Former Founder?

May 18, 2017

From this morning’s top-of-the-hour national news about the passing of Roger Ailes, one thing has become awkwardly evident to me: The reporters at ABC Radio have no actual understanding of the proper usage of the word “former.”

All morning, they were identifying Ailes as the “former founder and chairman of Fox News,” which made me go pawing through my utility cabinet in search of duct tape – to prevent I.C.E. (imminent cranial explosion).

I’m guessing a few folks are scratching their respective heads and wondering, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, once you’ve been established as the founder of something, that particular designation can never be taken away – so Ailes could not possibly have been the news organization’s “former founder.”

How might this have been remedied? Well, for starters, ABC News could employ writers with a more-precise grasp of the English language. Beyond that, I’d recommend phrasing the sentence so the adjective “former” modified “chairman.” The correct way to identify Ailes (who resigned last year) would be “founder and former chairman of Fox News.” His designation as former chairman of Fox News had no bearing whatsoever on his status as its founder.

On a personal note, this obvious gaffe brought back memories from my nearly ten years as board secretary for the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. In emails, at monthly meetings and in what came to be known as the unofficial “Blue Minutes” from those meetings, we’d often refer to founder Brian Jud as CAPA’s “former founder” – with his full understanding that we were being intentionally goofy with that title.

However, to earnestly call someone the “former founder” of anything shows a basic lack of awareness. It’s akin to referring to someone as a “former graduate” of a college (and yes, I’ve heard that phrase so often my dentist is planning to fit me for a dental guard so I don’t grind my teeth into piles of enamel dust). Either you’re a graduate of an institution or you’re not – you can’t suddenly become no longer a graduate. There’s no need for an adjective. Still, if you must use one, consider “past.”

Think I’m making too much of this whole “former” issue? Go ahead and refer to a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps as a “former Marine.” I will assume no responsibility whatsoever for your resulting injuries.


They Like Me… They Really Like Me! (At Least They Like My Writing)

April 11, 2016

This past weekend, at the Tennessee Mountain Writers 28th annual conference in Oak Ridge, I was honored to have spent two-plus days among nearly a hundred of my fellow wordsmiths. Together we learned from such gifted writers as Courtney Stevens, Judy DiGregorio and Michael Knight (along with master storyteller Saundra Kelley).

Moreover, at the Saturday-evening banquet, I felt further honored to have won two literary awards: second place in the Joy Margrave Award for nonfiction; and third place for the Patricia Boatner Award for fiction.

My winning nonfiction piece, “Xena’s Adventures in Doggy Hell,” is a distillation of this post from March 2009. The fiction entry is Chapter 4 of my forthcoming novel, Glimpse of Emerald. Below is that winning entry. But first, some backstory: Seventeen-year-old Gary Sheldon has had a hell of a year. Last September, his mom abandoned him; since then, his alcoholic father has been beating him. The only people in whom Gary can confide are his grandfather, Edward Sheldon, and Father Justin Maynard, dean of St. Joseph Academy.

I hope you enjoy this piece. Please feel free to offer feedback, and to share this post with others.

Chapter 4

(16 June, 1981 – Tuesday)
Edward welcomed Gary that bright June day and promptly solicited his help. He’d bought the cottage on the Milford shore in 1950, to enjoy summers with the family. Now, thirty-one summers later, it was time to make it a permanent haven.

Gary savored the invitation.

Too old to do it all himself, Edward was glad of the help and the company. Besides, it’d keep Gary’s mind off his troubles at home. He afforded his teenage grandson ample opportunity to hang out on the beach. Gary usually declined, saying he’d rather help with the renovation project.

For ten weeks, morning to night, grandfather and grandson worked side by side. They measured and cut, hammered, drilled, sanded, rewired and painted. They laid insulation in the attic, hung windows and installed new plumbing and heating. Every night, Gary fell into bed exhausted, lulled to sleep by waves lapping at the shore. Each morning, he awakened to the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee – and with a sense of purpose. After supper, they’d sit on the porch to talk. Anything was open to discussion: the future, the past, work they hoped to accomplish; whatever was on their minds. Edward related stories of his early years with Josie. And occasionally – reluctantly – Gary talked about his troubled home life.

“I don’t wanna go back,” Gary confided in August, staring out over the water as darkness crept across the shore. His shoulders sagged under his lingering depression. “He makes me feel so insignificant. Like I’m not even there. Know what I mean?”

