Monday, August 20, 2012


“Rest In Peace Mr Paolillo”

I suppose this would be the appropriate sentiment to convey respectful condolences to a man who had some minor influence on me. If it ended with “Welcome Back Kotter” that might have worked. But I would have spelled his name differently if I had only been acquainted with that sweetly innocent slice of funny talented young man. He was a funny little guy with an unmistakable smile.

When I saw a couple of Gstar students posting “RIP Mr P” my first thought was “I hope this is part of some scene they are promoting for XScream this year". But someone linked the TMZ report and my heart broke a little. I had to tell my daughter. She was his “Peter Pan” last year. She needed to know.

I texted “Mr P died”
She texted “No freakin way. Are you sure?”
I texted “TMZ reported he died at 4am”
She texted “That’s horrible”

Later I noticed her Facebook status:
“WTF I’m the last to know everything. RIP Mr P. I didn’t know you were gay”

When I read this my first reaction was a giggle. Then I thought, this might not be well received by some people; polite and refined people. It’s not a politically correct memorial. But it was honest and sincere and personal.

I realized that my daughter is missing one of the same filters I lack. It’s a blessing and a curse. People who like us do so instantly. It’s rare that we grow into a friendship that didn’t start off with immediate appreciation of our wit and charm. But there are those who don’t find us charming at all. They are a bit put off right from the start and don’t get over it. Some tolerate us well in small doses, but have no desire to connect on more than a casual basis. She’ll learn more about it as time goes on.

So I have no idea how Mr Paolillo felt about my daughter as a person. I don’t know if he was amused or charmed by her. He may have been put off by her quippy comebacks and less than fully engaged attention. He was her teacher. There were times when she complained about him calling her out for being lazy. I tried to get her to watch “Welcome Back Kotter” so she could see how funny he was. She wasn’t really interested.

But I do know that Mr Paolillo validated my daughter as an actress. He gave her confidence as an artist. I am certain that he knew how incredibly valuable that is. The students he helped and inspired are his true legacy. That’s how I feel as a mother. That’s how I’ll remember him.

And I’ll remember his smile.          

Saturday, May 5, 2012

It just keeps getting better....

He did it again. This time we were seated in "Special" section of the Arena.

The graduates arrived and were packed like sardines in those awful folding chairs. They seemed full of energy and bright and hopeful and they all looked alike. They all had on those Harry Potter costumes.

I quickly consulted my program to try to see if there was a more effective way to locate King Nerd. I took note that he still has three stars next to his name denoting that he's still summa cum laude. Whew. Then I find the description of the colors for each of the departments.

I scroll down and find that the engineering department wears orange tassels. Okay, I look around and as luck (or assigned special seating) would have it we are directly facing the engineering graduates. So I scan the crowd of orange tasseled grads. No King. This is getting frustrating. Then I hear something happening up on the stage.

A bunch of really impressive wizards arrive in really elaborate robes with all kinds of color flag stuff all over them. They look every bit as impressive as Dumbledore and all of the Hogwarts faculty. Then some younger respectful but confident wizards line up on the stage behind the trustees. They have some pretty fancy medals hanging around their necks and gold Sea Org braids hanging down their robes. There are six of them. There are only Six on stage and an auditorium of thousands sitting in the crowd, mind you.

Yep! You guessed it. King Nerd was on the stage with the Top of the Class and Highest Honors. We were gobsmacked! He did it again. In addition to that he has been awarded the UCF Trustees Doctoral Fellowship. This covers his graduate and PhD program as well as a living wage stipend. I googled it. It's like winning Top Chef for Engineering students. (It's probably better - but it's a world I only visit when I see my son)

Since he is also the Official Guitar player for Dropbox in San Francisco, he is a celebrity on both coasts now. This guy has been busy for the last two years. Right? I really am proud as proud can be. I know his dad feels the same way. This kid gives us everything that any parent could hope for from their children. I can't call him King Nerd any more. He's so much more than that. I realized today that he really is an adult. He's so much more than what we gave him. It's hard to express.

That’s why his new title is:

Dr Rock Star!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pirates of the Loxahatchee

You know that Johnny Depp isn’t a real pirate, right? But he certainly plays the part in a way that feeds my fantasy of clever whimsy and a disregard for customarily approved behavior. He is the beautiful and unconventional bad boy that women are undeniably drawn to. I stayed in a relationship for over 17 years because on our first date he promised to show me where the bodies were buried. But even if you haven’t succumbed to these obviously dangerous and at least slightly unhealthy emotional attachments, I’m sure you still understand the attraction. It doesn’t always turn out bad. Sometimes it’s a risk worth taking and sometimes it’s not a risk at all. You can even blame it on destiny sometimes.  

Even the nerdiest guys I ever dated and/or married were guys who managed to hook me with their enjoyment of “coloring outside the lines” in some fashion. While it didn’t always turn out well, I have no regrets. I suppose I’m a bit of a pirate myself. I tend to think of myself as more of a gypsy after being labeled such many years ago. I stopped moving and changing so much after that. My son lived in eleven different homes by the time he was 10 years old. My daughter who was born when he was 14 has lived in the same place her entire life of almost sixteen years. Sometimes I wonder if I changed how I lived and behaved for the right reasons and if I am better for making those changes. Is it possible I lost a bit of myself? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure I brought all of my previous experience with me and it is present in everything I do in my current somewhat low key existence.

