Sweaty Impulses & The One That Got Away

I’d never given much thought to the term ‘maxi pad’ *waves good-bye to a few male readers* until a trip to see my family in Minnesota. Between the altitude of the plane ride and the overabundance of estrogen in my largely female family, I should’ve known that a less-welcome guest, Aunt Flo, would join me. No big deal, right? One would think.

“Uh…Mom?” In the bathroom I’d found only shelves of towels, shampoo and bulk-size paper products—seriously, enough to mummify an army. “I thought you said you had girl stuff.”

[girl stuff: A Minnesota-polite term for maxi pads and tampons]

Wait. Those giant paper products were the girl stuff.

[maxi: A thing that is very large of its kind or a skirt reaching to the ankle]  —Dictionary.com

Not only were the pads—if you could call them that—large, but as sticky as dollar store band aids and as soft as styrofoam bricks. In fact “brick” is about the best description I can conjure. But like many Minnesotans, my family comes from sturdy Scandinavian stock. I could take it! And heck. A maxi-brick beats a toilet paper wad any day. *waves good-bye to a few more males* (Thanks for trying!) I could always buy more girl stuff during our errands-run later.

First, I decided to hit the local gym. Heating the body early in the day is often a must in MN. Others must agree, as the place was packed. I soon spotted another crowd attractor. Between the free weights and the ab-er-sizer machine stood a muscular trainer. Let’s call him Sven (Svelte + Norwegian). If I’d been in Hollywood, I would’ve assumed Sven was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s trainer, an actor who plays an athlete on TV or the latest gym infomercial fit model. Add to his physique wavy blond hair, turquoise eyes and a friendly smile and you can imagine the result—chick magnet extraordinaire.

Uff-da, Sven! Where are your pants???

But I wasn’t there to Sven-ogle. I wanted to sweat. (No, not that kind of sweat, you naughty-naughties.) So I hopped on a treadmill and started running to the beat of my workout tune mix.

Several songs in, I felt something. A subtle draft. Just more chill, I figured, and kept running. As the draft intensified, I sensed what was happening. I looked down in horror. *insert JAWS theme* The maxi-brick moved, seemingly in slow motion, out of my shorts and toward the treadmill belt, bounced off, flew through the air and landed—inches from svelte Sven’s feet and amidst a crowd of exercisers.

[impulse: a sudden wish or urge the prompts and unpremeditated act or feeling; an abrupt inclination] — Dictionary.com

If this were a romance tale, Sven would have prompted my sudden urge and wishes and been the one that got away. But I don’t write romance, and this real-life story is far from heartfelt. (Think horror, thriller and Seventeen magazine’s “Say Anything…”)

Without a thought, I leapt from the treadmill, grabbed the styro-brick, carried it back to the machine with total nonchalance and pretended it was one of those towels used to wipe sweat from the equipment. Yes, I “cleaned” the treadmill with styro-max. My cool facade lasted until I reached the brisk outdoor air, which, for once, felt GREAT. I laughed so hard I spilled tears and told no one until several years later.

To this day, I don’t know if Sven or others recognized what actually happened or if the double takes I perceived inspired nothing but inner-giggles and embarrassing thoughts. (“OMG! I actually thought she…!!!”) If anyone called my bluff, I’m sure a rendition of the story circulates somewhere. If you’re out there, bluff-callers…do I want to know?

Your turn! Any embarrassing tales to tell? Have your “impulses” surprised you? Have you fallen prey to a maxi-brick pitfall?

The Gift of a Name: A Special Guest Post by Mark B. Saunders

Earlier this year, my friend Diane Israel asked if she could put me in touch with Mark Saunders—a friend of hers who had launched an online health publication. Flattered, I welcomed the introduction. I soon learned that his publication’s tag line, “Enliven the body, Awaken the mind, Free the spirit,” suits not only its content, but Mark’s personal philosophies and how the venture came into fruition. It seemed a no-brainer that I’d not only contribute articles, but remain a fan.

Today I’m thrilled to bring you a special post by Mark Saunders—an editor, publisher and human being we can all learn from. I hope you find his story as inspiring as I did.


