thursday, when I’ll be helping to moderate our annual STEM Pathways Summit (yes of course it’s virtual this year — sigh). If you’re a teacher, have a general interest in STEM topics or want to find some ideas to motivate a student in your life, sign up! Signing up will help you access the sessions on-demand afterward if you can’t come on Thursday afternoon.

5 reasons for joy amid the madness


I miss my old fitness life. Most of that is something I can do take action to resolve (except that I can’t return to running) — but I have not made much progress. I have been much more consistent about walking, though, and that small habit change has made a big difference.

Now to add more activity!

Halloween Decorations

I usually walk at night (because that’s when I finally get around to it). This is our first year in our neighborhood, which has quite the reputation for being a trick-or-treat mecca. I’m not sure how the pandemic will affect the number of kids we have, but my neighbors are KILLING IT with the incredible decorations!

So far, we’ve only got one metal pumpkin decoration out in our yard, but I bought lights yesterday, so here’s hoping it’ll be much more ghoulishly festive by October 31.

5 reasons for joy amid the madness

What about you?

I’d love to hear what’s been bringing you joy. Drop me a note in the comments and let me know!

Dear high school student … 3 things I should have learned

Kat Bouska asks, “What advice would you give today’s high schoolers?”

These are the top three things that immediately come to mind:

Take care of your mental health

I think about this topic often, and it’s a bit delicate to address. I know — now that I have been a parent for 24 years — that we do the best we can as parents. And I know my parents did their best, something I certainly didn’t appreciate when I was a teenager. I’m 55 now, so I’m fully responsible for my state of mind and the perspective I take on the world.

By the same token, being exposed to a fair share of dysfunction when I was a teenager shaped the rest of my life, in ways good and bad. But having a mental health professional to talk to, especially after I was sexually assaulted by a trusted adult, would have been a good thing.

It was easy as a teenager to think some of the experiences I was having were unique to me and therefore mine to carry emotionally/figure out. Maybe that wasn’t the case (OK — I have a master’s in counseling and human systems, perhaps because of those experiences — and I know they weren’t unique to me).

I wonder if it’s different for teenagers today because they can anonymously look things up on the internet, like depression or other mental health conditions. Maybe so, and maybe despite all the bad that exists on the internet, it’s on balance a good thing that there are mental health support resources there too.

Dear high school student ... 3 things I should have learned
She had a lot to learn (still does)

Learn how to communicate face-to-face, nondigitally

Despite the fact that I think internet access may have been good for my mental health (see above), I think I benefited from being a high school student at a time when I didn’t have constant screen access or social media.

I don’t want — by writing this — to lump all “kids these days” into one particular communication bucket. But I do see a tendency to prefer texting over phone calls (me too, but I’m not saying it’s a good thing!). I see less snail mail letters, meaning people are deprived of the joy they bring. I see people who don’t coincidentally discover a song they love because they’re forced to listen to the radio station and can’t pick a curated playlist that ONLY plays their favorites.

Face-to-face communication and the occasional handwritten letter matter. They matter in job interviews; they matter when you have to solve a problem with a friend or while conducting business; they bring more emotional depth to most every interaction. They still matter, and high school students should go out of their way to learn them these days.

Learn about personal finance

Maybe high school isn’t the optimal time to learn all the things about personal finance. I do remember watching a film in home economics (of all things) in 10 or 11th grade featuring a young couple who bought furniture on credit when they couldn’t afford to pay upfront. It ended up leading to distress and unhappiness.

Maybe if I had taken that one lesson to heart, that would have been enough. But I didn’t, and I did a really poor job managing credit. It has taken years to work myself (and my spouse) back up to a modicum of financial health.

I don’t know what could have been done differently. I also know I didn’t necessarily teach my kids well about personal finance. Here again, high schoolers, the internet is your friend. Read about money, prepare to say “no” when offered a credit card you’re not ready for and don’t need. Save even $100 that can just sit there earning interest until you retire.

