Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Longing for an Italian Renaissance

ren • ais • sance
a revival or renewed interest in something;
origin FR, meaning "rebirth"

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Italy and those who have never been there. If this sounds vaguely familiar, that's because it's a slightly revised version of the introduction I used for this post — a renaissance of the topic, if you will.

In case you haven't noticed, it's January and 23°F here in Chicago. January wouldn't be so bad if it didn't end in February. Everyone knows that God made February the shortest month of the year because we just couldn't take it for more than 28 days (29 tops).

At this time of year, I never feel warm. All I want to do is take a steaming hot bath and crawl under the covers to hibernate. But winter lasts forever in Chicago and then crashes directly into summer, so I've decided it would be far better to start my rebirth in Italy now, rather than wait for an unlikely spring awakening here at home.

Don't get me wrong — I don't want to become an expat. I love my country and my city, for at least half the year. If only I could live in Italy between, say, November 1 and June 1 — oh, wait, that means I only want to be here five months a year. Well, so be it.

Why Italy and not, for example, France? Well, I've never been to France. I'm sure it's very nice — lovely, in fact. But in Italy, blue is azure, lemons make limoncello, architecture is old, fashion is new, and life is dolce.

I don't want to do the whole Under the Tuscan Sun thing, where I dump all my (nonexistent) savings into a dilapidated villa. I have a hard enough time maintaining our 117-year-old Victorian.

No, I want a little pied terre (it's the same in Italian as in French, only without the hyphens; I looked it up), and I want it here, at the Hotel San Pietro in Positano. Today, it was 54°F in Positano, not exactly tropical, but way above freezing. Seriously, look at these pictures and tell me you couldn't be reborn in such a setting:

Think of the writing those views would inspire. One small problem. The current rate (and this is the "low" season) for a standard single/double room with a sea view (the "cheap" one) is Euro 420, or $591.57. Per night. I'm accepting donations. Look for a button to appear on my sidebar soon.

I had the pleasure of staying at Hotel Il San Pietro one night, 20 years ago. I don't remember the room number, but if you examine the door jambs carefully, you can tell which one it was by the deep fingernail marks I left behind as my new husband dragged me kicking and screaming back to reality.

The bathroom was generous, but not huge, and all marble. The tub, which could comfortably accommodate you and four or five of your closest friends, was a square affair that butted up against a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that gave you the illusion of bathing in the Mediterranean. The entire hotel was all clean and cool and tiled. Sitting in the lobby, I expected to see Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman step out from behind the palms at any moment. Or maybe Spencer and Kate. Sigh.

This is presenting such a dilemma. Do I stay here, in the frozen wasteland, performing my chosen role of mother/wife/wannebe writer? Or … do I run away from it all and devote myself to a life of creativity and hedonism? To help me make my decision, I've created a classic pro/con list. Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, claims that pro/con lists oversimplify and are never complete, "thus inviting biased contributions." Look over my list, and leave your votes, contributions (biased or otherwise) and comments here:

  • It's Italy.
  • Great food.
  • Better weather.
  • Compari and orange juice.
  • Inspiration.
  • Rebirth.
  • Could maybe hang with George Clooney.
  • Room too small for a family of six, so I would have to leave five of them at home (wait, this may belong on the "pro" side).
  • I don't actually speak Italian.
  • Distressing reports of rising racism and anti-semitism in Italy.
  • Lack of funds.
  • No money.
  • Senza soldi.
Before you go, I wanted to offer a final bit of encouragement for you to enter my Guest Blogger Writing Contest. It's easy. It's fun. You have until February 1st to write up a post about your idea of Two Kinds of People. Then simply email it to me. What can I win, you ask? Oh, baby. The first place winner will earn a guest post right here on Two Kinds of People (and now I know how to Twitter, so I can tell lots of people to read it). Wait, there's more. Don't forget about the exclusive 2KoP logo baseball/golf cap, pictured below. With prizes like these, you can't afford not to enter.

"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Reanaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Double-edged Internet — CMB post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Hi. My name is Susan. I'm addicted to the Internet.

Well, maybe that's an overstatement, but I do have a blog. OK, I contribute to this blog, have several business blogs, and I the blogs I follow include … well, let's just say I keep up and am a regular commenter.

Then there's my new Website. And my husband's Website. And my Yahoo, LinkedIn and Google groups. And my SheWrites account. And my Facebook account. But I do not Twitter (except for my husband's store). That's where I draw the line. At least today.