So picture this. It was first day of school at Jupiter elementary. It’s hard to explain how important this day was. I don’t remember the first day of first grade hardly at all, but my first day at Jupiter in Mr Buglione’s class was one of those pivotal moments. I had wished to be there. I had dreamed of living in this place. I don’t care if anyone believes me, because I know it is true with my everything. I would be able to become myself there. I would define my life there. I was home. Which didn’t mean I’d stay there, but it was the place that I’d take with me wherever life and adventure led me. In Jupiter I felt loved and accepted. 

I didn’t move from far very away geographically but the culture of Riviera Beach was ironically like being on a different planet. In Jupiter there weren’t just people. There were characters. Everyone knew each other and every person had a definite  role. It was like living in a novel or seeing a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. I had been a depressed and introspective child prone to night terrors and emotional outbursts. I was terribly unpopular in school and was made fun of mercilessly. I talked “baby talk” and spoke very softly. I was painfully shy unless I had gotten to know you quite well. So sometime between the age of nine and ten I began praying for a chance to start over. I just knew that if I could somehow be transported to where no one knew me, I would be happy for the rest of my life. It was a sort of pact I made with God. 

So by divine intervention I arrived that first day of school at Jupiter Elementary in Mr Buglione’s portable classroom. There was the good girl and the nerdy guy and every other cliche you can imagine. We were like the cast of every coming of age movie ever made. There was even a guy who dissected a frog and closed him back up several times. Mr Buglione encouraged him to bring his patient in so we could all observe. Sadly, on the day of the frog operation the patient didn’t survive. But we did get a terrific observation of live working organs that very similarly correlate to our own. The eleven year old veterinarian was holding the lung up so we could see the heart pumping and was going to close him up and then revive him, when the razor blade slipped and the lung just went flat and there was no way to save him.

I doubt I would have enjoyed that experience if I had not moved to Jupiter. Because there I wasn’t the shy uncomfortable friendless kid since first grade. Nope, at Jupiter in sixth grade I was the cute new girl who could pick her own best friend. I had three pairs of Bass Weejuns and two mohair sweaters. I was ready to be confident and popular. By the time I graduated from Jupiter High school I would have more best friends than I can count. They each deserve their own story and that is why I will never have to stop writing. But this is  about the pirates. My attraction to pirates.

Oddly enough it started that day in 1966. I met the first three dimensional pirate I would know. He was the boy who was loudest and most likely to say something inappropriate. He was not the best student and he wasn’t always encouraged when he did speak up, but he had a booming voice and he never backed down and he wouldn’t leave anything unsaid. He was the first bad boy / Pirate type I had ever met or been aware of. This guy was rough and tumble but completely uninhibited about the way he stumbled his way among the more mannerly and gracious of our classmates. I can’t say that I kept in touch with many of my classmates and rarely consider how they may have lived their lives or chased their dreams.

But when Grant Gibson posted a picture on Face Book of sailboats that he shot with his cell phone, I knew I needed the picture. I knew I had a story about that image. I had no idea that it would be a story about a pirate that grew into the man he was meant to become. He became a man who is never afraid to speak up. He speaks his mind and shares his truth and even though he’s a bit rough around the edges he is true to his own character. He married a Jupiter girl; one of my many best friends baby sister. He loves his family and his home town. Just like we all do. Thanks for permission to share the photo. Oh, and thanks for being my first pirate.  :P                                  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Writers Write

There is part of me that despises the fact that I reduce complex events into two dimensional stories. I’m sure there are plenty of well intentioned people who would defend me for doing so and even commend me for my efforts. But I feel entitled to my own criticism. It helps me examine my truth which I trust also eventually leads me away from self loathing. I know all the universal quotes of nearly every philosophy that we can chant until the end of time. But I also realize that most of us feel like impostors in our own lives at least part of the time. So I’m going to try to get completely real with you today.

Writers write, but readers give the story life. The only artistic statement is the statement received. What I mean is, what you bring to your experience and your study of life or art or history is what gives it dimension and meaning. This is universally true. That being said I can justify what I write. It is a two dimensional version of memories and fantasies that have been pulled out of complex events and very multidimensional people. I share snippets of who I knew and who I loved. You provide the substance. I count on you for that. It’s my passion. And now it is my therapy.

A recent bout with cancer has given me what could be described as a severe reality adjustment. But I tend to find a use for negativity and hope for a positive result. Part of cancer recovery is getting back to normal. This is remarkably frightening for me because the way my mind processes this concept is that what I was doing back at normal was what led me to getting cancer. I’m not saying this is true or reasonable thinking. It’s just one of the twists in my personal mental toolkit. But I want to go back to normal, but smarter and safer, if that’s possible. 

I keep thinking my doctor will tell me that my energy will instantly return once I go back to work. Or one day I’ll wake up just knowing that I won’t feel slow and confused and strangely awkward and helpless. I can’t spend the rest of my life changing my bandages and watching bad movies on TV, so I wanted to get past this dark place at least a bit before writing. Sifting through my own thoughts has honestly been a chore. But it’s time to put one foot in front of the other. I still can’t get all of the Christmas decorations put away. But I can start taking things down one at a time. And I can write. The people who read will bring it to life. I think it’s because I remember enough of the good parts to make you feel like it’s worth your contribution. It’s a beautiful thing really.