It’s difficult to see ahead to your 55-year-old self clawing out of a few decades of financial stress, I know, but trust me — learn about money now, apply the lessons well, and you’ll give yourself so many more options to travel, invest, spend your time the way you want to — if you’ll be careful with your money now.

Dear high school student ... 3 things I should have learned

What advice would you give today’s high schoolers?

Dear high school student ... 3 things I should have learned

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

I bought a new (to me) car yesterday.

I’m so excited about the new car, partially because I’ve been enduring a car without air conditioning through three long Tallahassee summers. That’s not the only problem with the car, but arriving at events with melted makeup and clothes stuck to my skin had grown old and uncomfortable.

Before celebrating that car, though, the car it’s replacing deserves a proper sendoff.

My 2005 Honda CR-V, which I got in 2008, had 45,768 miles on it at the time and is now 300 miles away from having 200,000.

Our Odyssey died unceremoniously one day in 2008 when I was driving down I-10. Wayne had just gotten approved for financing to get a vehicle of his own, but once our family workhorse had been declared terminal, we ended up needing two vehicles for the financing that was intended to cover one.

We got both of them from our credit union’s buying service. He got a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado. I got the CR-V. I don’t remember much discussion at all about the cosmetics. I did know in advance that it was blue. All that mattered (pretty much) was that it would run.

And run it did.

There are so many memories in that car:

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle
A Monster energy drink sticker can only mean “Wayne Kevin was here” (years ago)

Multiple trips taking kids to school.

A trip the kids and I took to Kennedy Space Center and Cypress Springs.

The kids using it as *their* first car when they began driving.

Me backing into a pole at the Subway on Tennessee Street after taking Tenley to a college visit at FSU.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

One child (won’t single them out) having their first accident in the car.

Me thinking the Idiots Running Club seriously meant we had to use our last names when we got our IRC decals made.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

Many trips taking my father-in-law to doctor’s appointments, to his beloved afternoons at the bar, to radiation treatments. I never figured out how to get this visor to stay in the “up” position once the spring broke, which was frustrating. At the time, there was some kind of “as seen on TV” product that WAS a car visor. He would say, “you ought to get that.” And I would kind of blow it off, but he was actually right. This problem was probably easily fixed, but we were pretty deep into the challenge of dealing with debt at the time, and I just couldn’t muster the energy (or finances) to pursue fixing something that seemed like a relatively minor issue.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

The paint slowly getting so degraded that the paint job looked just as resigned as I did about the car’s appearance.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

I was always relieved that I ended up loving this car, which I didn’t test drive and didn’t have much to do with choosing, so much. I’m pretty sure I treasured this car more than Wayne loved the truck he bought in the same transaction.

I never gave it a name, but maybe “True Blue” would be a fit. It got me through 12 years safely and mostly reliably. The air conditioning pooped out the last few years, but it was always a cool car.

Thank you, True Blue. You served me well.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

I’m linking up with Kat Bouska’s blog for the prompt “Tell us about the last thing you purchased.”

Becoming more human, a tribute to a friend

My lifelong friend, Duane Archer-Buffum, passed away on November 23, 2019. This tribute is written to him.

I’ve asked myself a thousand times over the past few decades what would have happened if I had handled the conversation differently when you told me you were gay when we were teenagers (and had been seeing each other)*.

What if I had said, “I’m so glad you could trust me to tell me that. Other people in our world may not immediately be accepting, but I’ll be here for you.”

Instead, I fell apart. In my myopic teenage view of how the world would work, I saw this as something that made me a victim somehow.

Quite the opposite. It made me — eventually — an ally for the victimized.

I can’t remember how or when we found our way back to each other, to a place of friendship instead of anger, but I think it was quicker in reality than it seems in my mind.

It was quick enough that you visited me in Tallahassee. We went to dinner at Flamingo’s (RIP Flamingo’s). You talked to me about your courtship of Pam. It was quick enough (and healing enough) that I could talk with you honestly about my concerns about that relationship (as if I had any say ha ha). And eventually, Wayne and I ended up as guests at your wedding.