Edward nodded. “I do.” He wondered whether this was his cue to take Gary out of there, reunite him with Diane. “But, Gary, it’s only another year ’til you graduate; then you’re off to college. And you can spend summers with me. You’re always welcome here; this is your home, too.”

They watched the last pinks fade to blue, then grey. It was a long time before Gary spoke. “I never told anyone – not even Ellen…” He studied the weathered floorboards. Edward leaned close. “It got so bad” – he sighed with the weight of secrecy – “last Christmas I… almost killed myself.”

Edward’s eyes widened in alarm and concern. “Gary! Why would you even consider that?”

Cries punctuated the teen’s words. “Have you ever felt so desperate and so – alone… that suicide seemed like the only escape from the pain? D’you know what that feels like? Do you?” Edward was silent a moment too long. Fists clenched, elbows gouging into his knees, Gary spat the words. “Well, I do. It feels like emptiness and failure!” He dropped his head against his fists.

“Oh Gary…” Edward pulled Gary to his feet, enveloped him in a mighty hug. “Why didn’t you tell me it was that bad?” He tried not to sound like he was scolding. Fear took hold as reality seeped in: He’d lost a son too soon, and that had triggered Josie’s depression. He couldn’t bear to lose his grandson. “Gary, you’re seventeen – you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. What would make you feel like you had no other choice than that?” Edward’s embrace was too much to fight; the tears won. Sobbing, Gary clung to him; tears soaked his grandfather’s shirt. Finally, Edward spoke again. “Let me get you out of there. I can get you into Milford Academy. You could live here.” He wasn’t sure Gary had heard, because he didn’t answer right away. Gary shook his head, mumbled something about not wanting to leave Ellen. Edward figured as much, but he had to offer. He promised to stay in closer contact; then he posed the question he dreaded asking: “Is your father hitting you?”

“N-no,” Gary stammered. “Of course not! Why would you even ask that?”

He’s lying… telling me to mind my own business, Edward mused. I have to respect that. If he wants out, he’ll tell me.

 

Gary crumpled back into his chair. His chest ached from crying – and his ribs hurt from Grandpa’s embrace. And now he’d just lied to him! It felt awful, but he didn’t think he had a choice. If Grandpa knew the truth, he’d tear me away from Ellen. I can’t risk that!

Patting his grandson’s shoulder with a giant hand, Edward fetched him a glass of water. Gary accepted it gratefully, drinking the cool liquid in great, rushing gulps. It felt refreshing, but it couldn’t soothe away the guilt over his lie.

Edward set the empty glass on the floor. “C’mon. Let’s walk.” Obediently, Gary followed. The night sand felt cool and soft against his bare feet. “Tell me about it,” Grandpa persuaded, draping a comforting arm around his grandson’s shoulders.

For a second, Gary thought he meant, Tell me why you lied. Then he realized Grandpa meant, Tell me why you wanted to kill yourself. Reluctantly, he discussed his anger at Mom and the insecurity, inadequacy and loss that led up to his thwarted suicide attempt.

“Holidays are rough when you’re depressed. Grandma struggled with depression herself, years ago. I understand how overwhelming it can be.” Gary turned toward Grandpa in the moonlit semi-darkness, his eyes asking the question he couldn’t find the courage to voice. “It was a deep depression that lasted a long time – back when your father was a little boy,” the old man answered the unspoken query.

“What happened?”

“It took a long time, but she eventually came out of it.”

“No, I mean: What caused her depression?”

Edward chose his words carefully. “When your dad was little, we learned Grandma was expecting,” he said. “About six months along, she lost the baby. She couldn’t have any more. We’d always wanted a large family and that news was devastating. Our friends were having second and third babies, and she couldn’t give me another child.”

“I never knew that,” Gary said soberly.

“I never meant for you to. But I figured you deserved to know now.”

“Because of what I told you?”

“In part,” Edward said. “I wanted to be honest with you. I understand how destructive pain can be.” Gary nodded. His deception twisted in his heart. “Whatever pain you feel, there’s nothing so deep, so awful, you can’t share it. There’s no reason to suffer alone.” Edward slipped an arm around him. “I love you, Gary. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you – especially if I could’ve done something and you didn’t reach out to me. Capisce?” That was Italian for “Understand?” Edward managed to pick up a few words in Josie’s native tongue during their marriage. He ruffled his grandson’s hair.

