Monday, January 31, 2011

The little runner who could. Or couldn't. We'll find out soon enough.

Okay. That’s 37.1 down; 413.9 to go.

Almost inexplicably, I’ve become a runner. Let me rephrase that: I'm not a “real” runner because I log nearly all my miles on a treadmill, and I’ve never run a road race, and I’ve never considered myself even remotely athletic. Ask anyone who knows me: I’m not. Not by the longest shot.

But last year, I started worrying about my health. I weighed more than I ever had without being pregnant – maybe even without being pregnant. (I never put on more than twenty pounds or so with my pregnancies, even when I was carrying twins.) I worried about my sugar and my blood pressure. This was no good and just because I was getting older, I didn’t have to get fatter, did I? If I kept going at this rate, I’d be ten pounds heavier every ten years. No thanks.

So last spring, I started a diet. I’ve been on it ever since and have lost about thirty pounds. (I can't believe I had to lose thirty pounds but I did. That's what happens when you tell yourself things like, "I just need to lose maybe 10 or 12 pounds." Except you really need to lose much, much more.) Not to say I don’t indulge once in a while in truly decadent food but much more often, I consider and am aware of what I eat.

Last spring, I also started walking on our treadmill, and then walking and running a tiny bit, and then running slowly for a little tiny bit of time and then running faster and longer. And now I’m running a 5k a few times a week in under thirty minutes.

That’s not amazing or anything – I get that - but for someone like me, it’s very nearly miraculous. Who knew? If you’re someone who has been running for twenty years, you’re thinking a combination of “this is barely worth noting,” and “what took you so long?”

You're right but even with my very delayed start, I like the energy it seems to give me. I even like challenge it still presents every single time I get started. I like that I’ve been able to pull some of my favorite clothing out of my closet, clothing that I tell myself I've been “resting” for a couple of years.

It’s never easy but it is satisfying on some level. I sometimes have a few days go by and worry that this is the beginning of the end and I won’t run another step for months. That hasn’t happened in the past eight months but still, it could. It might. It really might.

But I have few illusions about this. I don’t ever expect to run a race of any kind because that’s not what running is about for me. It’s about blood pressure and cholesterol and being grateful for the healthy body I’ve been given.

Here’s how I’ve been able to keep going. Even when I really want to quit, I break my time down into tiny bits and convince myself to stick with it. “My God, you can do anything for another two minutes, can’t you?” “Okay, another 8/10th’s of a mile. You can do 8/10th’s of a mile, right?” “You’ve run for 26 minutes. Four more? Four more? I think so….” And it seems to keep me going.

But even that gets tedious. So when the new year started, I thought about what could possibly keep me going all year. What could I track in a bigger way to keep me slogging through, week after week?

I decided to run to Toronto, on paper anyway. That means over the course of the year, I’ll need to run 450 miles. Or, since I’m nothing if not anal about numbers, that means I need to cover 37.5 miles a month. And as you could see at the start of this post, I’m not too far off my mark.

The bad news is we’ve done something that has to be almost unprecedented in our home. We’ve owned two treadmills in the past twenty-five years or so and after years of on and off use, we wore out the first one. Over the weekend, we wore out the second. It's under warranty and we're getting it fixed but who could imagine that? How often does Sears get a call to fix a treadmill, much less two calls from the same household?

So I need to get my miles in elsewhere. Not impossible but not nearly as easy as wandering into my basement a couple of nights a week. Especially when it’s a pretty miserable winter. When it’s not snowing or sleeting outside, it’s seven degrees. That’s super.

Maybe this little note to myself – and you - will help keep me on track. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll get as far as the greater Scranton area and find myself figuratively hanging around there for months on end as I lounge on the sofa. Or I’ll get in a good hundred miles, take a break, and still have 345 miles to go on November 30. For now, I’m looking at the next month, and another 37.5 miles.

Which is about 9.4 miles a week.

Or about 1.34 miles a day.

Or 2.34 miles, four times a week.

I can do that, right? For another 48 weeks or so?

I guess we’ll find out.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Love: It might not be all you need, but it’s almost all you need.