There were long stretches after your wedding where we didn’t talk at all. I moved to New York. You and Pam started your family. Your teaching career got underway.

Maybe it was Pam’s invitation to your 40th birthday that resulted in the first real time we spent together again. Of course I thought one of her sisters was her (thanks, faceblindness!) but she clarified that, fortunately.

And it was probably Facebook that made it easier for us to talk regularly again.

Events unfolded pretty rapidly once you decided to come out and once you started dating men. I remember reading in the Union County Times about some school board meeting where they brought up their concerns — in a decidedly critical Bible Belt way.

Whatever those concerns were that came before the school board, that’s not the vibe I got when the high school auditorium at capacity with people honoring you after your death on November 23 of last year. Facebook filled with tributes from people saying how you had changed their lives and their children’s lives (as a teacher).

I loved how much you loved acting. And God I loved how good you were at it. As much as you could have succeeded on bigger stages (regional? national?), I think your talents made a bigger difference for all the students you taught over 30 years, both the high school students you taught for so long and the elementary school students you had started teaching shortly before you died.

The parents of the elementary school students were bereft. They talked about how you had brought insecure children out of their shells, and about how much everyone was looking forward to the production of “Annie” that you were working on when you passed away.

I’m glad those elementary school kids had you, but I suspect the biggest impact you had was on the high school students who finally had an “out” teacher. Union County High School wasn’t the easiest place to be a gay kid (I suspect) and you told me how many students were relieved to have you to talk to. I’m so glad you were there for them.

I remember when I caught up to you after seeing you in “Beauty and the Beast” at Gateway Community College, how you were crying as you hugged me because it was so hard to leave that experience behind.

Seeing through different eyes, a tribute
After “Beauty and the Beast,” 2017

Cliches are stupid BUT I have to say I think the conversations we had in the few days after my mom’s death were graced by some weird serendipity. If the timing had been different, you probably wouldn’t be living with your dad when I was back in town for a few days to arrange her services and support my dad. I came to your house “to stop by” after I had been in Gainesville shopping for a dress to wear and of course it wasn’t a quick “stop.” It was an in-depth conversation that we extended to text after I got back to my parents’ house that lasted into the later hours.

“For Good” was sung at your memorial. There’s a reason this song is sung at so many goodbye occasions. It says exactly how we feel at the most difficult goodbyes. “…because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

There’s also a reason we came into each others’ lives. Even though it took me a long time to process that conversation we had where you told me you were gay and to realize that it wasn’t about me, maybe I’m being too hard on myself to think I should have had more insight more rapidly.

In looking back at our Facebook conversations, we talked in 2013 about how the Mormon church was changing its thinking about homosexuality (because you married a Mormon woman, she and many of your kids were still involved, so it mattered).

I said, “I think hearts change before policies and theology do.”

And you said, “So, you see how it would have been for me to come out in high school way back then.”

Meaning — even though in my replaying of that long-ago conversation in my mind I said “go forth and be who you were meant to be,” that wouldn’t have been right either.

I do regret how it still took years for me to really embrace what it means to be an ally, to finally retire treating our history as a punchline “I dated a guy but he turned out to be gay and then married a sweet Mormon girl, had six kids with her and then married his husband” and give it the respect it was due. It was two human beings growing up together and getting more in touch with the people they were meant to be.

I think the biggest change our relationship made for me (besides turning me into an ally — eventually) was that it made me a much more practical person about romantic love. And it made me realize that much of “romance” is a creation in our own heads shaped by the world we think we want. I had my own hefty set of insecurities as a teenager, and I was much more focused on what being your girlfriend and being part of your family would look like than on what kind of relationship I needed to grow into (and contribute to). Seriously, the body language in almost every photo of our teenage life says “clingy.”

