Thursday, April 29, 2010

Boys to Men — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Not long ago, I wrote a kind of tongue-in-cheek post about how boys and girls are innately different and that there's not much we can do about it. While I stand by my premise (as far as it goes), I'm a little concerned that my meticulous research (conducted over 20 years as a stepmom and mom) could be used to justify more adult-oriented "boys will be boys" shenanigans.

Let me state for the record that just because I have documented that boys are likely to find great humor in bodily emissions and enjoy making car noises, it does not mean that they should grow up to be lying, cheating a$$h@!#s.

I don't know Tiger Woods, Jesse James, John Edwards or Charlie Sheen (read Darryle Pollack's hysterical post called "Bad Taste Meets the Final Four" for a great wrap up). Nor do I know Sandra Bullock, Elin Woods, Elizabeth Edwards, or Brooke Mueller, though as a woman I feel their pain. While millions of other women experience similar betrayals every year, I can't even imagine having to struggle through it as it is played out in the media.

As a mom, my question is this: how do I raise my boys to be good men — trustworthy, honest, caring partners worthy of the title mensch? What can I say or do to help them make good decisions, even when tempted? How can I instill in them a sense righteousness in honoring the women in their lives?

These are not idle questions. My sweet boys are turning into young men right before my eyes. My husband's first son is getting married this summer, our oldest is graduating from high school in June, and the "little" boys … well, as middle schoolers, they're not so little any more, and the boy-girl texting has already begun.

I know that my influence is diminishing by the day, and that the influence of their peers and the media is growing. I've certainly never pointed to athletes or celebrities or (heaven forbid) politicians as role models for my children. I also know there's only so much I can do or say.

So I'll just say this to my future daughters-in-law or significant others of my sons: I tried.

And boys, if you are reading this, please do not grow up to be lying, cheating a$$h@!#s. It would break your mama's heart.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan isn't busy teaching her boys that mensches hold the door open for others and put their dirty clothes in the hamper, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People, twittering @2KoP and freelancing at

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Dime a Dozen

"Ideas won't keep. 
Something must be done about them."
Alfred North Whitehead, (1861-1947)
mathematician, logician, philosopher

As author and pool playing expert Robert Byrne once said, "There are two kinds of people, those who finish what they start and so on." You know what he means. It's one thing to have a good idea, it's a whole other thing to follow through with it.

How many times have you been watching late-night infomercials only to discover some bozo took the idea that you've had for years and converted it to pure gold right there for everyone to see at 3:30 in the morning? Oh, you don't watch TV infomercials 3:30 in the morning? I guess it's just me, then, but surely someone along the way has stolen one of your brilliant ideas.

"Everyone is a genius at least once a year.
The real geniuses simply have their 
bright ideas closer together."
physicist, mathematician, astronomer and writer

I don't know whether I'm a real genius or not, but for writers, ideas are our stock and trade. Every once in a while, I get a little nervous that all the good ideas have been taken, but then I remember The Crescent Rod™ shower curtain rod. The first time I saw it, I thought the thing was pure genius. With a simple curved rod, it was now possible to take a shower in a tiny hotel tub/shower combo without that gross, plastic curtain sticking to you with its germs and who knows what all over it. I also remember thinking, damn, why didn't I think of that?

Most of the time, though, ideas aren't my problem. In fact, the ideas never stop. They come in my sleep, while I'm driving, when surfing the Net … sometimes bidden, sometimes not. My problems come in the areas of followthrough, procrastination, and finishing one project before I start something new.

My friend, Ardis Berghoff, has good ideas, but even more importantly, she has transformed her ideas into a cool Etsy business called Foundry Designs. I met Ardis through writing, and now her ideas have lead her into clothing and accessory design, often using found or recycled materials, like her new collection of "Shirtback Dresses", made from recycled men's dress shirts. While I certainly admire Ardis for her vision, the thing that bowls me over his her ability to just go for it.

In the writing world, it's considered bad juju to talk about your ideas or your WIP (work in progress). I'm not sure I buy into that. I like bouncing ideas off other writers and getting feedback. I'm currently working on a new idea and it's exciting. (Nope, not gonna tell ya. The puppy dog eyes will not work this time.) I think it's a great idea (but then, when don't I think my ideas are great?). I think it may even be a lucrative idea, which probably means it isn't.

The thing is, you can't copyright an idea. And besides, it's not really the idea. Ideas, as they say, are a dime a dozen. It's what you do with your idea, the execution of it, that counts. This is the lesson I'm working on now: getting the idea out of me, on paper, and through the process — the whole process: writing, editing, revising, revising, submitting, pitching, revising, revising, publishing (!), marketing and starting all over again. I can do it. The idea is a good one, but it's just the beginning. I know what I have to do, and I know I have to do it before I walk into a bookstore, pick up the latest bestseller, read the jacket flap and say: "Damn. That was my idea."

What brilliant idea did you have that is now being produced by Guthy-Renker for someone else? Better yet, what ideas do you have for getting your ideas out of your head and into the world? Click here to share your successes or missed opportunities.

"Every composer knows the anguish and 
despair occasioned by forgetting ideas 
which one has not time to write down."
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), composer

Ed. Note: If the curved shower curtain didn't convince you that there are still plenty of good ideas to be had, maybe the square Coke bottle will. This is by far the coolest thing I've seen (today).  4/28/10 9:50 a.m.

