Find Your Voice

Earlier this week, my friend Angela was preparing to give a talk to aspiring journalists at her alma mater, which is also my alma mater, Utica College of Syracuse University*.  Angela put a shout out on Facebook asking if any journalists had advice worth sharing.  Angela, a well-respected producer at the top of her game in the number one market in the country, New York City, didn’t really need the help.  But that’s what trained journalists do – consider every source, every angle, and leave no stone unturned.

Her request, to no surprise, solicited a mix of solid advice, a bit of lark, and a good dose of professional sarcasm.  All in good fun.  All true.

Her request got me thinking about the first time Angela and I met.  

At Utica College.

At the same event.

I was an anchor at WTVH, the CBS affiliate in town, and Angela, was a UC student.

I was asked to give a talk that would ‘inspire aspiring journalists’ as UC seniors prepared to head into the real world.  Yeah, that place that requires a 6 a.m. wakeup call, long hours, and often sludge work to earn your keep.  In front of a room full of students, I can still remember exactly where Angela sat, nestled at the end of a long table in front of a full wall of windows.  It wasn’t her signature long wavy hair or her beautiful face that first captured my attention, but rather how studious she looked.  

‘Notes?  Who takes notes at a talk?’ I thought as I spoke. 

After the talk, Angela approached me and respectfully asked if we could stay in touch.  I said yes, of course, not because we, ironically, were both the same size, came from the same area, and knew some of the same people.  It’s my rule that anyone with fire in their eyes deserves a ‘yes’ – a chance to prove themselves. It wasn’t long after that when, on a Saturday afternoon, Angela called me to inquire about a producer job opening at the station.  I could at least get her an interview.  The rest was up to her.

Angela began her first job in TV news as a producer in the Channel 5 newsroom, a great opportunity for her to learn from the best of the best in the business.  Great talent has roamed the halls of 980 James Street:  David Muir, Mike Tirico, Al Roker, Kathy Orr, Anthony Calhoun, Ryan Fisher, Scott MacFarlane, Scott Isaacs, Katherine Creag, and Bob Van Dillen – just to name a few of a very long list of respected journalists  currently working in top 10 market or national news. Most have won or been nominated for an Emmy. 

Young producers, like Angela was at the time, have immense responsibility with a lot coming at them from different directions. On one particular tough news day, Angela walked out of an editorial meeting visibly frustrated, which was out of character for her calm, cool, and collected nature.  Later on, we discussed her concerns – which were valid – but all part of the business.  Like earlier this week, she asked for advice.  I gave her the same advice I gave every news cub.  I told her if she wanted to make it in the gritty TV news business, ‘ find your voice’.  The pressure of LIVE television can be daunting. Clarity is critical because the red light goes on at 5, 6 and 11, whether you’re ready or not.

And ‘not’ is not an option.    

I take NO credit – other than opening what can sometimes be a steel door – for Angela’s talents.  She soared on her own, her talents quickly scooped up by the CBS affiliate in Albany, followed by the NBC affiliate in New York, where she’s been for the last four years.  

It’s hard to give advice to young journalists because the real world doesn’t soften anything.  Newsrooms can be notoriously stressful environments with strong personalities, combined with the white noise of scanners, televisions, phones, deadlines, last minute changes, last minute deadlines and when news breaks, intense chaos.  There’s nothing like it.  Every newsroom has a dedicated group of news managers, anchors, reporters, producers, assignment editors, photographers and production crews who strive every day, all day, to cover stories that matter, often under limited budgets and sliver-tight deadlines. 

Some news days are ordinary.

Like when a local mom has quintuplets.

A school board needs a vote passed to keep their sports program.

Or a village considers a curfew.  

To the communities affected, those local stories are important.

Some news days are amazing.

Like when SU beats Duke.

SU heads to the Sweet Sixteen.

SU goes to the Final Four.

SU wins the Final Four.

I mean, really, what could be more amazing than wall-to-wall coverage of an SU National Championship?  It seems like just yesterday.

What may seem like glitz and glam to home viewers is really, really hard work, especially when a good news day turns ugly.  As is often the case when BREAKING NEWS happens, horrible things happen to good people. As I post this, Angela is dealing with an apartment building explosion in East Harlem that’s killed two, injured 18, and has a dozen more missing. That news is very hard to deliver to people at home, especially knowing someone who cares about that person may be hearing it for the first time.

Terror attacks.

A child goes missing.      

A mother is killed. 

A plane crashes.

In those moments, a newsroom transforms into a crisis communication command center in seconds.  Each member of the newsroom contributes tirelessly, diligently and painstakingly to find the right voice, the right people, and the right words to tell that story. Right decisions must be made quickly so viewers get the coverage they need round the clock.  Every news person knows the power of television.  Get the story right and you change lives.  Get it wrong and you can ruin someone’s life. 

How to you teach any of that?  Angela had her work cut out for her.  And her request got me thinking about all the lessons I learned in the newsroom classroom which I thought I’d share because  – in a way – we’re all aspiring students of life.

The Newsroom Classroom

The story is not about you. 

Get out of the way.

The backstory is always the ‘sexy’ part. Find the backstory.

Follow the story, not the clock.

Never betray a source.

Never make one up either.

Wikipedia is not a source.

Spell correctly.

Know the power of words and keep yours.


The most important word in any language is a person’s name.

 

Make it important. Get it right.

 

When someone hugs you, let them let go first.

 

Success is about building relationships.

 

Leave your phone in the car and TALK to people.

Better yet.  Listen. Yes.  Really listen. Listen more than you speak. 

Listen to understand, then respond.

Be present.  Completely present.

Trust the voice within.

Unless the voice is hooked up to a microphone.

Poke any beast that’s not feeding you.

Be brave even when you’re not.  Faith and courage will take care of the rest.

Don’t interpret someone else’s actions as a reflection of you.

Change is constant.  Learn to be solid on shifting sands.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Outside your comfort zone is where real growth begins.  

Move for love, not a job, unless it’s a job you love.

Be grateful you have choices.

Be grateful for your wrong choices, otherwise, you’ll never learn anything.

Work harder when no one’s watching.

Make others look good.

Take full responsibility for the space you hold.

Be willing to go from makeup to mud in a heartbeat – before you’re asked.

Don’t get so high on yourself that you need no one, or so low that you need everyone.

Team work is the best work there is.

Live a life of appreciation, not expectation.

A disagreement is an opportunity to get to know someone better.

Be kind to life’s production crew and janitors – they know your dirt.

Mostly importantly, find your voice.

Angela did. 

 

 

 

*Utica College has since annexed from Syracuse University.

We All Fall Short on Something, Literally

We all fall short on something.   For each of us, there are some things in life we just don’t ‘get.’  Literally.

Some people are short on cash.

Some on courage.

Others, are short on patience.    

Sadly for some, life is short-lived.

But for me…well… I’m just plain short.  

So when my acting coach, Nick, recently told me to bring my own monologue to my first advanced acting class, I wrote about what I knew best.  It went something like this.

I first noticed I had a BIG problem – well – actually a little problem – in the  8th grade when the boys called me ‘shortie.’  Today, when a boy says, ‘Hey shortie, what up boo?’ it means you’re crazy, sexy, cool.  Back then, it just meant you were short. 

I’m a little person in a big world…just reaching for the stars like everybody else. 

I scale countertops and grocery store shelves like a superhero. I stand on bathtubs to rinse my hair.  I need a kitchen chair to get what’s tangled at the bottom of the washer.  And from where I stand, I need help reaching the smalls on the top rack because retailers haven’t figured out small people are little and big people are tall. Am I missing something here?

Getting a round at a bar is a lost cause as is reaching ‘top shelf’ on the top shelf at the liquor store.   Short people need a coconut Malibu every now and again too, people.  I’m just sayin.

I once had a boyfriend who reached everything for me.  Now he’s out of reach too.