“Yeah.” The near-darkness hid a hint of a smile.

*****

The Gary who returned to Pine Cove at the end of August was markedly different from the one who left in June; not just because of the auburn highlights in his hair, his deep tan and well-defined muscles. His confidence was buoyed and he carried himself with a certain self-assurance.

Edward phoned Gary weekly. And prayed for him daily. Within a few weeks, those prayers had begun to bear fruit. By October, Gary’s depression seemed to have lifted. He began attending Mass regularly and paid more attention to his studies. His grades picked up to Bs and a few As. And he and Ellen talked fleetingly of marriage.

In December, Gary was accepted at Boston University. He expected to be congratulated when he told Dad. Instead, he got, “Great, another twelve grand a year I’ll have to shell out for you.”

Like her mother and grandmother before her, Ellen applied at Wellesley; she was accepted a week before Christmas.

When her family went away over New Year’s, Ellen invited Gary over. He arrived with a bottle of Asti; she greeted him in a skimpy bathrobe, which she quickly shed. They made love in her parents’ bed, using the only condom he brought. A champagne-tinged midnight kiss ended sometime after two. Gary couldn’t be sure if it was the bubbly or the absence of a condom that made the resulting sex so intense. In the morning, they made love again, then quickly made up the bed before her folks came home.

 

Five weeks later, a weeping Ellen approached Gary in the library with the unsettling news.

His heart pounded crazily. “Are you sure?”

“Gary, I’m never this late,” she insisted.

“Maybe you counted wrong.”

“Or maybe I’m pregnant,” Ellen hissed.

When her fears were confirmed, they agreed to keep it a secret while they figured out what to do. They tried to keep up appearances, but soon they stopped sitting together at lunch and study hall. When they had to work on class projects together, they bickered constantly. He stopped going to her house; her parents and sisters began to wonder why. Even the guidance counselors asked what had soured between them; but Ellen and Gary revealed nothing. By the end of March, they’d stopped speaking altogether. By mid-April, she’d begun showing.

*****

In the privacy of his office, Fr. Maynard counseled Gary gently about the sanctity of marriage and the seriousness of his actions. Deeply ashamed, the teen hung his head and said nothing. “I can only imagine what you’re going through, Gary; but, it isn’t the end of the world; and ohh, our Lord is forgiving! All you have to do is ask Him.”

Remorseful, Gary nodded. “Forgive me?” he whispered.

Laying his hands on Gary’s bowed head, Fr. Maynard prayed. “Dear heavenly Father, hear our cries for forgiveness; show us Your mercy and kindness. Send Your Holy Spirit upon Gary, cleanse him from his sin, and grant him Your pardon and peace. We ask this, as we ask all things, through Christ, our loving and compassionate Savior.” Giving him a mild penance, the priest offered Gary absolution. Then he embraced the teen. “Your sins are forgiven, Gary. Go in the peace of Christ.”

Gary left Fr. Maynard’s office with the boulder lifted from his heart.

Next day, it seemed the young priest had somehow talked Msgr. Streng into letting them finish their course requirements with tutors; they’d get their diplomas, but wouldn’t be allowed to attend graduation.

To stave off his guilt, Gary put in long hours at the station, filling in on air whenever he could. He also tried to fix things with his dad, who remained angry and aloof. Making things worse, Ellen refused to see him, even threatening a restraining order

 

Three days before they would have graduated, Gary’s boss called him into his office. “I don’t want you thinking I don’t appreciate your work,” Paul Ramsey began. “We all do. You’re talented, dependable and we love working with you. And I said if anything full time opened up, I’d hire you.”

“I remember,” Gary said expectantly, nodding.

He laid his palms flat on the desk, fingers splayed. “Unfortunately, I have nothing to offer you.”

“Are you letting me go?”

“More like pushing you out of the nest.” Paul slid a business card across his desk. “Here; give Steve Reynolds a call. He’s interested in talking to you.”

“Why would he wanna talk to me?”

“’Cause I sent him your ‘New Music Monday’ demo.”

“Not that!” Gary groaned, appalled. “Paul – I did that as a joke!”

“Well, he liked it enough to want to meet with you.”

“Really?” Gary took the card, smiling for the first time in weeks. “Thanks, Paul.” Now he studied it. “Hey, wait a minute – he’s in the City!”