Photo credit: Curved Shower Rod by splityarn via a Creative Commons License.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bring on the Boredom — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

The other day, I heard someone discussing the benefits that being bored can bring to children: time to think, room to imagine, space to exercise creativity, and reasons to practice patience and interpersonal skills with peers. In other words, some time in a child's day that isn't dictated, structured and supervised by grownups can be a good thing. The line that has really stuck with me was "Give your child the gift of boredom." Turns out there's quite a bit of support for this in the fields of psychology and education.

When I was a kid (about 3 million years ago, according to my own children), not every single second of my day was booked with lessons, play dates, activities, school, and screens. And there were times when I was plenty bored, believe me. I learned not to express those feelings to my mother, however, because she would always solve my boredom by giving me chores to do. Have I mentioned that my mom is one smart chick? To avoid doing those chores, I quickly learned to entertain myself by doing crafts or making a puzzle or sometimes even playing with my brother. Usually, I would crack open a book and get lost in another, less boring world.

Kids today don't have that luxury. I've tried hard to avoid overbooking my children, but it's hard to turn down interesting opportunities. On the few occasions when my kids have told me that they were bored, I've tried my mother's line on them, but it doesn't seem to have the same impact that it had on me all those years ago. Maybe I'll call and ask her for a refresher course.

Spring break provided some much needed down time for our family, and the kids and I took yet another road trip to visit my parents in Florida. It's too expensive to fly, so we drive down, and 1,200 miles each way provides plenty of time for boredom to set in. But, we have that part down to a science: audio books, car-friendly activities in individual backpacks, and just enough junk food to keep everyone happy, but not enough to make anyone sick. Plus, we always listen to the deluxe anniversary edition of the original broadway cast of Fiddler on the Roof, complete with additional tunes and commentary by Sheldon Harnick. What can I say? It's a tradition.

The real boredom set in once we got down to Florida and my parent's 55+ community. Horror of horrors, there was only one computer available for the seven people in the house that week and March madness basketball occupied my father's TV. I could feel the tension rising as my usually bickering boys were forced to spend too much time together with not enough scheduled activities or screens to keep them occupied.

But guess what? They didn't bicker. They played games. They did crossword puzzles. They went down to the shuffle board courts. They become deep sea divers discovering new worlds in the pool every day. They learned how to play poker and Euchre. They played with girl cousins. They played with each other. They SHARED computer time. I think they may even have cracked open a book or two. They had fun.

And can I say it again — they didn't bicker.

I guess a little boredom never hurt anybody. Maybe we'll try it again soon. And if that doesn't work, there are always chores to do.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't busy figuring out how to make her children's lives miserable and telling them boring stories about the good old days, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and on her freelance Website,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Need a Little Backup

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who perform as part of a group and those who fly solo.

As a family of six, we are definitely a group act, but I've recently come to the conclusion that I'm lacking something in my life, and I've decided what I need is … backup singers.

Think about it: what mom couldn't use backup singers? Instead of repeating myself 237 times a day, I'd just have to sing the chorus through a couple of times and my backup singers would pick up the slack.

Me: "It's 5:30, baby. Turn off the screens and do your homework."

My backup singers: "Do your homework, do your homework, yeah, do your homework now."

Me: "It's bedtime, honey. Put your jammies on, brush your teeth and get into bed."

My backup singers: "Get to bed, get to bed, yeah, get to bed now."

Brilliant, right? And I'm not the only writer to think along these lines. Turns out some pretty famous authors have formed a nearly infamous rock group known as the Rock Bottom Remainders. Current members include: Mitch Albom on keyboards, Dave Barry on lead guitar, Roy Blount Jr., Greg Iles on lead guitar, Kathi Kamen Goldmark on vocals, Stephen King on rhythm guitar, Matt Groening on cowbell, James McBride on sax, Amy Tan on vocals, Ridley Pearson on bass, and Scott Turow on vocals.

I thought of joining up with the Rock Bottom Remainders, who are performing their Wordstock Tour this month in DC, Philly, NY and Boston. Lest you think this is a bit of a leap, given my not-quite-published status, it turns out I have an in. Scott Turow's mom, the lovely Rita Turow, is a long-time member of the Off Campus Writers' Workshop, the very writers' group of which I am a member of the board. One phone call to Rita, and I'd be a shoe-in to join the group.

But, on further reflection (given my not-quite-published status), I thought the group might relegate want me to sing backup, and that simply does not fit in with my plans. No, I want to be a best-selling author and have my very own band with my very own backup singers. Not that I can actually sing, or anything, but one step at a time.

And I have already taken the first step. According to the Wall Street Journal, one of the biggest startup problems new bands face is coming up with a good name. As John Jergensen wrote in "From ABBA to ZZ Top, All the Good Band Names are Taken," it turns out that once again, the Internet is to blame. "The last decade's digital revolution not only transformed the way people listen to music, it changed the way bands establish identities," wrote Jergensen. Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites have given once local-only garage bands international visibility. And they are willing to sue if you encroach on their names.

Luckily for me, a quick Google search confirmed that there is, as of yet, no band with the name "Two Kinds of People." And if I want to go edgier, I can always use 2KoP. So Step 1: pick a cool name for the band. Check. If you're still struggling with Step 1 in creating your own band, you'll be happy to know that there are all kinds of band name generators available online.

Now it seems that all I have to do to get my own band is to become a famous author. I'm still working on that. In the meantime, if you are interested in becoming one of my backup singers, you might want to check out this wikihow article on How to be a Backup Singer.

Have your own band stories, glories or fantasies? Please do share by clicking here. Then sit back and enjoy this musical interlude from the Rock Bottom Remainders:

Photo credit: Mics by Matt Gibson via Creative Commons.