I knock down shoes on the lower racks, to reach that ‘pair’ that’s always on the top rack, which honestly, I don’t know why I even bother, because the new heels won’t reach the floor when I sit on the couch anyway.  Travel is out of reach too.  I’m a foot short of overhead bins and subway straps.   Cabbies whizz by me too, which is, quite frankly, as annoying as tall people bending like a paperclip to chat…and just once, could someone puhlease ask me how tall I am – instead of how short I am – without getting hung up on the number 4’, because the number 11” is a REALLY BIG number.

After my monorant, Nick chuckled, probably because my fellow actors slayed rants from major motion pictures.  Yeah.  I felt 2 feet tall. Yeah, like I needed a downgrade.  Perplexed, Nick very respectfully asked why I wrote my own.  I explained ‘because he told me to.’  He replied, “I just meant to bring your own, as in, I wasn’t providing it.”  (Cue: chuckle from the room)

Great.  Short + literal = hot mess.  

I think it all began the summer I was 10.  I was 10 when I stopped growing despite eating Wonder Bread.  I was 10 when I developed literalitis. (You have this condition if you’re reaching for a dictionary.)

The short I can’t do anything about.  The literalitis…I think that was caused by too much candy.

It was a hot summer day when Mom gave me a dollar for my sister, Kathy, and me to buy candy at Shequins, a quaint penny candy store down the street on the corner of Coventry Ave. and Manor Place.  A hinged bell clunked against the back of the diagonal front door – alerting Mr. Shequin of our arrival.  I loved the cigar smell, the faint sound of the transistor radio, and the creaky hardwood floors that supported the graduated shelves filled with colorful old-fashioned candy treats:  Mary Janes, papered candy buttons, waxed bottles, striped salt water taffy strips, bazooka gum, and sweetheart necklaces which smudged around your neck in the late afternoon summer sun.

I can’t tell you what treats were on the top shelf because I couldn’t reach them.  

I can tell you kids weren’t allowed in the back of the store because that’s where whiskered men sat in folding chairs holding brown bottles, chatting up baseball.  You could get lost inside the candyland, which wasn’t a problem, because your Schwinn would be exactly where you left it along the brick ledge.  My Schwinn was yellow with the seat on the lowest rung, of course.  Go figure.    

Trips to the candy store were always a special treat.  Five kids, one parent. 

Now older and wiser, I realize when mom told us to ‘go get candy,’ she really meant, “go find something else to do and please take a long time because I hardly slept last night and I’m exhausted and you kids all talk a lot and I really need you out of the house and out of my hair so I can get peace and quiet so I can think straight for just five seconds because I need a little down time from raising kids, solving problems, saying no, doing wash, making meals, and re-doing housework which quite frankly is a lot of damn hard work and I’ve got one nerve left and you’re on it.” 

We bought candy.  Mom bought sanity.

I digress.

Back to short + literal = hot mess.

As we scooted out, mom told me to split the money between us.   

I looked up to my big sister Kathy, a year older and an inch taller. She let me borrow her clothes, watch Soul Train, and she’d beat up any boy who noticed my developing curves.  She was a force to be reckoned with and I liked hanging with her…when she’d let me.  Annoying little sisters are gifted time in small doses.  We trolled around the store looking for what we’d put in our brown paper candy bags until they were full. 

When it was time to pay, we walked up to the counter.  I proudly took the crumpled dollar bill out of my pocket, ripped it in half, and handed my half to Mr. Shequin, who looked somewhat amused.   

My sister Kathy did not.  

“Why did you DO that?,” Kathy scolded.

“Do what?” I asked.

“You just ripped the dollar in half.  Why’d you do that?  Mom’s gonna kill you!”

“Noooo, mom told me to do it,” I defended.

“Mom told you to rip the dollar bill?”

“Yes,” I nodded.  “She said to split the money between us.”

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!! Can you be that stupid?”

 

Yes.  Yes, apparently I can.   And obviously decades later, apparently still am.

Still short.  Still literal.  Still reaching for the stars. 

 

 

 

Ten Things to Do at 2:00 a.m…..

I dedicate this blog to Jim Meech, former colleague and talented CNN nightshift live truck field logistics engineer dude, who’s up all night, tonight.  

I have no idea what woke me up at 2:03 this morning and I’m too tired to think about it.

Actually, I’m not even sure I ever really fell asleep.  I think I did.  Maybe.

If I was paid for every time I woke up in the middle of the night, I’d be retired on Sanibel Island with a frothy fruity drink in my hand next to him.

The dark of the night is old familiar to me, stemming back to my first shift in television news as an overnight producer for WKTV (NBC) in Utica before being picked up just six months later by WTVH (CBS) in Syracuse for my second overnight shift.  I was 37, when most women are in their prime, and heading into the newsroom at 11 p.m.  It was odd, but it wasn’t so bad, especially because I was able to learn the business from the best producer in the world, Gregg Millett, who is now in L.A.  Gregg taught me how to be a solid writer.  You don’t forget those people.

I also worked with a rising reporter and anchor who’d been in the Channel 5 newsroom since his teens, David Muir, who since has reached rock star status at ABC.  I’m not even sure he’d remember my name. Well, he’s so nice, he probably would.   

Just as David and his photographer would return from their 11 p.m. live hit, I would waltz into 980 James Street in Syracuse ready to prepare for a long night of producing three newscasts, which I’d then co-anchor from 5-8 a.m., Monday through Friday.  Even back then, David was a consummate professional, always putting together a ‘look live’ for the morning show.  A ‘look live’ is a story a reporter tells where the audience believes the reporter is live, when really the story is to tape.   I was always impressed that David would put the stories together for the morning show without anyone ever asking or expecting him to do so.  It is a good deal of extra work at the end of the day, especially after a long day. 

But David just did it. 

After his story was done, he’d sit at an edit bay and study his performance from the night… over and over again.  I never really understood why he did that back then, and I didn’t really have time to ask.  He’d often sit there until midnight or later studying camera angles, his lines, his delivery.  Before he’d leave, he’d always ask if I needed anything else.  Can you imagine that?  Hardly anyone does that these days. 

So I consider it an honor to watch my former colleague, David Muir, on ABC World News Tonight and 20/20. He’s about as big as it gets in the TV news business. 

And for the record, David is as handsome, as he is nice, as he is real, as he is smart, as he is talented, as he is cool.  

Speaking of cool, the only way I could work the night shift starting out in the TV news business later in life as a single mom with two young teens, was to be creative.  Raising kids and being creative are two things that come naturally to me.  Soooo, I gleefully arranged a deal with a with a totally cool college student, Brandy Hammer, who was a student at Utica College of Syracuse University.  Brandy stayed at my house overnight while I went to work.  She’d get up in the morning and make sure the kids got off to  school.  They’d sleep while I worked.  I’d sleep while they were in school.  The kids loved her and she loved them.  I think I made her meals and gave her gas money.  Anyway, I know I paid her because we’re still friends today.

So as I sit here mindless at 3:02 a.m. now, I know I’m in good company with the dedicated night shifters of America, including television producers and directors, doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, gas station cashiers, Wegmans grocery clerks (love you all, MUAH!), donut making experts, drive-thru crews and, of course, we can’t forget bar tenders closing up shop.  Boy, how much have they helped all of us crying over spilled…..problems?

On a continued bright note, Brits are heading to work.

Thiruvananthapurams in India are having an afternoon snack.

And people in Tokyo are just about ready to close shop.

Unfortunately, I’m also in not-so-good company with the other 50-70 million Americans who wake up in the middle of the night, every night, and can’t fall back asleep.  Some have insomnia, some have babies, some have indigestion, some have regret, some have guilt, some have worry  – and the rest of us have no clue.

That’s me.  Clueless.

Pets and bugs have insomnia. 

Insomnia can be heredity.

If you can’t sleep 3 times a week or more, you’ve got a medical sleep condition.

Social jet leg can cause it. Thanks a lot Mark Zuckerberg.  Bet you’re sound asleep getting ready for your big massage tomorrow on your yacht.

I digress.

Hormones can cause it.

And insomnia can kill you. It’s rare, but it can happen.  In fact, it just did, to that British intern in London who died after working three or four nights in a row trying to prove his worthiness.  Not worth much now, unfortunately.