The Gift of A Name
by Mark B. Saunders

My business partner and I were less than a month away from launching this super cool health and wellness website when my partner received a long-term consulting offer that was too good to turn down. Suddenly, months of preparation went right out the window with the baby and the bath water.

Now what am I going to do?

Shortly after receiving the news, I did what I usually do when things feel overwhelming: I went for a bike ride. I honestly don’t remember much about the ride other than repeating optimistic platitudes to myself like: Don’t fight the river; there’s a reason for everything; something wonderful will come from this; there’s a lesson here; no effort is wasted. But most of that inner monologue was designed to keep me from pulling over during the steepest parts of the hills and just sitting down by the side of the road and staring off into the distance while the cars whizzed by.

When I got home, I made a half-hearted attempt at yoga—my other major stress reducer —then crawled into the hottest bath I could stand. Some of my best thinking happens in the bath, frequently in the company of the New York Times. As I sat there, sweating in the near-scalding water, I realized that I wanted to go ahead with this business idea on my own—even though I knew nothing about the technical aspects of creating and maintaining a website.

OK. What are you going to call it?

I didn’t have a clue. The old name just popped out of my former partner’s mouth when we were brainstorming about what separated us from similar websites. “Wait! That’s it. That’s the name!” As I stepped out of the tub, pink from my chest down, a voice inside my head said, Name it after your dad. Call it Bartlett’s Integrated Health Journal.

That’s too easy, I thought. But after a week of pondering other potential names, I couldn’t come up with anything I liked half as much. Then it was a matter of calling my dad and asking him if it was all right to use his name.

Although my relationship with my father is great these days, that hasn’t always been the case.

Delving into the details of my family’s dysfunction isn’t necessary to get across the idea that our family was profoundly screwed up. Like most people, my father did the best he could with the tools he had at the time; unfortunately for both of us, the trauma I experienced as a child was beyond my dad’s skill set. Like the doctors and therapists my father sent me to, he lacked the necessary tube of “Humpty Dumpty Superglue.” (Although he could recite “Humpty Dumpty” in German, which made my sister and I fall down with laughter when we were children.)

Our father-son relationship suffered the kind of collateral damage that doesn’t heal easily or overnight. There were years where we didn’t speak to each other; I was hurt; he was disappointed and we were both angry. Not exactly the sort of environment that fosters the resolution of deep-seated emotional issues.

It has taken decades of therapy, failed marriage (both of us), a cancer diagnosis (mine), and a very messy dis-engagement (mine), during all of which my dad had my back. Slowly my hands have unclenched; slowly my daily experience has shifted from a steady stream of self-hatred to memories of a very painful time; slowly forgiveness has seeped in.

Despite our emotional travails, one of the gifts I inherited from my father was his orderly scientific way of thinking. He’s a doctor, after all. Thinking logically, systematically was something his trade required and something I’ve wanted to emulate. Though I wanted him to be proud of me, I also just thought that sense of organized mental mastery was cool.

When I asked my father for permission to use his name for my website, I wouldn’t say I was surprised that he said “yes,” but I was definitely pleased. When people ask about the site’s name, it feels good to say I named it after my father. It’s also a great icebreaker for conversations about why I decided to undertake this project. Now that Bartlett’s is six months old, I can actually say I’m proud of it.


It turns out that everything I told myself on that bike ride was true: fighting the way things unfold is futile; it appears that larger forces were at work; something wonderful did come of this string of events (www.bartlettshealth.com); the lessons learned were many and my persistence was rewarded in the end, with almost no wasted effort.

Best of all, my dad and I have an ongoing dialogue about health-related issues, which consistently spills into everyday chats about life, people we care about and our favorite sports teams (of course).

Does he like the site? Is he proud of it? I think so, and it certainly gives us plenty to talk about in a very logical and orderly way.


What about you? Have you given the gift of a name? Overcome challenges that could’ve been deal breakers? Any insight to share with Mark? I always love hearing from you. (And psst! Don’t forget to pop by next week for Goody Goody, Part II… ;))

How Does Your Story Grow?

My dad is a master gardener. He taught me early on that canned peas are to fresh what beef jerky is to top sirloin and that it takes skill, patience and passion to cultivate organic works of art. While I’m grateful to have inherited his zest for creating, I gained not a cell of his green thumb. (My dead Chia Pet’s ghost will vouch for me…May it RIP.)