Hi. My name is Susan. I'm addicted to the Internet.

Every day I am astounded by all the Internet has to offer. There are the big things, like huge outpourings of generosity and compassion for the people of Haiti — and great ways to vet the organizations involved. So many innovative ways to help have been spurred by technology, like Google's offer of free voice calls to Haiti for US families with relatives in the stricken nation.

Then there are the little things, like recipe calculators (transform your favorite family dish to a meal for 25 instantly!) There are cool little widgets (many free!) to download that will make your Web life easier.

There's the common application that my daughter has used to apply to colleges, and all kinds of tools for comparing schools, making that process so much simpler than when I was her age.

There's a strange and wonderful intimacy that can develop among virtual friends, like the mom from this very group who received astounding messages of love and sympathy when she lost her daughter.

Personally, I live for really enjoy the comments I get on my blog. Today, for example, a complete stranger emailed me to tell me how much she loves my posts and even called me "a clever, clever woman." A little thing, yes, but it made my day.

There are seemingly infinite ways to connect online, making life less difficult and isolating for parents and caregivers; more interesting for the shy, geographically isolated or housebound; and more accessible for students and professionals seeking research materials.

Games, apps, online libraries, support groups, professional groups, lists, aggregators, search engines … so much good stuff, the mind boggles.

And then there's the other side — the aggravating, insidious, even dangerous side.

How many of us have "misdiagnosed" ourselves or a loved one by becoming cyberchondriacs? How many viruses have we had to fight, spread by innocent-seeming emails? How many writers have lost their jobs due to free content providers and news aggregators?

There are hackers and phishers and screen scrapers; people who want your money, your identity, your computer's integrity, or worse. There are predators and pornographers. There are individual bad guys and organized scam efforts.

Our family has not been immune. My daughter is a victim of online slander. A few years back, when she started high school, someone anonymously posted an unflattering picture with a vile caption that included her full name. I tried repeatedly to contact the host of the site and get it taken down, pointing out that she was a minor, and that her photo and name were being used without permission. No response. The photo still lurks in the ether and comes up whenever you search her name. Will it ruin her life? No, but it stinks.

While technology has made it so easy to donate to Haiti (proving that "going viral" can be a good thing), there are frauds out there and we need to be wary. In addition to cheating donors out of their heartfelt contributions, these fraudulent sites are also interfering with donations to legitimate organizations, some of which have had their sites wrongly blocked.

I, myself, feel the need to offer up a mea culpa for poor Internet judgment. Several groups have recently formed in our community to protest the proposed closing of our two small branch libraries. One posted on Facebook and I immediately became a fan. Who could possibly be against keeping libraries open, I reasoned. The trouble is that I jumped on this band wagon without any thought or research.

While I would love to keep our libraries open, a recent conversation led me to understand that this may not be the best option. With a budget deficit of $9,532,100 and a $140M pension fund deficit, tough choices must be made. What other services or programs might we lose in the tradeoff?

I'm not saying these branch library supporters are wrong; but I'm not saying they are right, either. I need to learn more before I can make the best decision in a bad situation. And good decisions do not come from mob mentality — they come from honest, forthright discussion. Somehow, in the heat of the Internet, I forgot.

I remember when my mom was teaching me how to sew, she said: "This machine is a wonderful tool, but you need to learn how to use it carefully." Good advice.

Hi. My name is Susan. I'm addicted to the Internet.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't clicking around the Web, she can be found at Two Kinds of People and on her new Website.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Help for Haiti

Help for Haiti: Learn What You Can Do

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have lived through a natural disaster and those who have been lucky.

I'm looking around for a piece of wood; I need to knock on it loudly, because I have been very lucky, natural disaster-wise (unless, of course, you count children. Can we count children as natural disasters?)

Oh, our basement has flooded a couple of times, but all that really did was make us clean up and do a little culling. (I'm thinking maybe we should schedule one periodically.)

A tornado touched down in our town sometime in the '90s. I don't think anyone was hurt, but the astounding force of nature could be seen in the felled trees and overturned cars just a few blocks from my house. You don't forget seeing the bared roots of a giant elm ripped from the earth, vulnerable and exposed against now clear skies. But we were spared.