Insomnia is expensive too, costing American businesses about $63 billion dollars in lost productivity.  (Yikes.  I hope my boss isn’t reading this.) 

So to help myself fall asleep, I’ve thought of 10 things to do – that you never have time to do, but really should do – while you’re passing the time watching the clock pass the time as you count down how many hours of sleep you’re NOT getting so you can figure out how many hours of sleep you have left to hopefully…sleep.  

10. Think about that last sentence and decide for yourself if it makes any sense. At all.

9.  Write an essay to the following…”If a man speaks, and a woman is not present, is he still…wrong?”

8.  Clean the dirt off the ceiling fans.

7.  Write a handwritten note to mom thanking her for her sacrifices.  I guarantee there were many and she’ll appreciate it.

6.  Consider a note to your own kid explaining how if Miley Cyrus listened to her parents she’d have more hair, more clothes and less limp tongue.

5.  Brief a note to God thanking him for another day – even if it started God awfully early.

4.  Handwash that clothing item your spouse keeps meaning to get to.  IN COLD.  (Brownie points!!)

3.  Get your Fantasy Football picks in order.

2.  Create a bucket list. 

1.  Write a blog, cuz right now…

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

HOT yoga is HOT

Yoga people are always so…fit.

It’s so annoying.

Oh, and they’re flexible, too.

And long and lean.  

And calm.

And youthful.

And… they have sexy sculpted abs.  Me want.

Yoga is a booming $10 billion dollar business in the U.S., with more than 20-million Americans buying into the 5,000 year old practice.  Even Hollywood heavyweights are jumping on board in an effort to stay lightweights, like Gisele Bundchen, Gwenyth Paltrow, Sting, Adam Levine (Adam, call me!), Madonna, Jen Aniston (will you PLEASE just get married), Jessica Alba, Miranda Kerr (eat something!) and Haley Berry. Imagine rockin one of those bodies.

For the past few years, HOT yoga is the rage.  Well, not that yoga people actually have rage, but it IS getting serious attention and is recognized by the fitness industry.  I had to try it, whether it killed me, embarrassed me, or wow’d me, I was in.  

Developed by former Indian yoga champion Bikram Choudhury, HOT yoga involves (26) specific poses which systematically aid the body in movement, flexibility and digestion.  The class is usually 75 minutes long and takes place in a large room, heated to 100-105 degrees.  In theory, HOT yoga circulates fresh, rich-oxygenated blood to every part of the body, which is believed to reverse the aging process, eliminate toxins, and restore the body to a perfect balance of proper weight, flexibility, muscle tone and movement.   

Ok.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Great bennies.  Look, I’m not looking to be perfect, I just want to creak and crackle less, be more flexible, and look hewed.  Is that asking too much? Ever see a tired yoga person?  A stressed one?  A plus-sized one?  No. No. And, likely not. 

So late last Sunday afternoon, bored from a fifth day of consecutive rain, I spontaneously, and bravely, strolled into one of the best HOT yoga classes in Atlanta. 

I arrived 15 minutes early in black cotton yoga capris and chakra razorback tank, figuring if I couldn’t wear my staple 5-inch heels, I might as well look good…looking bad.  I’d never done yoga before and was clueless as to what to expect, if I’d like it, OR if I could even do it. And I don’t like being barefoot unless it’s on a sun-kissed beach.   

After all, I know my limits, and I’m not exactly limber and graceful.  More like a duck than a swan.  

I quietly unrolled my own mat near the exit door, in case I had to make a quick exit, so as not to disturb the early arrival yoginis, already parked in their spots, entranced in snow angel or seated crossed legged positions.

Meditation?  Really? They really DO that here?  Awe man, this is gonna be tough. I’ve got too many thought bubbles swirling in my head.  

People offered soft hellos as the room filled as quickly as Sunday morning church five minutes before service. Silence abruptly fell as Enya’s thin frame filled the room with a ballerina’s chasse.  Unprompted, the group  assumed the seated- legs-crossed-with-open-hands-position, eyes closed.  Mine were wide open.  

Wow. This chic is BIG time serious. I bet the only stress she has is petting her cats. She probably eats chia seeded yogurt with kale drinks like I eat chocolate chip cookies with Diet Coke.  Annoying. 

Enya’s confident waltz and smile were complemented by a comforting chant-like cadence.

“This hour is your time to tune out the universe, settle the ocean-like waves that upset you and keep your mind busy.  Allow the waters to be still…as through the stillness you can see the bottom clearly… reach to your center and find your true self.” 

What ARE you talking about Enya-without-a-fat-giblet-on-your-body?  Seriously, spit it out. WHAT are you trying to say?  I’m here for revelations of calm and a skinny body.  NOT to pay attention to what I’m always trying to avoid, inside my universe, which is ….. ME.  

“Breathe in.  B-r-e-a-t-h-e, out.  There.  Ahhh, peaceful breathes. Yes, we love peaceful breathes.“

Peaceful breathes?  Is she serious? Who comes up with this stuff?

Trying not to laugh – assured everyone else was too – I opened one eye to peer the room – only to see my eye was the only eye peering the room.  I quickly shut it and shut UP, an instead focused on the soft sultry tempo in the background.

Okay D.  Just do what you’re told.  I know you hate being told what to do, but just shut.  Listen for a change.  You need to l-i-s-t-e-n.  Be present.  Be in the moment.  You’ll learn from this.

0:00 – 20:00 – Enya began class by instructing us to comfortably circle our heads and shoulders, which ironically happened at the exact same time my curiosity got the best of me.  Who are these people?  I had to know.  To my left, was a young version of ‘Jackie Chan’ with 12-pack ripped abs and long silky black hair.  A professional, no DOUBT.  To my right, ‘Cameron Diaz’’ sat comfortably in long and lean statuesque confidence.  On one kitty corner, was ‘Kelly Ripa.’ Kelly obviously eats AIR.  On the other corner was shirtless protein addict, ‘Tim Tebow.’  Filling out the rest of the room, male and female runners, swimmers, ice skaters, and a few Sports Illustrated could be’s and Victoria Secret wanna bees.  All had 0% body fat.  At least that’s what I saw.  Yours truly’s resume lists high school cheerleader, Pop Warner cheerleading coach, and tossing a football and baseball, like any mom would, back in the day.

SO ANNOYED! These people have NO idea what it’s like to be 4’11” and be obsessed with chocolate and carbs.  I bet they all had protein shakes for breakfast, salmon salad for lunch, and chicken and broccoli for dinner. And I’m sure they always eat before seven, get a full night’s sleep and never had a traffic ticket because they’re never in a hurry.  Which by the way, I’m starving. When can we eat?  What?  Still another hour and twelve minutes to go??!  This cleanse the mind thing is exhausting.

I’m happy to report MUCH to my relief…the first 20 minutes of my first HOT yoga class were completely rejuvenating.  Gentle yet deliberate moves were fun, enjoyable, easy, calming.  Even though the room was warm, the humidity made it bearable which made breathing deep, but relaxing.  It was invigorating, calming, peaceful.  My breathe was in sync with my body, I wasn’t overheated and I was enjoying myself.  I LOVED IT! My mind was at peace not thinking about the family and friends I miss back home, work, my kids, travel, wedding plans I have to make in case I get a boyfriend, retirement, what new car to buy, what’s on the grocery list, guilt about the chocolate chip cookies I ate two hours before class…nothing.  It was amazing.

Wow!  I can’t believe I’m really doing this!  Why didn’t I do this years ago!!  This is so cool!  I think I’ll become a yoga instructor!  Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll do.  I’m going to do this every night of the week.  This is so refreshing, relaxing. Oh wow!  Look how I move my body…so graceful…I could probably have auditioned for Black Swan…my friend Bella and Misty Copeland make graceful moves look so easy.  It IS easy!!!  I LOVE YOGA!!!!! Yoga is my life!!  Ohhhhmmmm….