Amy Chua has ruffled a lot of maternal feathers over the last few weeks. She is a Yale Law School Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a book that chronicles her experience as a mother of two daughters. Her twist? Her Chinese heritage and how it had an impact on the choices she made as she raised her children.

Without belaboring this, she tells story after story about how the Chinese perspective on raising children differs from that of the “Western” moms and dads. If you haven’t seen her interviews or read any articles, here are a couple of quick statistics and a few excerpts to give you a flavor of her view:

Almost 70% of Western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.”

0% of Chinese mothers agreed.

Most Chinese mothers believe their children can be “the best” students.

They believe “academic achievement reflects successful parenting.”

They believe unsuccessful students were the offspring of parents who “were not doing their job.”

Chinese parents spend about 10 times as long as Western parents drilling their children on academics.

There’s plenty more but that’s enough to tell you that Chua takes an approach that assumes a couple of things raising children:

Instead of focusing on and worrying about a child’s self-esteem and fragile ego, she claims that Chinese parents “assume strength, not fragility” in their children and “as a result, they behave differently.”

She believes her children owe her everything. She’s done her part at making them a success; they must spend the rest of their lives acknowledging that and “repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.”

Chinese parents like Chua believe that “they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences.”

I have no idea if she’s onto something here or if she’s a nut job who has browbeaten her daughters into submission on the road to her definition of “success” and quelled any dreams they may have had that didn’t quite mesh with her idea of what is valuable. Among those ideas: earning a grade lower than an A [ever, in any subject], being the number one student in every subject other than gym and drama, learning only piano and violin [no other instrument, ever], not being part of the school play and watching no television and playing no video games. Ever. Many typical childhood activities seem pointless and intrusive in Chua’s view, sleepovers, camp, and play dates among them.

Look, the village that many claim it takes to raise children notwithstanding, every parent on the planet has at least some autonomy when it comes to their children. We’re all, hmmmm, quirky and crazy in all kinds of ways and all of us come up with some strange ideas along the way as our children arrive and make us into instant parents. With little more to go on than instinct, the endless and well-meaning advice from people I mostly ignored, and a combination of Drs. Brazelton (since dismissed) and Spock (less so), and a dose of Rosemond good sense plus Quindlin pragmatism and brilliance, I tried my best to help the boys go through challenging life stages and then move onto young adulthood.

I might not agree with Chua and so what? I’m not raising her children and she’s not raising mine. And absolutely, I think she’s extreme and possibly borderline abusive but I don’t have her heritage. I didn’t grow up with parents who very likely modeled that kind of “practice, practice, practice, practice, practice until you attain excellence” behavior for her.

She admits to calling her daughter “garbage” as a result of her disrespectful behavior. She claims bad academic news [which is the rarest of occasions] would be met with “a screaming, hair-tearing explosion.” The Chinese solution to sub-standard performance “is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.” When her daughter, Lulu (age 7), was unable to learn a piano piece, she drilled her relentlessly, threatened to give away toys, and then threatened “no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years” and told her to stop being “lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.” (Surprise! Lulu learned the piece perfectly. Quite a victory, yes? And well worth the effort to perform perfectly at a children’s piano recital, right?)

But here’s the thing: in one way, and one way only, I envy Chua. I envy her certainty. If nothing else, she has complete confidence in her choices as a mother. She doesn’t appear to have spent so much as half a minute wondering if her choices are correct, or healthy, or harmful or bats- -t crazy.

While I don’t agree with her, the idea of being so secure, so absolute about the choices you make with your children and how you ultimately raise them appeals to me on some level.

Maybe this is erupting in me because my oldest child just turned twenty-one. By almost all standards, and certainly in the Western world, he is an adult. And as we drove to Philadelphia to take him out for dinner and celebrate his landmark birthday, I kept thinking: how did this happen? How did he get to be 21? What did I forget to do, to tell him, to teach him, to warn him about? (What didn’t I forget, more likely.) What did I do too often, to seldom? What did I do very, very badly?

I’m certain Chua has never had a moment like this. I’m also certain she’d consider me a slacker beyond all hope and label my children “failures.”

And this is where I have my absolute certainty. That would be exactly where she is entirely wrong. I’ll readily admit to breaking many of her “rules” for raising “successful” kids. And in exchange for that choice, I had experiences with my sons that I wouldn’t trade for a lifetime high honor rolls, perfect recitals and valedictory speeches. Experiences I’ll remember until the day I die because they are just that amazing; just that loving; just that – shall I say it? – perfect.