A much more devastating storm ripped through The Villages, FL in February 2007, shortly after my parents moved into their new home. It was eerie to tour the area, even two months later when we visited. Their block was untouched, but houses just a block or two away were torn open — roofs and outside walls completely gone — revealing pots and pans left untouched in the kitchens inside. Again, we were lucky.

We get our fair share of crappy weather here in Chicagoland ("that frozen wasteland", my brother calls it). Sometimes we get too much rain, or snow, or cold. Our winters can be brutal, our springs all but nonexistent, our summers often lacking … but our autumns will break your heart with their glory and, overall, we're pretty lucky. Natural disasters don't seem to like our climate well enough to visit. (Time to knock on wood again.)

On August 28, 2005, we watched, helpless, the broadcasts of Hurricane Katrina as it approached, landed and virtually destroyed New Orleans. Then we watched and worried and complained that not enough was being done fast enough to help the survivors. It's a shameful chapter in American history, when we as a nation failed some of our most vulnerable citizens right here at home.

To be sure, many people offered help — funds, goods and elbow grease flowed and continue to flow into the region — but not enough, and not fast enough. More than four years later, the areas affected by Katrina are still far from full recovery.

According to the Brookings Institution: "… the region still faces major challenges due to blight, unaffordable housing, and vulnerable flood protection. New federal leadership must commit and sustain its partnership with state and local leaders … to help greater New Orleans move past 'disaster recovery' and boldly build a more prosperous future."

And now Haiti has suffered an earthquake of devastating proportions. Hurricane Katrina resulted in 1,836 deaths, a tremendous human toll. Early reports from Haiti mention 45,000-50,000 deaths, with the final toll possibly reaching as high as 200,000. The devastation is staggering for this poor nation where 55% of its people were living below the poverty line of $1 (US) a day before the earthquake.

"It is a denial of justice not to 
stretch out a helping hand to the fallen; 
that is the common right of humanity." 
Seneca (the Younger) , 3[ish] BC – 65 AD

Have we learned anything since Katrina? I have hopes that we have. As of January 15, more than $10M had been raised through text donations alone. The blogosphere is bursting with posts about the disaster and ways to help and the American Red Cross is reporting such tremendous response that it is has necessitated a 10-12 hour lag time in donation processing (but don't let that stop you).

Got a minute, few bucks and a cell phone? Here's a list of text-based donation sites (the donations will be charged to your cell phone bill):
Donate easily online to:
    At this point, the American Red Cross reports that it is meeting any requests for blood due to this tragedy through current supplies" and does not anticipate the need for a special donor appeal. While goods and services may be needed further into recovery, right now the best way to help is to donate cash to the organization of your choice. Shelterbox is an interesting group that provides immediate, practical help for victims of natural disasters:

    Please beware that disasters spawn fraud and the Internet is rife with scams in the name of helping Haiti. Protect yourself by donating to well-known organizations; click on the image at the top of this post or check out sites like this one for vetted agencies.

    Though most of my posts are snark-ridden, allegedly humorous observations of everyday life (and I don't apologize for the snark), you'll forgive me if this one is on the earnest side. There was nothing everyday about the disaster in Haiti. Our collective attention span seems to have dwindled to the length of a (much shorter) blog post, so I think a little repetition is not amiss in service to such a worthy cause. And if Bill Clinton and George W. Bush can work together to help Haiti (I kid you not — snark intended), then so can we. Your regularly scheduled snark will return next time. Feel free to leave your comments or suggestions for other places to donate help for Haiti by clicking here.

    (P.S. The deadline for the 2KoP Guest Post Writing Contest  is February 1. I know you are just polishing up your entries, but I thought I'd post this little reminder. Pardon the plug.)

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Quiet Heroes Offer Lasting Inspiration — CMB Post

    This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

    Today I was going to post about my adolescent son who is, to put it mildly, driving me crazy. I'll have save that post for another day, however, because today I was inspired to post about another adolescent instead — Anne Frank. Anne is back in the news today because Miep Gies, one of the courageous non-Jews who gave Anne, her family and four other Jews safe harbor during WWII, passed away on January 11 at the age of 100.

    You can't help but juxtapose the long, lovely life of this quiet hero with the too-short life and tragic death of 15-year-old Anne. Just as we rail against the senseless loss of the vibrant young girl, we should celebrate the generous life of the woman who helped preserve the girl's legacy, for as Arthur Max pointed out in the lead of his AP story, "Without Miep Gies, the story of Anne Frank might never have been known."