20:00-40:00 – As I fully expected, and was obviously prepared for now with my new attitude, the pace picked up about 20 minutes in.  Yeah. Things got a little more intense as Enya started posing us in positions like eagles, warriors, downward dogs, triangles and trees.  Up. Down.  Over here. No. Wait, over there.  Lay, stand, sit. Turn. Twist. B-r-e-a-t-h-e.  Struggling a bit through the sweat beads frosting my body, I parroted whatever Cameron, Kelly, Tim and Jackie did.  I felt like Ellen Degeneres faking the Fox Trot on Dancing with the Stars.  I was laughing at myself, despite feeling clunky and  lost.  I could feel my body heating up, burning fat, getting lean-ish. I was proud I wasn’t grunting like some – meaning men – who weren’t as flexible as me.

Wow, yoga really is a workout!  Man, I’m sweating for real!  Keep it moving, D.  This is good. Good.  You’re burning fat.  Oh, that’s a ballet move. Point your toes!  Hey, they do this in Olympic ice skating!  Ha!  This is a Nadia Comaneci move? HOLD?  What do you mean HOLD?? I’m not an ostrich. No wonder yoga helps the digestive system!  I want to puke!!  But it feels good!  Hey, when can we sit?  I’m hungry.  Water?  Are we almost done yet?

40:00-60:00 – I’m sorry to say, the next 20 minutes were a blur.  I tried to stand…still…holding my breath…as directed…deeply…while contorting…limbs…like Twister…on a slipe and slide…needing water….sit…backbend…shaking sweat…like a bathed dog…soaking…dripping…twisting…up…over…top…bottom…cloth?…anyone …to wipe stinging sticky mascara sweat…from my eyes… while my body….twirls like a ‘helicopter’ off a maple tree…tree position…warrior…downward dog…breathe?  Now?

What?  Where?  Are we up or down? I can’t see? How did Jackie get his leg over there?  Put what where?  I can’t see!  Help!  Water.  I need water.  Ok, breathe.  Is this legal? My eyes!  Ouch, burning.  How does Kelly stand on …her…elbows? Freak. Water…I need water? Where’s the cloth? Why is this puddle on my mat?  Is that…is that a helicopter I hear?  Yes!  First responders!  I hear the blades…pulsating…oh wait, that’s my heart…I’m melting.  Melllllting…

60:00-75:00And then — it was over.

Somehow, I was lying in a wading pool of my own sweat.   Hair drenched.  Clothes soaked.  Arms soaked.  Legs.  Yet, I felt so clean.  Inspired.  Refreshed.  Thin.  Flat.  Strong. 

“Relax.  Breathe.  Roll side to side.  And b-r-e-a-t-h-e.   Feel your universe.  Close your eyes and connect with your soul.”

Wow!  I did it.  I really DID it.  I don’t know what I did, but I feel like a MILLION bucks.  What?  I’m sorry, what was that?

“Good job, grasshopper,” Jackie said with a smile.

4:30 p.m.This Sunday

I’ll be back.  Ten minutes early.  Back in my spot. 

 

 

 

Why Every Company Needs a Catcher on its Team

I recently attended my first Atlanta Braves baseball game, my second favorite team in baseball, right behind the Cincinnati Reds, who I’ve followed since the days of the Big Red Machine.

Baseball…America’s favorite pastime.

There’s something mesmerizing about sitting in a ball park, hotdog in hand, amidst tens of thousands of fans singing the National Anthem, most like me, out of tune.

The first pitch.  The smack of the catcher’s glove.  The crack of the bat.  It’s just so good.    

Baseball takes me back to my humble beginnings on Northern Road where I was the middle of five brothers and sisters in a 1950’s three-bedroom Cape Cod home conveniently located next door to our grandparents’ two-family house. Only six houses dotted the maple-lined street, often used as a cut-through to the adjacent playground, elementary school, public pool, and local church that laid kitty corner to the ‘big field’ up the street. 

On any given day, the local boys played ball up in the big field which had tennis courts, basketball courts, and about five baseball fields.  When I wasn’t grounded, or babysitting, I’d walk up to the field and watch the teams play for hours, often gravitating to the last field on the far left, which butted up to the cemetery where my dad, a respected MUNY league pitcher, rested, after losing a six-week battle with melanoma when I was ten.

I spent three enchanting summers after his death, patiently waiting for grampa to summon me over to the enclosed screened front porch next door, where we’d sway on the 1960’s green floral print glider, in floor-lamp light, sipping lemonade, while listening to play-by-play on the transistor radio equipped with bunny ears bandaged in crumpled aluminum. His white hair and rosy cheeks were as comforting as his squishy robust belly, a perfect landing to scrunch my way back in the glider to get situated, as my feet were a foot short for the porch floor.  

Oh, how I loved that screened porch.

Gramma served large pink-iced animal cookies and lemonade before retreating back in the house. I’d smile at him.  He’d smile back at me for about three glider-creaks long.  We owned Northern Road on those warm summer nights…as zippy road traffic and chirping summer crickets competed with the crack of the bat through the radio static.

We didn’t speak much during the games, except for a few times where he said I’d make a good catcher. “Up and down. Up and down,” he’d mumble nodding his head, knowing my inquisitive nature propelled me to check in on what gramma was doing, only to have the cheers lure me back to a glider crawl.  Grampa liked Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson, and Johnny Bench.  Me too.

We’d listen.

And sway.

And sip.

Silence can speak louder than words.

I learned the art of listening on that porch. 

And patience. Baseball takes patience.  

It’s where I learned to be instinctive.

Learned to love sports.

Learned to visualize an image in my head.

Back to the Turner Stadium… where the slow moving game with the Nationals gave my former colleagues and me a chance to catch up on life, sports, news, sports, family, work, and sports. Keith was on assignment in Atlanta, and this was the first time he, John and I were together since our television days four years ago. As Keith, a former catcher himself, and John, (both hockey players) chatted up the Syracuse Crunch Calder Cup bid, my eyes fell on the catchers as tucked away memories of grampa and me surfaced. Sitting behind home plate, I couldn’t help but think how he’d love this moment.

As I watched closely, it struck me.

Catchers do get up and down.  A lot. But really… they do so much more. They are so much more.  They’re the lifeblood of the game. They are the heart of the team.  Pitchers and big hitters may be the rainmakers gaining million dollar headlines, but it’s catchers who are the leaders and communicators. 

And I started thinking, every company needs ‘catchers.’

HERE’S WHY:

With their unique vantage point of the field, catchers spend the entire game assessing, strategizing and planning ahead.

Catchers are skilled leaders and proficient problem-solvers.

Catchers galvanize, knowing just the right words and signals to ‘move the mound.’ 

Catchers are strong, agile, accurate and adept at thinking quickly on their feet, expecting the unexpected.

Catchers are diplomats, prepositioning a relationship with the umpire, on behalf of the pitcher. The catcher has the guts; the pitcher, the glory.  

Catchers have concision, perfecting their grip to control their throw like a good leader controls his message.

Catchers take charge.  

Catchers get down and dirty, taking the hard knocks with quick recovery. 

Catchers are trusted, seeing what the pitcher cannot – just like a good leader knows where to get critical information he can’t get anywhere else.  

Catchers know hand signals carry the same power as a handshake. 

Catchers value the ‘nod,’ and know when to say ‘yes,’ and more importantly, ‘no.’

Catchers know it’s their job to ‘sell’ every pitch, just like in business. 

A catcher reads body language – a huge defensive asset – throwing out, on average, 35% of all attempted steals.  Body language accounts for 35% of communication.  Body language = intention.

Catchers know how to leverage their assets to prevent the competition from scoring.

Catchers protect home plate at all costs like a leader protects his reputation.

I think grampa was on to something.  Maybe it wasn’t because I kept getting up and down. 

I still can’t sit still.

My feet still don’t touch the ground most days.

But I got some catcher in me.  

 

 

It Happened a Mile from My Home: Inside the Dungeon

If you’re squeamish, or if you’re in a really great mood tonight, you might want to pass on this blog.  It’s dark and dreary, but worth sharing.  After telling stories for 16 years, I’ve learned some stories get surprising happy endings, even if the beginning and middle are terrible.  The end is a chance to get it right.  I hope that happens in the sex slave case in Cleveland.   