Seeing through different eyes, a tribute

There’s a second thing our relationship did for me, and probably one of the reasons we complemented each other so well, and that was to push me to break the rules — a tiny bit — occasionally. I still can’t believe my parents let me go to senior skip day, but they did. I remember the hilarity (to us) of going through the McDonalds drive-through repeatedly, with you changing your accent every time to try to trick the employee(s). I remember “stealing baby Jesus” (again, thankfully this was pre-social media). I remember how we were supposed to play music (piano, you and flute, me) at Christine Prokop’s wedding reception after you played piano at the ceremony and you just didn’t feel like it so we blew it off (very sorry, Christine — I would apologize if I knew how to find you now!). And I hunted high and low for this picture, which to me is just a fun memory but that someone pointed out says “keep off the grass” … the grass we are most certainly standing on!

Seeing through different eyes, a tribute

Fortunately, our friendship only got better and better over the past seven or so years, particularly.

It wasn’t an easy period, as we both lost our moms (you in 2015 and me in 2018). You had some serious health problems and a few other issues you trusted me enough to share. However, it was a period that was capped off by you marrying Shane, who you called your soulmate.

I didn’t expect to see on a Friday night when I was scrolling through Facebook Shane’s announcement that you were gone.

I think the thing I grieve the most is knowing that, even though our communication was sporadic and mostly consisted of Facebook messages, I always knew the conversation would be so good. I also always knew that we would end it by saying we loved each other.

“For Good” was sung at your memorial. There’s a reason this song is sung at so many goodbye occasions. It says exactly how we feel at the most difficult goodbyes. “…because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

I was talking to your sister at the visitation period prior to your funeral. We were touching on some of the ups and downs of the past decade. Not to get into it here (heck, it was YOUR life so you know what happened and my readers don’t need to at this point), but the conversation veered briefly into various choices that had been made.

My response: “We’re all so very human.”

I truly believe that. I believe that no matter what faith tradition a person has (or if they have no faith tradition), the most courageous thing we can do is to be as true to ourselves as possible, and to support others in doing the same.

In one of our Facebook message exchanges, you said, “There were things … that I had to go through to be where I am now. I knew if I didn’t do it right now I would die before I was 60.”

I’m sure I scrolled right past the “die before I was 60” part. I mean, how likely would THAT be?

It turns out it was prescient.

You fit so much joy, drama and spirit into your life that I’m pretty sure you covered more than 55 years.

You’ll always be in my ear when someone tells me something about themselves that scares them, reminding me to hear what they’re saying (and feeling), even if it surprises me.

Although “For Good” is such an incredible song and so fitting as a goodbye, there’s another lyric from “Wicked” (from “As Long as You’re Mine”) that pertains to how I feel about the difference you made in my life.

“…you’ve got me seeing
Through different eyes”

Knowing you made me more human, taught me that breaking the rules can be a little bit exciting sometimes, and led me to see the world as a kaleidoscope when tunnel vision was the default.

I’ll be grateful, always.

Becoming more human, a tribute to a friend

*I didn’t know until decades later that I had been the first person you told. The conversation: “You know you were the first person that I ever told that I was gay to? And it was very hard because I knew I would break your heart and it broke mine just having to tell you. But look where you are now.” <3

5 ways newspapers do more than deliver news

How long have you been under a stay-at-home order? Ours officially began in Tallahassee/Leon County on March 25, but Wayne and I cut our outings down before that (I lose track!).

No matter how long you’ve been out of the social circuit, I’m guessing it’s grating on you in one way or another. (Let me also take this moment to thank all of the health care professionals and essential workers who are still on that front lines every day. I admire and appreciate you so very much.)

Social distancing will save lives

For the rest of us, we still must hunker down to flatten the curve. Social distancing doesn’t just protect us; it protects other people from whatever we may be unknowingly carrying. Everyone needs to take responsibility for putting distance between themselves and others while the coronavirus is still spreading.

But I’m bored!

Wayne and I are fortunate. I’m working from home as usual (and a bit busier than ever), and Wayne is still working, albeit at home. Even so, it’s easy for the days and hours to run together without some of our usual out-of-home excursions.


I have known for a long time, as has anyone who even slightly follows the industry, that newspapers are struggling. The struggles were brought home in a deeply local way this week when staff members (and friends) at my hometown paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, were put on rolling furlough. Staff members will be on furlough for five days per month.