Somehow, when I look at it that way, even with my questions unanswered and still troubling, and when on a very bad day, the moments of ‘growing up’ sadness and discomfort loom large in my memory, I’m not longer unsure about what a “successful” parent is.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Amazing where just three miles will take you.

In the spirit of “who would have expected THAT could happen?” I give you the following observation, that occurred to me, as most interesting ideas do, while I was logging in my 3 miles this morning on the treadmill.

The always watchable Groundhog Day was on a channel that appears to be the "All Groundhog Day Almost All of the Time Channel" and I stopped on it for a while. It was the party scene, where Phil Conners bestows a wedding gift on the newlyweds, Fred and Debbie Kaiser: tickets to Wrestlemania. They are overjoyed and thank Phil for keeping them together even though Debbie had expressed some doubts about the wedding.

As I hit the 1.2 mile mark and flipped though channels, I skipped the MAX channels since we don’t subscribe to that service. I noticed the always compelling Revolutionary Road was playing at some point today, and thought about one of the most interesting characters in it: John Givings. That guy was crazier than a fruit bat (thank you, Urban Dictionary) but you couldn't take your eyes off him during his brief, memorable scenes.

Which started me thinking about Boardwalk Empire, the biggest series HBO has introduced in years. Packed with characters we can’t decide whether we love or despise, Federal Agent Nelson Van Alden may well be crazier than a fish with t--s. (I LOVE U.D.!) He’s disturbing in so many ways and yet you have to feel compassion for him. At least I do.

Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand: who would have expected that Fred Kaiser would one day become Nelson Van Alden? Michael Shannon, playing a very minor role in 1993 in Groundhog Day, built a career, as many actors do, year after year, in theater after theater, in film after film, and nearly twenty years after his first Internet Movie Database credit, stars in one of cable television’s marquee shows of the season.

2. something miles ....

Which brings me to this, really. It’s a new year. Every January I kind of get into this “measurement” frame of mind and wonder if I’ve reached the place I imagined I would a year earlier; how many opportunities I may have missed over the past twelve months. How many I took that came my way. What brought me some joy; what didn't. As my lovely, brilliant friend Cindy asks: what to take with me and what to leave behind?

I used to take comfort in the fact that my zodiac sign indicated that I would achieve success “later in life” – but I’m getting there so hurry up already! - although now I can’t even count on that anymore since apparently I have a new sign. For God’s sake: if you can’t count on your astrological sign to help frame your life, what can you count on??! [Kidding – I have no interest in nor do I follow astrology.]

From there, I leap to a “what is success?” question and try to remind myself that in so many ways my life is blessed. So many ways.

So okay – I don’t have a syndication deal. I have – on a very good day – about one thousand people reading this blog and a bunch of people sharing columns through Facebook or email. I'm sincerely and deeply grateful for every bit of it and encouraged to continue doing whatever this is. Many of the people who contact me are lovely folks who take a moment to write to tell me how ill-informed, miserable and misogynistic I am. I prefer to think of myself as incrankulous (feeling incredulity and cranky simultaneously.)

Others are much more straightforward: "You're an idiot." Still others are kind and help me believe I’m not the last person on earth who looks askance at the world around us and wonders what the ---- happened.

The instant gratification that’s now standard has killed the work ethic - and the excellence - that used to be required for success. It takes a You Tube moment to get you a voice over deal for your golden voice. It apparently takes a national campaign for the second highest political office on this country to get your own travel show on a cable channel. It takes an MTV show about young people living at the shore to get you a book deal and allow you to create your “brand.” It takes a Twitter feed to share your father’s ideas on a regular basis to publish a book of them and develop a television show.

Here’s the thing. I’m not saying these people shouldn’t have “worked it” and come out of their fifteen minutes with the deals they have. I don’t support them but others do and whatever. I won’t buy Snookie’s book but she’ll sell plenty without my twenty bucks. I don’t watch Sarah Palin’s Alaska but plenty of people do. God bless.