I was in the atrium of the CNN studio center this week when I first saw the dated pictures of the Cleveland, Ohio kidnapping victims – Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight – flash across the screen during Anderson Cooper’s show.  The faces were an unexpected reminder of my anchoring days at CBS 5 News in Syracuse ten years ago.   

But wait.  What?!?  The pictures jarred me.  My mind was confused.  

Those girls are alive?

Ten years later?

What?

And living in the same house?

Are you kidding me?

Who could do that?

Why?

And how?

It just didn’t make sense. 

It just doesn’t make sense. 

But, heinous crimes aren’t supposed to make sense.

In the coming days, news reports will reveal ugly stories about what happened in that Seymour Ave. home, what went wrong, and who’s to blame.  For me, the events in Cleveland are eerily similar to one of the most disturbing stories I ever covered as a reporter.  Even the timing of how one began as the other ended is unsettling.

In April 2003, just two weeks before 16-year-old Amanda Berry was about to begin the worst ten years of her young life, a 16-year-old Syracuse girl was about to end the worst year of her life, breaking free the captor who kept her as a sex slave in his dungeon.

Built inside the yard of his home.   

A mile from my home.

It was a typical spring day in April 2003, when crews from every television station in Upstate New York, swarmed 7070 Highbridge Road in Dewitt.  I was on the phone with police as we pulled up to the familiar home where I’d regularly exchange slight waves with the frail, seemingly harmless, white-haired man as I maneuvered the second of a five-mile-trek,  four-times-a-week.  The man often worked in the yard or on his car.  Well, not really worked.  Tinkered is more like it. I sometimes thought I should be more friendly.  Poor old guy.

Good thing I wasn’t.

The non-descript 1950’s grey ranch with burgundy shutters stuck out like a sore thumb, not because of the horrors going on inside the home, but rather, because it was oddly nestled near newly built million dollars homes a stone’s throw away.   John Jamelske’s decision to sell the land behind him to a developer helped make him a millionaire. 

On that particular day in April, for whatever reason, Jamelske decided to collect nickels at a local bottle return store, bringing his latest victim in public with him.  It would turn out to be a bad decision for him, and a good decision for her as she found a break to make a hushed rushed phone call to her sister.  Police arrested the 68-year-old an hour after the phone call was made, ending his 15-year reign of terror on vulnerable at-risk women.  

The 16-year-old was the last of five women Jamelske held captive through the years since 1988, the same year his wife was bedridden from cancer, oblivious to his sinister lifestyle below her.

For years, I was oblivious that I’d been waving at a serial kidnapper-rapist who picked up his victims with a police badge before blindfolding them and forcing them into his dungeon.

Creepy.  Just like what will happen in Cleveland, the ugly truth slowly emerged.

In 1988, Jamelske kidnapped and held a 14 year old Native American for two years, first in his mother’s well, before relocating her in his newly built dungeon.

In 1996, he kidnapped and held a 14-year-old Vietnamese girl captive before dropping her off at her mom’s home months later.  She went to police, but the case was dropped because of her shady past.

In 1997, Jamelske kidnapped and held a 50-something-year-old Asian woman for nine months before dropping her off at a bus station.  She too, told police.  The case went cold.

In 2001, Jamelske kidnapped a 26-year old Latino drug addict he found in downtown Syracuse, keeping her for months before releasing her.  She went to police. The case went cold with misinformation and inconsistencies.

In October 2002, Jamelske kidnapped his last victim, an African American runaway.  While he was inside the bottle return, the victim called her sister, who called back the number and spoke to the store manager, who called 911.   

A few months after the disturbing discovery, Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick asked me if I’d report with him live from inside the dungeon.  Being claustrophobic, I knew it would be hard, wasn’t sure I could do it, but said ‘yes’ anyway.  Reporters are used to being taken out of their comfort zone.  We don’t like it.  We just do it.

But this was macabre.   

It took a full day and a large scale crew to get the logistics just right for the live shot.  Crews are dealing with that now in Cleveland, Ohio.  Live television requires multiple producers, production crews, layers of cable, numerous cameras, lighting and a host of other details that take a lot of expertise and the right people to manage.  Add in a dungeon burrowed behind walls and tunnels, and the logistics are complex. 

Jamelske poured his dungeon on the east end of the home.  To get to the bunker, we had to walk up the front steps into the living room, weaving through a thin worn trail of ceiling-to-floor piles of papers and magazines rounding us into the kitchen where a pet gold fish swam in a bucket.  The trail continued through the kitchen into the garage, curving left down a slight flight of stairs into the basement, where a sign above read, “Peace to all who Enter.” The long, narrow, dim walk through the basement was lined with thousands of beer cans and bottles neatly stacked on revolving shelves. 

As you walked past the last bin, THERE it was.  The entrance to the dungeon was sinister and low to the ground. It resembled a dirt crawl space where animals lived.  We crouched on hands and knees, in single file, crawling through the eight-foot-tunnel, through several steel doors, each equipped with a padlock, before turning around feet first and descending down a three-rung ladder into the 8 ft. high, by 24 ft. long, by 12 ft. wide, bunker.  A crucifix hung above the ladder.  

I felt panicked entering, despite working alongside some of the best people in the business. I couldn’t breathe and kept trying to quell the panic inside me. I couldn’t get past what happened in those rooms. There were no windows. No doors. No hope. I pulled it together for the three hours I was live, at one point muttering the line, “If hell has an address, this is the place.” I went in with eyes wide open. The victims did not, each of them blindfolded, confused and scared as Jamelske, similar to the Cleveland case, tied them up with chains and ankle bracelets. Sometimes, he’d reward them with french fries and ketchup.  He thought he was being a good guy when he did so.

The bunker was divided into two rooms with the three-rung latter descending into the ‘bathroom,’ equipped with only a rust-stained bathtub on a raised wooden deck, a garden hose to drain cold water, and a transistor radio.  Lack of a drainage system left the dungeon cold, damp and musty. A bucket was the toilet. An extension cord and aluminum hose pumped warm air into the bunker from the house furnace.

Poorly strung dim lights lead to the second room, the ‘bedroom,’ which comprised only of a folding chair and a couple of wood pallets as a bed.  To pass the time, the enslaved etched religious phrases and peace symbols on the walls, sang to themselves, or occasionally danced with their captor.

Unspeakable things happened in that dungeon at 7070 Highbridge Rd.  What struck me most was one victim telling me at least she knew when her master came home, she’d live another day.  Her worst fear wasn’t what he’d do to her, but rather him being killed in a car crash or dying of a heart attack and she’d never be found.  She also worried about the house catching on fire.   

Jamelske, who believed he’d get off with community service, is serving a life sentence.

The gold fish, was adopted by the District Attorney’s office, and was named Archie Bunker.

All of Jamelske’s victims survived. 

As did the three victims in Cleveland, Ohio, which undoubtedly is a miracle for the families, who today, are able to hold the daughters and sisters they probably thought they’d never see again.

Perhaps, tremendous amounts of counseling, love and support will enable the three victims to recover.  Other prisoners have recovered and lead productive lives:

Senator John McCain.

Ernie Brace.

Terry Anderson.

Jaycee Dugard.

Elizabeth Smart.

I want to believe these victims can recover. 

Perhaps the only thing we can take away from dark moments like these is that none of us really knows how strong we are, until strength is all we have.

 

The Charm of Jim and Juli Boeheim

When the Syracuse powercouple comes to Atlanta for the Final Four this weekend, there’s one thing for sure.  Anyone who meets them, will be impressed.

I first met Juli Boeheim at a children’s charity event in 1998. She was the guest speaker, I was the emcee.  She was the star of the show, though in her humbleness, she’d never see herself in that light.

Thing is, you can’t help but notice Juli Boeheim.  She fills a room.

I was dazzled by two things:  her genuine southern charm, and her beauty.  Oh, and a third!  Her height.  She’s quite tall.  About 5’10-ish.  At 4’11-ish, I’ve gotten pretty good at judging others height from my height.  Now a foot may not sound like a lot, but it’s the difference between interviewing someone standing, and interviewing someone standing on a box.