“Yes he is; it’s the big time.” Paul’s air of confidence both encouraged and terrified Gary. “Or, at least, it could be. One kid in a million gets a break like this. And if it’s gonna happen, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see it happen to.”

Gary called Steve Reynolds that day. They scheduled an interview for Thursday at ten.

It was 9:47 Thursday morning when Gary poked the call button in the mid-Manhattan office building whose address was embossed on the business card in his jittery hands.

Steve was amazed Gary was only eighteen. “You’re very talented. Great on-air presence, quick wit, a terrific voice – and a good ear for music. That’s important in this business.”

“Thanks,” he replied self-consciously, not knowing what else to say. He still couldn’t believe Paul had sent that tape. It was just a goof!

Steve stood. “C’mon. I’d like to see you at work. Let’s go see what you’re made of.”

Gary’s nervousness got the best of him during his production audition; he criticized himself silently all the way back to Reynolds’ office, where Steve handed him a card. “Here. Pete Donovan’s got an on-air opening; I think you’re just who he’s looking for.”

Gary stared at the card. Middlebury, Connecticut. So much for the Big City. “Thanks.” He tried not to sound too defeated. “I’ll give him a call.”

“Don’t look so down. Know how many other kids I’ve referred to my PDs in the last three years?” He held up two fingers. “You’re the third. Most folks I see aren’t good enough. But if I had an opening here, Gary, I’d snap you up in a second!”

 

(2:37 p.m., 4 June, 1982 – Friday)
“Listen. I know things have been rough lately… but I know we can work through it – I still love you.” Gary gripped the receiver. “Marry me, Ellen.”

“You must be joking. Why would I want to marry you?”

“Because I love you – and you’re carrying my baby.”

“What makes you so sure it’s yours?”

Her question ground Gary to a nauseating halt. “Whaddaya mean? Of course it’s mine… Isn’t it?”

“Maybe.”

“At least let me help financially. I – I don’t have much, but I can help you wi–”

“You’re too late,” she interrupted. “I got an abortion.”

Gary felt the color drain from his face. “No!” The topsy-turvy feeling returned; the phone nearly fell from his hand. “Ellen, no…

“I didn’t want that baby, Gary; and I don’t want you. I never want to see you again. If you come near me, I’ll have you arrested! I mean it. Now, leave me alone!”

 

Didn’t want that baby… don’t want you… got an abortion. Ellen’s words hammered in his brain. Dizzy and weak, Gary curled into a ball; he couldn’t absorb her words. Ellen loved him – he knew that! But she said she didn’t. And aborted the baby? Mom would’ve known what to say. She’d have sat on his bed, stroking his hair, soothing him; she’d have held him and wept with him over her lost grandchild. But she wasn’t here. She’d left him. And he was left to mourn his baby alone.

That night, after tossing back a hefty scotch, Dad confronted Gary about his impending fatherhood. “You’d best be planning to make an honest woman of her. Though I can’t see why she’d marry a no-good bum like you!”

“I asked her. She said No.” He didn’t mention the abortion. He won’t care anyway.

Sneering, Dad refilled his glass. “Well, who could blame her?”

Gary had never openly opposed his father before. “I dunno. I can’t understand how I turned out so awful… after the terrific example you set.”

“Why, you lousy little–” Dad slammed his scotch glass down on the coffee table. With a soft hiss of leather through fabric, off came his belt. Doubling it, he lunged at Gary, sputtering.

Gary winced as several blows landed across his back. Then something snapped. Ellen’s rejection and news of her abortion were already too much. He caught the belt as it lashed toward him. Wrapping it around his hand, he reeled Dad in. “Stop it!” he roared, eye to eye with his father. He hurled the strap across the room. And for the first time, Gary hit back. “I’ve taken enough of your shit! It stops now!”

Dad stumbled backward against the table, fell onto the couch. The amber liquid sloshed. Scrambling to his feet, he charged, giving Gary a mighty shove. “You ungrateful little fuck!”

Before he could say more, Gary struck again. Dad staggered and fell; by the time he got up again, his son had the upper hand. He fought fiercely, retaliating for years of humiliation and beatings. Rage fueled his determination. “You bastard! How’s it feel to be on the receiving end?” A left to the jaw; a right to the midsection; a left jab to the face. Gary felt more than heard the crunch as bone gave way. Shaking off the pain, he watched in smug satisfaction as Dad wiped at the blood streaming from his broken nose.