    It was Miep who collected the pages of Anne's diary, tucked them away for the duration of the war, and returned them safely to Anne's father Otto, who published them in 1947. That simple act — saving the story — has had an immeasurable impact. The most recent records I could find state that, as of 2007, Anne Frank: Diary of A Young Girl has been translated into 65 languages and sold more than 30 million copies. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Miep Gies, and I owe her a personal one, as well.

    Like many young girls, I was enthralled by Anne's diary. Her voice was so real, so honest. I felt like I knew her. I felt like we were friends. I felt like she was a contemporary, someone who understood the petty annoyances and tiny joys of my life.

    At the same time, reading about Anne hiding in the attic brought me vicarious thrills and fear. I could only imagine what it was like to live in such trying circumstances — alternating between tedium and terror. I spent hours in my own attic and basement, looking for places to hide. I practiced holding my breath and being as quiet as possible. I shook with fear at my imagined peril and the idea of losing everyone and everything I loved. And I cried for weeks when I finished her diary and learned of her fate. It was many, many years before I could read it again.

    Anne's story, and the hundreds of biographies I read after it, opened the wider world to me, connecting me to the past, to different parts of the world, to different cultures. I began to understand that it wasn't all about me, that there were other people who were feeling the same things I was feeling, sometimes in better circumstances, often in worse. I began to develop feelings of understanding, compassion and empathy for those beyond my immediate circle. It was a profound lesson.

    As a writer, I realize now that The Diary of a Young Girl showed me that the power of the story cannot be denied. It is our stories that connect us, that stir our sense of right and wrong, and that spur us to action. These are the stories that we pass from generation to generation. I don't know if my daughter has ever read Anne's diary. I know at one point she was afraid to read it. I'll have to search for my copy and hand it down to her to add to her growing personal collection.

    Our family is making plans to visit the new Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie to learn more stories about Holocaust, its survivors, its heros and its victims. For a list of wonderful stories to share with your children about peace, progress, and creative ends to conflicts, visit the most recent post on the Planet Esme Plan Blog.

    I look forward to rereading Anne's story and to reading Miep's own memoir, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped Hide the Frank Family. I offer them both my love and gratitude for their continued inspiration.

    This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. Susan Bearman also writes at Two Kinds of People and you can now also visit her at her new Website of writing services.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010


    There are two kinds of people in the world: those who make New Year's resolutions, and those who don't.

    I've never been a fan of the New Year, that big transition that's supposed to herald a fresh start. First, it's January — grey and cold, the air thick with resolutions made in the glow of holiday champagne, but now hanging low and heavy, like over-burdened winter clouds waiting to bury us in a blizzard of good intentions.

    "I myself am made entirely of flaws 
    stitched together with good intentions."
    Augusten Burroughs, Magical Thinking

    Most of us who don't make public resolves still formulate them in our secret thoughts, telling ourselves that the guilt won't come if no one else knows. Pure folly, of course, because each New Year's resolution, whether publicly proclaimed or silently sworn, comes prepackaged with it's own, ready-made guilt. One little slip, and the guilt is unleashed.

    The trick to a truly successful New Year's resolution is to make one that can be accomplished in the short term — in that burst of energy and resolve that seems to accompany new beginnings. (If you happen to find my burst of energy and resolve, please return it to me promptly. I seem to have mislaid it.)

    Cleaning your office, for example, is a reasonable New Year's resolution. Ending world hunger, while a laudable goal, is not exactly something you are likely to do on your own before New Year's Eve 2010 rolls around (unless you play a lot of FreeRice).

    It's the long-term goals that will get you. These resolutions are layered with guilt, shellacked anew each January first when we promise, again and again, to:
    • lose weight
    • exercise every day
    • be a better ______ (son, communicator, parent … you fill in the blank)
    • stop _______ (smoking, overeating, swearing … you fill in the blank)
    • finish your _______ (novel, graduate degree, last will and testament … you fill in the blank)
    Nope, this year I have resolved to avoid these resolutions at all costs. Instead, I am sticking to simple, doable, short-term goals. And along those lines, I am happy to report that I have already, just 10 days into the New Year, had some success.