I love local newspapers (even though I have been disappointed to see the decline in the quality of the print versions over the past few years — along with the loss of editorial rigor in the digital versions that comes with the territory when turnaround times are so tight).

To that end, five ways your socially distanced life can be improved upon by the newspaper:

Read it by yourself

Let’s start with the most obvious. Reading the newspaper is a great way to pass the time, while also being entertained and informed.

Besides information about coronavirus, today’s Tallahassee Democrat entertained by sharing how a group of local siblings entertained their elderly neighbors with a socially distant concert. It informed by updating readers regarding the status of Killearn Country Club, a course that has been around since 1967 and has experienced significant decline over the past few years.

Read it with others

Here’s an idea. Join an online readalong. Every Sunday morning, hundreds of people “read” the New York Times together through the New York Times Readalong, which is broadcast on Facebook Live, LinkedIn, Periscope and YouTube.

This morning, for example, we had as our guest Prof. Andrew Hacker, who recently wrote “Downfall: The Demise of a President and His Party,” discussed New York Times articles and we also spoke with Dr. Lisa Ganghu, who gave her perspective of dealing with coronavirus in New York City. It’s not just reading the paper, it’s joining a community that loves print and wants it to survive.

Here’s today’s readalong:

NOTE: Although I am partial to the New York Times Readalong because I’m a producer, I’m sure there are lots of other options. For example, here’s a link to authors that are reading children’s books online.

Read a newspaper from somewhere else

I read multiple newspaper stories every week due to my work, and some of my favorites are publications from places I’m not likely to ever have an opportunity to visit. Doing so gives me perspective and helps me understand a new part of the world.

Many international newspapers have free online versions. Here are a few finds that caught my eye:

A BBC photo essay about discarded gloves.

An opinion piece in The National (United Arab Emirates) urging people to document this time in the world’s history, to aid in “future studies of our economic and social development.”

A China Daily piece about how to make Pu’er tea (a fermented tea originating from the Yunnan province).

Write for it

Have you ever read a Letter to the Editor or other opinion submission to a newspaper and thought, “I could do better than that” or “But I want my voice to be heard”? This is your chance.

Channel this extra time and those thoughts bouncing around in your head through your fingers and turn them into something that’s a candidate to be published!

My lovely friend and fellow advocate, Cynthia Changyit Levin, wrote a great primer on how to craft an effective letter to the editor.

Here’s an example of one of my letters to the editor.

You can also write about something you know. Even though our local theater scene is dark (at least for traditional in-person performances), there is likely still fertile ground for writing about theater. There’s history of local theater, thoughts about how theater will get started back up again once we can all go out, interviews with interesting actors, directors and theater fans. Check with your local newspaper to pitch them (if you can find someone who isn’t furloughed).


I can’t say I’ve tried this myself, but give me a few weeks and maybe I will!

(We still get a paper version of the Democrat, thanks to the previous owner of our home, who I suppose hasn’t canceled his subscription. I would try, but one of the things that has suffered from all the downsizings in the newspaper world is, in my opinion, customer service. I figure it’ll be harder to get a human being who understands I need to stop it than to just keep enjoying it until it goes away(?). I also kind of like the feel of the paper paper in my hands and having a reason to go outside every morning, however briefly.

Newspaper rose anyone?

5 ways newspapers do more than deliver news
Credit: Instructables Craft

Newspapers matter

There’s not going to be one strategy that can singlehandedly get us through this time of being #AloneTogether.

I hope these ideas give you some inspiration for making the time pass more quickly.

I hope you’ll consider subscribing and supporting local journalism, which is so critical.

5 ways newspapers do more than deliver news

Whatever you choose to do, please stay safe and stay a minimum of 6 feet — or two arms-length — away from others.

Once we can all meet up again, I look forward to hearing about how the newspaper played a part in keeping your mind active while we’ve been #AloneTogether.

Disclosure: I did this post in conjunction with The Ad Council. I was not compensated, and all opinions are my own.