“You lousy little shit!” he snarled. “I want your worthless ass out of here! Now!” Grabbing for the sticky glass, he gulped his scotch, then poured another.

 

When Gary arrived, heartsick and empty, dim light still glowed from the study at 52 Field Court. He gave a hesitant rap at the door.

“Gary!” He’d grown since Edward had last seen him – he was nearly six feet tall – but the old man still towered over him.

Grandpa had been an imposing figure when his grandkids were young. His great “tallth,” as they called it, frightened them. They said he was like an oak tree. They’d been right. He was sturdy and dependable. “Dad threw me out,” Gary blurted out. “I didn’t know where else to go.”

Edward hugged him. “You came to the right place. Welcome home, Gary.”

Gary needed that hug. Home. What a nice feeling! It’s good to be welcome somewhere.


CAPA-U 2011

May 5, 2011

This Saturday, May 7, I’ll be speaking at the eighth annual Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association professional-development day for writers. CAPA-U (short for CAPA University) will be at the Hartford Steam Boiler Conference Center, One State Street, Hartford, CT.

I’ll be part of a panel discussing what to expect when working with an editor, and how to get the most from the author-editor relationship. We’ll likely touch on word choice, style, punctuation, spelling, grammar… perhaps even the funny side of the editing process – and, of course, we’ll set aside time to answer your questions.

Your admission gets you the day-long conference, complete with a choice of fifteen different workshops, keynote address, agents’ panel and a one-on-one meeting with a literary agent to discuss your work. A delicious buffet lunch is included… as is secured, indoor parking on site. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet and talk with other authors, hear some informational and inspiring speakers – and possibly win a refund of your registration fee. Not a writer but know someone who is? A ticket to CAPA-U makes a great Mother’s Day present!

There’s still time to sign up for CAPA-U… but don’t delay; registrations are filling up fast! Hope to see you there!


Not the Write Time?

February 19, 2010

Okay, it’s been two-plus weeks since my surgery; my oncologist would get tremendously upset with me if I were to say, “since he gutted me like a fish,” – because, apparently, it’s self deprecating… so I won’t say that. It’s been fifteen days since my surgery (albeit only four since that teensy weensy oozy setback) and I keep feeling like I ought to be back to writing by now. Except that (yes I know this is a sentence fragment; hey, I’m under the influence of Percocet, leave me alone, okay?) every time I begin to think about writing, I decide it’s time to take another nap.

Well, I guess I should enjoy them while I can – the naps, that is. I mean, I seriously doubt my employers [no matter how fond they are of me] would not take kindly to me snoozing beneath my desk. Kind of evokes odd memories of George Costanza from Seinfeld, doesn’t it?

I had been hoping to rejoin the working world this coming Monday… but that depends on a number of factors:

1) whether I’m feeling sufficiently energetic after my followup appointment with the doctor that day;

2) whether my darn company-issued laptop plans to cooperate and recognize the VPN this time (hey, the ubiquitous “they” always tell us the third time’s the charm); and

3) whether the words will actually cooperate and come out to play when I call upon them – and not just spend the afternoon lollygagging about in my cranium until I threaten to coax them out with a crowbar. Okay, so I wouldn’t really do that; who in her right mind (write mind?) would use a crowbar to dislodge adjectives and prepositions? Everyone knows you’re supposed to use a small claw hammer.

What? You were expecting additional factors? Wasn’t three enough for you? I distinctly said it depended upon “a number of factors”; is three not a number?

Okay, okay… in case you find yourself in desperate need of a fourth factor, how’s this grab ya?

4) whether “Take a nap” supersedes everything else on my to-do list.

It occurs to me that each of those four factors may be boiled down, in essence, to one overarching reason: Good writing cannot be forced, cajoled or bribed. When it’s not the right time, it’s not the right time. Period.

That said, it’s probably time for another nap.


Writing through the pain… er, I mean, the drugs

February 12, 2010

It’s such a shame to let good drugs go to waste.

There. I thought I’d get that out right up front.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way… “Let me explain. No, there is too much; let me sum up” (quoting Mandy Patinkin in his role as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride).

February 4th, I underwent abdominal surgery; I’d learned three weeks earlier that I had stage-one uterine cancer. The surgery was more extensive than they’d anticipated, but it went well and they released me early Sunday evening with some phenomenal pharmaceuticals and a caution not to do too much too soon.