    First, and this will seem to contradict my previous paragraph, I have started a new blog. It's a creative writing blog along the lines of Anne Lamott's famous shitty first draft (SFD). It's a blog for free writing, a kind of on-line journal, where I can explore writing prompts and inspirations in 10-minute bursts of uncensored creativity. Or, to be more precise, in a shitty first draft. My first inclination was to keep it private, like a real journal, but since it's a resolution, I decided that making it public would make me accountable. Even if no one reads it, I know someone could — and that will keep me honest.

    For the month of January, I am lucky to be receiving daily writing prompts in my email box from Lisa Romeo, who writes my favorite blog on writing (so much great information and inspiration). Once January is over, I will turn to another wonderful blog, Sandy Ackers' Strangling My Muse, for further prompts. Feel free to leave your own writing-prompt ideas in a comment here, and if you're interested or want to see if I'm keeping up with my resolution, this is the link to SFD @ 2KoP).

    My second resolution is more along the lines of that whole short-term burst of energy concept I mentioned earlier. For years now, I have been wanting to create a Website to promote my freelance work, and I have finally developed enough skills to put it all together. I'm so excited to announce the launch of my writing site, www.bearman.us. You can see my little logo at the top of this page on the sidebar to the right. Check it out and let me know what you think. Pass it on if you know anyone in need of my services. Thanks.

    Now, about your resolutions. Of course, I look forward to hearing what you have resolved to resolve this year. Just click here to leave it in a comment. I have also created, just for you, a special short-term, fun and easy New Year's resolution in the form of my 2KoP writing contest. Read all about it here, then enter — you could win a guest post on this very blog AND a 2KoP baseball/golf cap. Hey, there's an idea for you — there are two kinds of people in the world: those who wear baseball caps and those who wear golf caps. See, it's not so hard. Enter today to win!

    Finally, thank you to Angela for Friday noons, which I have concluded are not resolutions, just further inspiration.

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    New Year's Challenge

    [Update 1/27/11: Be sure to enter the 2011, Second Annual @2KoP Writing Challenge, deadline 2/16/11.]
    There are two kinds of people in the world. Are you one of them? 

    It's hard for me to believe, but I've been telling you about two kinds of people for nearly two years now on this blog. When I started Two Kinds of People, I named it intentionally to give me a kind of structure on which to hang my essays. It has turned out to be a useful literary device, allowing great flexibility, yet preventing my blog from turning into a brain dump. 

    Two Kinds of People is a kind of philosophy — not a way to divide the world exactly, but more of a means for looking at it through a specific lens for the length of a blog post. I have yet to write my own archetypal Two Kinds of People post, the one on which my entire life philosophy is based, but I promise it's coming — this blogging year.

    Every time I turn around, someone is suggesting another "Two Kinds of People" topic. "You should write about how there are dog people and cat people," someone suggested. Or "You should write about people who vote and people who don't vote, and then bitch about it." While these are great suggestions, they are not my two kinds of people (unless, of course, I choose to "borrow" one of these ideas some day, in which case, I will give proper attribution — if I remember who suggested it).

    So, here's the proverbial deal — the challenge, the contest, the gauntlet, if you will. I am offering you — yes, you — the opportunity to win a guest post here on Two Kinds of People. That's right, you too can be a published author. All you have to do is email me your own Two Kinds of People essay. Come on. You know you want to do it. Use your imagination. Test your creative mettle. Vent your spleen. Expound, explain, expatiate. Teach us something. Make us laugh. Make us cry. Make us understand your Two Kinds of People as only you can.

    And, if seeing your essay published right here on this blog is not enough to entice you, the winner will also get one of my groovy new 2KoP logo baseball/golf caps (pictured above). Several experts (including my dad and my brother) will attest that these are the smartest, most comfortable, best looking caps they have seen in many a year. And that's not just because they're related to me or because that was what they got as their gift from me this holiday season. No sirree Bob. They really, really mean it.

    The rules are simple: write an original Two Kinds of People essay and email it to me by February 1, 2010. The publisher of this blog (moi) will choose the winning entry and post it for the world to read. And don't forget, you'll also win the cap. 

    In the meantime, you can check out my farewell to 2009 in my latest Chicago Moms Blog post and, as always, I look forward to your comments. Just click here. I can't wait to read your winning post, so enter today.

    "We improve ourselves by victories over ourself. 
    There must be contests, and you must win."
    Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)
    author, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

    Update 2/9/10: Read the winning guest post here