But I am troubled by this: work hard, do it by the rules, try your best, strive for excellence, keep honing your skills, put yourself out there regularly in front of the right people, make connections, keep building your portfolio – that’s all so retro, isn’t it? So pointless. I have a feeling every single one of these ideas is going to make its way out of our lexicon.

I think about the voiceover / broadcasting professional who didn’t get the job because Ted Williams did. ( I appreciate that Williams turned his life around and respect that enormously. Achieving sobriety is awe-inspiring to me. I'm just wondering why, in his 2 + years of sobriety - he wasn't applying for jobs, and possibly working at a small station to start to rebuild his career. Why stand at the roadside hoping for a break? I guess that's another way to go with the job search.)

I think about the travel journalists who have educated themselves about the wilderness but don't even get an interview when Discovery produces a show about Alaska and needs a host.

I despair for the writer who has a fabulous manuscript languishing in an editor’s office because she doesn’t have a national cable show to back it up. For the hilarious writer who can’t get an appointment with an agent because he has only 10,000 Twitter followers.

And then there is someone like Susan Boyle. Like the others, she came out of nowhere and is now an international sensation but I give her this: at least she pursued her dream, albeit through a television talent show. The truth is, she knew she would never achieve success taking a conventional route. She was too old, too fat and too dowdy. She took a chance, and put herself out there in front of one of the more ruthless judges on the planet, and that’s what sets her apart for me.

But if You Tube, unsuccessful political campaigns, Twitter feeds and cable television are singularly shaping our national conversation and serving as the threshold for our culture, for our entertainment, and for our enlightenment, we’ve set the bar very low indeed. I get it: The people who produce the books and shows and commercials want success - NOW - and they're going to make the deals that get them headlines and money or, ideally, both. Calling them "risk averse" is putting it too mildly.

Honestly, is it me this time? Am I the only one who feels this way???

God knows. But all this to say: I salute Michael Shannon on his career and the long build that has resulted in his "overnight" success. I thank him for reminding me that hard work, tenacity, and talent sometimes – just sometimes – trump hype and headlines.

And that’ll do it. 3.1 miles.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Why skilled translators – and a good copyeditor – are worth the money.

Clarifying note: I left my new book at home, and had already read the magazines I bought in the terminal, and done some work on my laptop. Hence, the following:

I know I shouldn’t admit this but I RARELY read advertorials in magazines. You know, those pages designed to look like articles that are really ads. I say rarely because once in a while I am interested – at least somewhat – in the content but they always look like a “cheat” to me and somehow less worthy of my attention.

However, they often do contain reasonable, useful information for the right reader. Who am I to judge? In an effort to broaden my horizons and stop being so rigid, I read one on my flight last week, in the same issue I read in December. (Note to Continental: refresh your magazines!!)

It was enlightening. Turns out, I’ve been missing out on a lot of entertaining reading by skipping these pages. I offer the following excerpts for your reading pleasure, all punctuation and sentence (?) construction intact from the printed page:

Modern medical science now regards aging as a disease that is treatable and preventable and that “aging” , the disease, is actually acompilation of various diseases and pathologies, from everything, like a rise in blood glucose and pressure to diabetes, skin wrinkling and so on.

Review your comma splice rules and try this:

The next big breakthrough was to come in 1997 when a group of doctors and scientists, developed an all-natural source product which would cause your own natural HGH to be released again and do all the remarkable things it did for you in your 20’s. Now available to every adult for about the price of a coffee and donut a day.

Or this:

GHR is truly a revolutionary paradigm shift in medicine, and, like any modern leap frog advance, many others will be left in the dust holding their limited, or useless drugs and remedies.

Or this! I'm so sorry.

It is now thought that HGH is so comprehensive in its healing and regenerative powers that it is today, where the computer industry was twenty years ago, that it will displace so many prescription and non-prescription drugs and health remedies that it is staggering to think of.

Finally, my favorite passage (italics my own): It scares you! It scolds the government! It makes a compelling offer! Offers a case study! It's ridiculous!