The other day, in a Percocet-hazed spate of helpfulness, I volunteered to help my darling hubby with a writing project for his job. It seemed like the ideal offer: I write prose for a living, he’s one of those techie types who spends his days writing code. This should be a breeze. Well, sort of.

So I came up with a splendid idea and ran with it… the piece I wrote was filled with vivid imagery,  excellent comparisons – and some really stunning adjectives, if I do say so myself. It likened the various components of the topic to the individual ingredients in a lovely pot of soup. I told him all he had to do was plug in items about the subject matter to fit the analogies I’d used; then we could work on it a bit further, let it simmer overnight and serve it up with some crusty bread.

Alas, it was not to be.

He took one look at it and said it wasn’t going to fly. Well, of course it wasn’t! Have you ever seen a flying soup (which, you understand, is nothing like having a fly in your soup – but that’s another thing altogether)? At any rate, the bottom line was all those lovely ideas and images had gone completely to waste!

Well, the exercise did serve one purpose: Last night, hubby was IMing with a co-worker who had asked how I was feeling; he told her I certainly seemed to be enjoying the drugs. She mentioned that Percocet can do odd things. His reply: “I know. She’s helping me work on this project and came up with something about soup and executive chefs. Trouble is, I’m supposed to be doing a white paper about database architecture.” Apparently, Amy got quite a chuckle out of that.

Well, I guess I’ll wait for the drugs to kick in again and then check in with a few of the characters in my novel to see if they’re up to anything interesting. On second thought, maybe it’s time for a nap.


Speaking Engagement

May 28, 2009

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and, in case you were wondering, the session at CAPA-U went really well.

I’ve just gotten another speaking engagement. I’ll be a guest presenter at the Rocky Hill Re-employment Group on Thursday, June 18. My topic will be “Grammar 101: How Not to Blow the Interview When You Open Your Mouth.”

This idea arose from my having to sit through one too many presentations by sales professionals who should know better – folks who say things like, “Me and my partner went to a seminar last month,” or “Him and me are going to talk about red widgets…” or the dreaded, “On behalf of my colleague and myself…”

Are you sensing my frustration here? Hang on a second while I thump my head against my desk in futility.

I’ll probably also veer off a little into the need to proofread your resume carefully. After all, you don’t want to send off your resume to a potential employer only to realize later that you listed your last job as “Pubic Relations Manger.”

I may be wrong, but that kind of thing seems awfully specialized… and I’m not sure many folks are hiring mangers these days, pubic or otherwise.

All levity aside, I must admit, I’m a smidgen anxious about getting up in front of people who are really there; my background is in radio – I’m used to talking to people who aren’t there. Really! I used to spend five or six hours a day in a 10×12-foot room, talking into a microphone to people who weren’t there! Now, I could reasonably assume someone was listening (if only my mother… and Scruffy, my cat), but I had no logical way of knowing someone was actually tuned in and paying attention to what I was saying.

And now – well, I just spend my days sitting at a computer, typing words… granted, I’m building pretty things with those words, crafting all kinds of fun structural stuff and making folks go, “Gee, I really want to buy that, now that you’ve described it so nicely!”

But addressing a group of live human beings? Not so much my comfort zone.

If you speak in front of people, how do you get up there and do it? What are your tips, your suggestions, your tools of the trade that make you not want to squeak, “Eep!” and hide behind your lectern?


To Tweet or Not to Tweet… That is the Question (with apologies to Shakespeare)

April 21, 2009

Okay, I’m about to expose my online naïveté. I admit it: I don’t know the first thing about Twitter.

But in the interest of striding boldly into the 21st century (and only nine years behind schedule; how d’you like that?!), I’m thinking of taking the plunge — pushing myself out of the nest, as it were.

But before I do something I might end up deeply regretting (like my 58-year-old friend Stella’s hummingbird tattoo that she got when she was 18 and which now looks sort of like a vulture on Prozac), I want to hear from you: What should I know about Twitter before I go and get myself in over my head?

I caved in to the pressure from my pal John and got on Facebook about four weeks ago — and now I spend my free evenings looking for a good 12-step group to get myself unstuck (before I come unglued, that is).

Talk to me… and soon. I’m almost hoping one of you will talk me out of it.