Gardening philosophies work well in writing. Some proper planning and nurturing can help ensure that our stories grow, thrive and nourish ourselves and our readers. So don your grungies. We’re about to get dirty…

Lesson #1: Assess Your Seeds
Many of us recall the moment the “seed” of our work first appeared. Sometimes we seek it out—”Hmm… I’d like to write a novel. It will be about..hmm…” More often, the notions strike us out of the perceivable blue—”Give me a pen! HAVE to write this down.” These “seeds” can strike at any time of the day or night, whether you’re half way through your first novel or haven’t yet scripted a sentence.

People often ask writers where we get our ideas and whether we fear we’ll “run out.” This makes me laugh. We’re overloaded with ideas; we need only stay open to them. I have a Word document and several notebooks of ideas that have struck me at random times. It doesn’t matter where you jot them down, just that you do.

Lesson #2: Prioritize Passion
Tomatoes may seem easier to grow then, say, avocados. But if your dreams feature artichokes and you crave homemade guacamole at every meal, plant artichokes!(Lucky for us, we don’t have to worry ourselves with season or soil-appropriate ventures…) I asked my agent recently which book he’d prefer I focus on completing next. His reply? “Whichever you feel most strongly about.” He knows that this is where the best, sellable stories begin—with passion. Ask yourself what you want to write, then write that.

Multi-published author, Marc Shuster, shares some fantastic thoughts on writing “for love” in this post.

Lesson #3: Start Small
As a kid, authors were some of my heros. One thing that awed me about each book was the fact that someone wrote it. (“It’s so long! So many words… Seems so complicated. How do they keep their facts straight? Must take forever…”) If you focus on cultivating an orchard when all you have is an apple seed, intimidation can damage your soil and send you dashing in the opposite direction.

My first novel started as a short film that became a short story and so on. Don’t obsess over the end at the beginning; start with one line, one page, one chapter… If you’re approaching a second or third work, or wish to try something in another format or genre, apply similar principles. Write some lyrics, not a symphony. Sketch out a few scenes before the whole series. You get the idea.

Lesson #4: Grow First, Prune Later
A talented friend of mine is working on his memoir. “I have a hard time knowing what I should put in and leave out,” he said, in part because he fears offending people in his story. Such fear can sabotage your process. I suggested he get his entire story out, with awareness that he can trim away whatever he’d like later on.

Whether you outline or not, allowing what crops up to unfold as you write can lead to some of the most genuine, unique and riveting additions to your story. Yes, you’ll create some needless, perhaps ridiculous, bits. Who cares? Consider them weeds and pluck them out during the revision process.

Lesson #5: Keep A Mulch Pile
Our hearts can ache as we delete that “totally amazing sentence” we wrote. I place whatever I cut away from my work in a Word document titled “omits.” Do I end up using any of it? Rarely. But it makes trimming and editing far easier. If what you cut truly is fabulous but doesn’t fit your current work, save it for something else.

I also suggest “mulching” paper. I print out pages I’ve written to read and review, then recycle them. Use them as scratch paper or get creative. I made this at my “novel-tea” party—if you look closely you’ll get a scrambled sneak peak at my book. 😉

Lesson #6: Share Your Goods
Fruits and veggies only do some much good sitting in your backyard soil. Pick them once they’re ripe. (In other words, don’t send a manuscript or query letter out before you’ve raked over every detail and shared it with expert eyes.) Another way to share involves writing to and for others. This post by Joe Bunting, writer, editor and founder of The Write Practice, features excellent insight on writing for people you believe in.

Lesson #7: Consider Your Readers
“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.” – H. Fred Dale, gardening editor for the Toronto Star

You can cultivate the most splendid roses on the planet. But if the recipient is allergic, you’ll have problems… Who is your reader? What type of experience to you hope to impart? Read within your genre, if you have one. Print your manuscript and read it away from your desk, as a reader. And seek opinions from trusted, literary friends. Keep your readers in mind while revising in particular.

What about you??? How does your “garden” grow? Any tips to share? Challenges you’d like to overcome? I always love hearing from you… 🙂