If you want to stay on top of your game, physically and mentally as you age, this product is a boon, especially for the highly skilled professionals who have made large investments in their education, and experience. Also with the failure of Congress to honor our seniors with pharmaceutical coverage policy, it’s more important than ever to take pro-active steps to safeguard your health. Continued use of GHR will make a radical difference in your health, HGH is particularly helpful to the elderly, who, given a choice, would rather stay independent in their home, strong, healthy and alert enough to manage their own affairs, exercise and stay involved in their communities. Frank, age 85, walks two miles a day, plays golf, belongs to a dance club for seniors, had a girlfriend again and doesn’t need Viagra, passed his drivers test and is hardly ever home when we call – GHR delivers.

“..had a girlfriend again?” Had her? Is she gone? Did she not take HGH or GHR?

Okay, okay, okay. I know. I’m being very hard on the “reverse aging miracle” that is found in HGH or GHR or whatever they’re calling it. I am overlooking the “doctor recommended,” “all natural formula” being offered by Global Health Products. Who am I to judge? After all, it claims it can relieve symptoms of Asthma, Angina, Chronic Fatigue, Constipation, Lower back pain and Sciatica, Cataracts and Macular Degeneration, Menopause, Fibromyalgia, Regular and Diabetic Neuropathy, Hepatitis, helps Kidney Dialysis and Heart and Stroke recovery. It also reverses baldness and color restored. Improves sleep and emotional stability. Heightens five senses awareness. Increases skin thickness. What doesn’t it do????

It’s finally available to me: “..just in time for the aging Baby Boomers and everyone else from age 30 to 90 who doesn’t want to age rapidly but rather stay young, beautiful and healthy all of the time.”

“All of the time.” I ask you: if you’ve made it to age 90, do you want to stop aging rapidly? Do you want instead to stay young and beautiful ‘all of the time?’ And if you’re 30, are you concerned that you’re not staying ‘young, beautiful and healthy all of the time?’

And not for nothing, what if you’re, let’s say, 51, and you’re not beautiful? Does this make you beautiful? I’m guessing most of us need some help if I read this passage correctly: “Like a picked flower cut from the source, we gradually wilt physically and mentally and become vulnerable to a host of degenerative diseases, that we simply weren’t susceptible to in our early adult years.” Good God. Now I’m really depressed.

And by the way, they offer a guarantee. “..we are so confident of the difference GHR can make in your life we offer a 100% refund on unopened containers.” But how do you know if it works if you don’t open any ….oh, forget it. I want to try it. Just need to know if I can afford it…let me check. Okay. They offer an 877 number, a website …and NO PRICE. Anywhere on the page. I have no idea if this is $9.99 plus Shipping and Handling or $39.95 or $299.95 a month.

I know it probably costs no more than $9,999 / year (asides my own): “Growth Hormone first synthesized in 1985 under the Reagan Orphan drug act, to treat dwarfism (dwarfism??), was quickly recognized to stop aging in its tracks and reverse it to a remarkable degree. Since then, only the lucky (lucky??) and rich have had access to it at the cost of $10,000 US per year.

Oh, by the way: “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.”

I can only guess the following: many of the passengers on a plane are tired, cranky, business people who spend at least part of every flight re-evaluating their lives and trying to figure out how being on a plane and traveling to God knows where is what they imagined they’d be doing at this point of their lives. Or maybe that’s just me – I admit it. At some point in every trip, whether it’s on the plane, or in the rental car driving to another hotel, I think: “Really? This is what you were born to do?” And then I get lost – invariably – and get crankier because I missed the turn to What’s It Hotel just outside You Never Heard of It, Texas, Not Near Anything Remotely Fun, Florida or someplace equally diverting.

Maybe it’s the recirculated air in the plane that helps us believe these kinds of offers could be valid.

It was amusing, nonetheless and I'm not one to turn down amusement of any kind. Now I’m going to read these ads on every flight.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New year , anachronistic calendar. Now that's progress.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a harmless enough sounding website titled See Jane Work. The premise of supplying women with useful, attractive tools to manage our busy lives is inoffensive enough. Nothing wrong with a little stylish organization, I thought.

Then I wondered if I could find something like it called See John Work, a website developed to accomplish the same thing for men. You won’t be surprised to hear that it doesn’t exist. I did find websites called 'Office Depot' or 'Staples.' They sell similar kinds of stuff – but only to men I guess. We’ve come a long way, baby.