In heels.  In public.  Ain’t pretty.  Takes practice.      

Juli was kind.  Gracious.  Helpful.  Sincere.  Gentle.  Engaging.  Sweet.  Charming.  Funny.  Fun.  And still is all those things.  She’s not afraid of hard work, adventure, and is also not afraid to give where it counts the most – from her heart and her time.  Family is her priority.   

Ten years ago, Juli was a regular guest on my then-show, CNY Live where we’d chat about kids, life, Jim, and basketball.  A week or two before SU went to the Final Four in New Orleans ‘03, I asked Juli if I could do a story about ‘a day in the life’ of Juli and Jim Boeheim.  I wanted the public to see her as I saw her, and as I saw them.  On the surface, the couple couldn’t appear to be more different.

Juli’s open.  Jim’s private.

Juli’s radiant.  Jim’s intense.

Juli’s adventurous.  Jim’s good with routine.

Juli’s younger.  Jim’s… not so much.

Juli’s calm.  Jim’s restless.

Juli is sweet, kind, and heartfelt.  It’s been reported, and not by me, Jim has a prickly edge.

Say what you want about Jim Boeheim, but anyone who spends his free time teaching kids how to play basketball, signing autographs, raising millions for cancer research, and who also is taking my favorite team to the Final Four – AGAIN  - and in the city I’m living – is a pretty cool gent in my book. 

Before Juli could say yes, she wanted to check with Jim first. I thought that was sweet.  Big decisions take two yesses.

I was sure he’d say no. 

After all, I’d watched many a press conference where Coach Boeheim didn’t exactly have an affinity for the media. Think about it. He’s grown one of the largest and most successful basketball programs in the country, coaches Olympians, while raising four children, and raising millions for charity – and after a long day of all that, especially on a game day that doesn’t go his way, he faces a sea of reporters wanting answers about things he doesn’t really want to talk about.  But Jim Boeheim knows the PR game like nobody’s business.  It’s that love-hate thing every star, every player, every coach has with the media.  It’s great when it’s good and it stings when it’s bad.  Coach Boeheim smartly answers the tough questions and scoffs at the dumb ones with his intense, competitive personality that makes him one of the most respected collegiate basketball coaches in the country.  Besides, I think he’s pretty entertaining when he’s got a point to make.  He makes it, moves on, waves a hand, and is done with it. Bug off, pal.

He also happens to be loved by one of the most beautiful, intelligent, classy women I know. 

When I moved to Atlanta last May, Juli called to lend advice about leaving my comfort zone, my family and my friends.  She once made a similar move noting, “….it’ll feel different at first, because nothing’s familiar.  You really have to get up every day and embrace the experience and really live.”  Great advice.

Back to my request, which I was pretty confident, Coach Boeheim would say ‘no.’

And the Coach probably did. 

However….

Jim Boeheim, the husband, said, ‘yes.’

With, I’m sure, a little nudging from Juli. 

A few days later, Ham (photographer) and I walked into the Boeheims’ beautifully decorated southern charmed home for our sit-down interview.  Juli smiled graciously, despite the phone ringing like a phone bank with requests for her free time.  She’s asked to do hundreds of charity events a year.

Jim walked in the room with a pleasant hello, as the two sat down on the couch in the family room which was warmed by mahogany walls and family pictures. They sat close to each other, in a familiar way, as Juli brushed the shoulder of Jim’s shirt as he thanked her with an appreciative smile.  As Ham situated the microphones, Juli and Jim teased each other in a language only a couple knows.

A good reporter knows that moments like these are privileged.  Be respectful and be present. 

And, I was. 

Jim Boeheim grew up in Lyons, New York, a small town of 5,000 people. He started playing basketball when he was five.  His family owned a funeral business, which Jim walked away from, to attend Syracuse University as a history major, where he was walk-on for the basketball team in 1962. By the time he was a senior, he was team captain.  Then graduate assistant. Then assistant coach, and the rest is history, fast forwarding to this season with more than 900 career wins. Jim Boeheim, a small town boy, is now a big game Hall of Fame basketball legend.

Jim met Juli Greene at the Derby in Louisville, Kentucky in the mid-nineties. The synergy between Juli and Jim was undeniable.  It wasn’t long before Juli moved to Syracuse where the couple married and now raise three children, James, and twins Jack and Jaime, while also embracing a close, loving relationship with Jim’s adopted daughter, Elizabeth, with his on-great-terms-with, former wife, Elaine.

Back to the interview couch with Juli and Jim a decade ago.

They laughed. They teased. They flirted.  They’re one of those couples, when you’re around them – you feel love. 

They talked about sports. About the value of winning and losing. The schedules. The travel. The kids.  The charity work. The notoriety.  Jim’s voracious reading.  They talked about a room they were thinking of adding in the back. About a new picture frame he noticed.  And how Juli made him a better-dressed man.  Juli said she’d never change anything about Jim, that she loved him ‘as is.’  Well, except for the plaid jackets he once wore, which she felt “didn’t show Jim’s softer side.” 

Jim revealed two things he didn’t like:  a bad call and wearing a suit. They’re uncomfortable and stuffy.   

I agree with him about the bad calls.  Quite frankly, I’d prefer every call be in favor of SU.  Oh c’moooonn, I know that’s not how it works. Just sayin.

I can see his point. It’s pretty clear, Coach Boeheim needs wiggle room for his flailing arms, aggressive leg clomping, and choleric coach contortion.  A tailored fit that can handle ranting, raging and body twisting as the shot clock winds down while at the same time charging a bad call like Secretariat out of the gate.  Which is why, Jim Boeheim wears sports coats with dress slacks. Period. 

Jim Boeheim’s clothing designer of choice is Adrian Jules Custom Clothier based in Rochester, New York.  The Clothier, founded by Italian master tailor and designer Adriano Roberti, opened shop in 1964, when Boeheim was about a junior in college.  The Clothier employs dozens of tailors who dress an impressive list of who’s who.   Check out www.adrianjules.com for the latest styles. These guys know their stuff and are really cool.

Adrian Jules wardrobe and tailor consultants, father and son team, Peter and Peter A. Roberti, say Jim wants style without feeling encumbered.  Using some 30 measurements on his 6’4-ish frame, along with taking the Coach’s posture, slope and how he stands into account, the design team builds a tailored sport coat that concentrates the weight in the shoulders, so as not to compromise comfort or style.  “The Coach likes a polished look with subtle detail,” Peter Roberti told me. “Jim doesn’t want to go outlandish.  He likes tasteful, but different.”

The clothiers aren’t sure which tailored sport coat Coach Boeheim will don at the Georgia Dome, Saturday, but say they’ve been told he’ll wear one he already has, because he wants to ‘keep with what’s working so far.’  It could be the black herringbone with a Carrier Dome fan-filled-to-capacity themed lining, or the navy cashmere sport coat with vibrant orange lining, or his navy birdseye sport coat with SU logo-lining. 

The last button hole on the sleeve will be orange.

The inner pocket will be complete with a monogrammed “Custom Styled for James A. Boeheim.” 

“A” for Arthur.

His shirt and tie combo will, as protocol, be hand-selected and coordinated by Juli.

It’s a routine the Boeheim’s have mastered for nearly two decades.  A routine they’ll continue, Saturday, as both shine on national TV, as – camera one – captures Coach Boeheim’s courtside rants – while camera two – snags a medium shot of a calm, cool and collected, Juli.

I once asked Juli what goes through her mind when Jim’s boiling mad from the bench.   

“What are you thinking when you see Jim’s face contorted with stress,” I asked her, “when his veins are popping out of his head and neck?”

“All I’m thinking,” Juli quipped with a smile, “is breathe, Jim!  Breathe!” 

 

 

Let’s Go Orange! Revenge Never Tasted So Good

It’s OVER.

And it ended exactly as every SU fan wanted.

At Madison Square Garden.

In the City that never sleeps.

In OT.

In front of a sold out crowd.

On live television.

Before millions of viewers.

SU 58-55.  Bye bye, Georgetown.  How does it feel to want?

Now, I’m not a sportswriter by any stretch.  I’m no Bob Costas, Mike Tirico, or Kevin Maher.  I don’t have ESPN-savvy facts and figures to dazzle you. And I don’t know which team won more games.

What I do know, is the contentious Big East clash between SU and Georgetown has stressed me out for decades, back to the days of Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, Sherman Douglas, and Roni Seikaly.  The shorts were shorter, but the nights were just as long.

I’m just one drop of a voluminous sea of SU fans who knows exactly what the past nearly 30 years of sitting — or should I say standing — on the edge of this gnarly, gritty, grimy rivalry, anxiously watching the Orange and Hoyas ‘out slay’ each other on the hardwood.  

It was never pretty.  It was always pretty ugly.

And in the end, at the end, it would be the end of a war unmatched in collegiate basketball history.  And in a way, while SU won, Big East fans lost.  Because it’s the end of an era.  And they don’t make ‘em like SU vs. Georgetown  these days.  You can’t make them.  They just are.

They are — because students dutifully slept outside in sub-zero temps for tickets.  

As alumni flew cross-country to lay witness.

And local fans braved miles in sleet and freezing rain for 9 p.m. tip offs.

As a Salt City, with long winters and short summers, came together every season to wave the Loud House.

To watch Boeheim and his boys press their orange thunder against greyly blue.

Without fail, fans tethered to heart pounding, nail biting, soul swearing hoop in the Carrier Dome, in our living rooms, in man caves, and on the road.    

Because there was just something about playing Georgetown.

Because every time the two giants stood on that court, they brought their entire history with them, making it so much, much more than a game. 

It was strength.  It was power.  It was fierce dedication. It was unwavering intimidation.  It was a persevering, bloody, backboned, stamina-driven, tenacious, purposeful sweaty scrum of endurance.  

Every Salt City sweaty drop.  Every scooped basket.  Every buzzer beater.

Every time. 

Now, sports reporters will have to search for new headlines while Orange and Hoyas fans try to replace that confrontation we came to love to hate.  

It’ll never be again. Not like this.

It was personal, for all of us.

There’ll be more games to come.  New teams to slay.  New rivalries to be had.   We’ll win some.  We’ll lose some.   

But it’ll never amount to that thing about Georgetown.

That got under your SU skin.

And ran through your veins.

And made your blood boil.

And made you BLEED ORANGE.

And set your soul on fire. 

So yeah, Hoyas, you closed Manley. 

And you spanked us at our last rivaled home game at the Dome. 

And put the Orange crush at your Verizon Center.

But we clocked you at the Garden.  For the final time.  And it was beautiful. 

Revenge never tasted so good.

My Confession, It’s True, Guilty!

I confess.  I watched The Bachelor this season.  C’mon.  Don’t judge. 

Before I try to humor you with why, allow me to defend myself.

Monday Night Football wasn’t on.

I didn’t watch every episode.  

I didn’t DVR it.   

Didn’t change plans for it.

Didn’t take it seriously.   

And didn’t wish I was in my 20’s again.

Oh, and I’m not a silly, girly girl, hopeless romantic.

Okay, that’s not true.   

Truth is, The Bachelor is a ridiculously, laughingly, mindlessly entertaining three month TV ratings love story complete with a cast of characters, thickening plot, setting, conflict and Final Rose resolution.  It’s the show you love to hate.  And the show you’d never admit watching. Guys, you get a pass on this. If you took one for the team, you’re heroic in my book.  Payback should be during football season. Watching The Bachelor is like waiting for new tires, a delayed plane, or Atlanta traffic on a Friday night. It’s two hours off your life you’ll never get back.

The things we do for love.

It’s ridiculously because, only on television, would  you find 25 competent successful women living in the same house, competing for the same guy, who’s openly dating all 24 ‘other’ women, while the ‘other’ women fall more deeply in love with him, while he falls deeply in love with each of them, until he realizes six weeks later – seduced by an exotic foreign land – he’s ‘in love’ with the real one, but continues to act like he loves them all, until the Final Rose ceremony where one of two remaining ‘fiance’s-to-be’ face off to an emotionally spent Bachelor who’s about to break one heart, so he can propose to the one heart he never knew he always wanted. While millions watch. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.     

Laughingly, because there’s always a Bachelor villainess causing conflict that resonates of days gone by. Guys won’t understand this part. But most women do. She’s that girl from high school who  always got on everyone’s nerves though no one really knew why, or how she and her drama always got the guy, but he never realized who she really was until he married her and then found out everything you tried to tell him but he wouldn’t listen because he always put you, in what the Urban Dictionary now defines today as – the Friend Zone. Yep, we’ve all been there.  The villainess this season was Tierra. She claims the girls didn’t like her because she was too…sparkly. Sparkly? Her words. Not mine. What is that?  Sparkles was sent home about three weeks ago. 

It’s mindlessly, because over the dull winter months, it’s Monday night filler.  Think about it. Coming off a fun weekend with family and friends, with still another 96 hours of meetings, deadlines, airports and events standing between you and Friday, why not be entertained by a chiseled guy, conniving beautiful and funny women and actress wanna-bees, exotic locations, funny bloopers, and pretty roses.  Yep, Monday nights were the perfect night to throw on the comfy clothes, throw in a messy pony, drink a glass of wine and listen, like white noise, to drama unfold.  Tired of the drama?  Mute.

If only you could mute real life, eh?

Truth be told, I won’t miss The Bachelor, which has now been replaced by hot yoga (future blog), which ironically, will undo the stress the guilt of watching the show inflicted.  Having worked in TV, I do appreciate the ‘making’ of The Bachelor.  It takes a boatload of talented Hollywood producers, photographers, writers, and casting directors to pull off 20 weeks of hard core planning, into 6 weeks of vigorous and strategic shooting in exotic locations, four months of editing thousands of hours of raw tape, which is then turned into 3 continuous months of 2-hour ratings-induced episodes.  It’s a winning formula that has intrigued more than 100 million Americans since 2002, despite its meek 12.5% two-marriage success rate. Will Sean make it three? The numbers were up 3% this season, so something kept viewers tuned in. 

Everyone wants love.  Don’t care who you are.  We want it. We crave it.  We need it.  We all deserve it. Whether 8 or 80, we want to mean something to someone.  It’s called having heart.  Or maybe more importantly, giving heart.   

And we sure are looking for it.

Online dating is a booming billion dollar industry.  Personally, never tried it, but statistics show I’m in the minority.  One in five relationships start online these days.  Of the 40 million people who’ve winked or hit ‘send,’ 20% end up in committed relationships, and 17% get married. That’s five percentage points higher than The Bachelor.  No doubt, some actuarian, actually probably all, would probably argue with my simple Math.  I’m okay with that.

Oh, and the stats also show men still prefer blondes.

Blondes still prefer bad boys.

Bad boys are included in the 54 million Americans currently single.

And most are still looking for personality and good looks.

Of which 71% still believe in love at first sight.

Which is the most refreshing news I’ve heard all day.  Studies show it’s true.  In 2010, I wrote of a study conducted by then-visiting Syracuse University professor, Stephanie Ortigue, who in conjunction with Swiss researchers discovered, 12 areas of our mind, not heart, take a fifth of a second to fall in love.  My boss at the time asked me if I wanted to write some ‘cheesy’ story about love.  I told her I’d give it a whirl. The whirl made my head spin for a month as the press release/article made its way to hundreds of television stations in the U.S., and more than 50 countries, most recently being cited just last week. http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/344793  The Digital Journal will take you to my article which is a little more reader friendly. Love is pretty scientific, which let’s be honest, science doesn’t exactly fit on a Hallmark card, now does it?

“You have my heart,” sounds much more romantic than, “you have my mind.”   

Speaking of love at first sight, I’ll confidently add most women know in the first five minutes of meeting a guy for the first time… if he’ll ever get a chance with her.

It’s a simple test.

Which I cannot share.

Because blogs are PG.