I didn’t really mind the See Jane Work website, or even the idea of it, until I came across my favorite thing: calendars for women, with an example already filled in so one could more easily grasp the concept of how one is supposed to utilize such a mysterious tool. This one was particularly disheartening, but not in the usual way. Sure, it had the usual notations I find maddening: in this case, our fictitious super mom of three had no less than six activities in one week scheduled for her own pleasure, including lunch and dinner dates, coffee catch-ups, a party, an exercise class and a walk with a friend. She also noted that she had to “order pizza” on Friday evening and “go grocery shopping” on Sunday.

Whew! Isn’t that the truth! I, too, find it’s so hard to remember stuff like that unless I write it in my calendar.

I want the kind of life – I swear to God I want to at least try it – where you are so ridiculously rigid or so blatantly not busy that you have the time to write ‘order pizza’ or ‘go grocery shopping’ on your calendar.

But that’s not the worst of it. Jump onto See Jane Work and you can buy a copy of something called the Mom Agenda. The agenda gives you room for multiple kids or commitments so you can schedule your week something like this one, from the sample pages: swimming class that conflicts with tumbling class that conflicts with soccer that conflicts with you baking brownies or cupcakes or attending enrichment puppet-making class, whatever that is. Somewhere along the line you can also write yourself this quick note, “don’t forget cello.” I studied the example weekly planner very carefully, and I couldn’t find cello lessons scheduled for anyone during this busy week. Maybe our super Mom is doing her Nero impersonation, if you will, and playing while her calendar (and her sanity) burns.

My very favorite notation on the Mom Agenda was this one that our stylish, organized Mom wrote to herself about picking up her daughter: “4:20 – pick up Jenna.”

4:20? 4:20??? Are you kidding me? What did she do before she became a mother, launch the space shuttle? My kids were lucky if I knew the right day to pick them up, let alone the right hour. Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad but I admit to driving them to places they didn’t need to be on days they didn’t need to be there for appointments they didn’t have.

I know what you’re saying. If I had used a planner like the Mom Agenda, I’d never goof that stuff up again. Well, you’d be wrong about that. I guarantee you I’d write it down on the wrong day.

You won’t be surprised to learn I discovered this whole bit of nonsense though another website: Alpha Mom. Yes, of course I checked. There is no website titled Alpha Dad.

While I was shopping for Christmas gifts, I stood in awe of the calendars on display in Barnes and Noble. More of this mom-madness. Ready? Here’s a sample of what I found: Mom’s Plan It (Plan it – get it?), Do-It-All Mom, More Time Moms, Mom’s Family Calendar and Mom’s Home Planet. All told, there were nine calendars designed specifically for Moms, one family calendar, one for teens, and one for college students.

There were ZERO calendars developed for Dads. ZERO.

You know why? Because the idea of a calendar that works very well for a woman vs. a calendar that works for men is ridiculous. Also because men understand that they don’t need a specific “man” calendar to schedule appointments or reminders about events. They would simply never support an industry as specious one that publishes “guy” calendars. The calendars men use have nothing to do with family, or noting soccer practice or school events or music lessons or buying groceries or ordering pizza. The only calendars I’ve ever seen men buy have women on them. There you go. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models. That’s a guy calendar.

Okay. I know men buy other calendars. Let’s just leave it at this: men use calendars as organizational tools and invest nothing more and nothing less into them. They don’t imagine they could ever validate them as men, or as fathers or as professionals. How very sensible.

It’s 2011. Thirty-nine short years ago, Ms. Magazine hit newsstands and put a printed stamp of legitimacy on the nascent women’s movement in this country. And just thirty-nine years later, I’m standing in Barnes and Noble facing a wall of “women are still more needy and less secure about themselves and their roles in life than men” calendars. We marched for this?

My question is: Why do some women still feel compelled to prove something amazing and marvelous about themselves to every other woman on the planet, in this case, something that usually involves uber-organization and efficiency, all wrapped up in the latest style?

Someday – with apologies to Tom Wolfe - I’m going to write a book and call it I Am Renee’s Planner. I’ll discuss the many life stages I’ve weathered – and triumphed over - using nothing but a 99-cent spiral notepad and a leaky pen. Maybe I can sell it on See Jane Work.