And because it’s Lent.

And I’m Catholic.

And confessionals are confining.

And Hell is hot.

And because my mother reads this blog.

Because she lets me know reading my blog is the only way she knows I’m alive.  Because I don’t call nearly enough.  And because she already prays for me.  A lot. A bit of a stretch, but you get the point.

I could go on and on with safe and secure statistics, but I’m going to hang on a limb here – for just a minute – to share a few thoughts about love.  After all, it’s the most personal thing we do.  The most transcending.  And the most heartbreaking.

Artist Marina Abramovic and Ulay had an intense relationship in the 70’s before deciding to go separate ways.  They celebrated the end of their love affair with each walking the Wall of China from separate ends, meeting at the middle before embracing.  They would see each for the first time during Marina’s art performance at the MoMA in 2010.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OS0Tg0IjCp4

Love is a connection.

A soulful complement.

It picks you if you’re open.

And is purposeful.

Picture. Frame.

 It’s………

Oh, sorry!  THIS JUST IN FROM ABC!  Apparently, 28-year-old Texas businessman, Sean Lowe, hit it out of the park in the game of love, giving his Final Rose, and a hefty Neil Lane diamond clustery ring, to 26-year-old ‘apparently amazing’ Amazon graphic designer, Catherine Guidici. 

Good for them!  My prediction, an ABC ratings wedding this May! Gosh, I hope Sean finds his shirts by then, cuz he lost them all season long.

Which I won’t be watching because I’ll be tending to a diamond of my own…with three bases, a pitching mound, and a home plate, cheering on the Padres, Reds and Braves. 

Maybe even sitting next to…’him.

Simple Steps to Power Up Public Speaking

It’s not the Oscars, Grammys, or Emmy Awards by any stretch, but tomorrow, for the first time in quite some time, I’ll step up on a stage in front of a live audience to emcee my first prominent event in the big Atlanta ocean.  A transplant from Syracuse last May, the room will be filled with a sea of nearly 300 movers and shakers;  their faces unfamiliar to me, and mine unfamiliar to them.

It’s an honor to present 13 amazing women from across the country, and all walks of life and circumstances, scholarship money to complete their education. Some started last year, others 20 years ago.  The scholarships are made possible through Emerge, an organization empowering women through education.  We all deserve a second chance to get it right.  And sometimes, a third. 

People ask me quite often, what was it like to anchor the news?  How do you look into a camera?  How do you get on a stage in front of a large audience and have confidence?  How do you memorize everything?  Where do you start?  What if you freeze?  What if you fail? Do you get nervous?

Anchoring is a tremendous amount of responsibility, cameras weigh about 8 pounds these days and have way too much power, getting on stage is nerve racking, I don’t memorize because I speak from the heart and, when needed, stick to copy, I start with the end in mind, I’m too focused to freeze, failure’s not an option, and YES, I GET NERVOUS!!!

Barbra Streisand once forgot her lyrics during in a concert in Central Park and stopped performing live for 30 years. 

Adele pukes.

Rod Stewart gets nervous.

Laurence Olivier had to be pushed on stage.

Carly Simon poked herself with pins before a live performance.  

Even Andrea Bocelli, the most popular Italian and classical singer in the world, suffers that sinking feeling before performing, a feeling he says often remains throughout his performance.  Even at 54.

Performance anxiety is indiscriminate, regardless of age, opportunity or venue.  It just happens. You think you’re ready, and BAM, your mind gets fuzzy, your body sweats, your mouth dries up and butterflies uncomfortably nest inside your body.  You’re drugged with fear.

Yet corporate wants your presentation, the audience is waiting, or people are depending on you to hold the event they’ve planned for an entire year…together.  So you will, and you can.      

Anyone who’s ever spoken in public, especially in front of a large group, knows that sinking feeling an hour before a live TV show, event, or presentation.  The anxiety nudges your confidence, knowing the flow, the material, the message, the energy, the timing, the delivery, or the multi-million dollar contract is totally dependent - on YOU and your performance. Not to mention the added pressure that all eyes are on your face, your hair, your clothes, your presence, and usually often in my case, my five-inch heels. It’s the only way I can squeak past five feet tall so I look human above the podium, instead of a bobble head.  

But what if you can wrap your head around having the stage presence to go out there with all the passion in your heart, and compassion in your soul, and give your audience something they never expected.  It’s the only way I know how to deliver.  With soul.  Passion.  And compassion.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve anchored thousands of hours of live newscasts, emceed hundreds of events, given dozens of presentations, and even delivered a commencement speech resulting in an unexpected standing ovation.  It’s not that it’s easy to do.  It’s just, well, people keep asking.  And so, I say yes.  

So, after speaking to a couple of colleagues today who wanted advice on how to deal with performance anxiety, I thought I’d share a few quick tips I’ve learned about the art of public speaking.  Okay, maybe it’s not art.  But you can at least come to terms with it, and maybe even embrace it.

1. Nerves – Just like a player before a big game, use your nervous energy as positive energy.  It’s not that you’re afraid of the people in the audience any more than a running back is afraid of a football.  You’re afraid of the fear.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  Just your nerves have a little buzz going on.  Normal, normal, normal.

2. Dress in Classic, Elegant, MonotonesWhenever I give a presentation or emcee an event, I dress in camel or gray so to draw the audience to my face and message, not to draw them away with distracting prints, colors or jewelry.   

3. Water – Is your best friend.  Drink water before any presentation or performance as it saturates your vocal chords.  Even if you don’t drink it during your gig, there’s comfort in knowing it’s there if you get tripped up.

4. Controlled Energy – Energy is contagious, engaging and commanding.  I’m not talking screeching, yelling or shouting.  Project, pronounce and perform your voice.  Get excited about your material and your audience will too.  Kind of like a football coach at ballet practice.  It’s all in the delivery, tone, and voice modulation. 

5. Be Real – People dig real.  They get real.  They relate to real.  Fake is transparent.

6. Tell a Story – Life is a series of stories. People don’t remember dates.  They remember moments.  Your story is a chance to show your audience why their participation or attendance is important.  Your story is bridge that connects you to your audience.

7. Know your Material – Your audience is only as comfortable as you are.  You’re only as comfortable as your material.

8. Grab their Amygdala – The amygdala are raisin-shaped organs above both ears.  It’s the ‘fear or flight’ part of the body that instantly tells the brain if a bee or fly is on your leg.  You have about 30 seconds to grab the amygdala of your audience to hold their interest.  Maybe a minute.  Make it count.  The amygdala is also the part of your brain that’s making you nervous.  The very part of your brain that captivates your audience, gets your nerves in a tizzy.  Funny how that works. 

9. Know your Facial Acuity – The face emits a plethora of powerful data connecting (or disconnecting in some cases) you to your audience, signaling your sincerity, genuineness and trustworthiness.  It is the most engaging, intriguing and interesting part of our being.  Facial acuity is not about makeup, full lips or a chiseled chin.   It’s about connection.  Think Jack Nicholson, who knows exactly what to do with his face to make grass growing or paint drying seem interesting.  Like an actor on a Red Carpet, know what your face is doing.  Put your best face forward.

10. Smile – We’re not talking Miss America here.  We’re talking a chat with a good friend who hasn’t seen you in a while and wants to hear all about it.  Genuine, sincere, engaging smiles are home runs.

11. Open Body Language – Open your arms, directing the flow of energy to the audience.  They’ll receive your energy and give it back to you when you do this.  And the bond is set in place.

12. Be Kind – To your audience and to yourself.  Value your audience’s time and stay on time.  People  always have some place to be and they choose to be with you.  Additionally, be kind to yourself.  Most people in the audience know darn well they’d rather have you up there than them.  For that reason alone, they’re more forgiving and compassionate for your imperfections than you give them credit.

13. Stay on Time – If you’re given 7 minutes or 70, go under time budget.  The audience will appreciate you valued their time, leaving them a little more time for them to thank you for a job well done.

For more information about Emerge Scholarships, empowering women to continue their education, log onto http://www.emergescholarships.org/

 

  

 

 

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