When Karin Met Chris…

Our wedding anniversary falls between Christmas and New Year’s. We have traditions surrounding our anniversary—mostly involving food, lying around in bed, and watching the same movies every year—including When Harry Met Sally…, a perfect movie for the holiday season—dragging Christmas trees around, skating at Rockefeller Center, dancing at New Year’s Eve bashes (Has anyone ever really attended a party like that? Not us).

We’ve seen When Harry Met Sally… so many times we’ve memorized the lines. We keep saying we have to watch it on mute and just recite the lines ourselves. Sigh. This might have to be the year.

Rest in Peace, Nora Ephron.

I am now a “competent communicator”!!

When you join a Toastmasters club, you start working through the “Competent Communication” manual, a series of 10 speeches, each with a different focus (organization, vocal variety, gestures, etc.), culminating in a big “inspirational” speech to wrap it all together. After two years of procrastination, I finally wrapped up my 10th speech yesterday. And you know what? I was OK!

I roll my eyes at the name of this particular Toastmasters award – Competent Communicator, or CC. I’d like to think I’ve been “competent” for quite some time—after all I’ve been in the business world for (cough) a few years, I’ve run a few meetings, facilitated a few strategy sessions. Sit with me one-on-one and I’d say I’m even better than “competent”—at least “decent” if not “pretty good.”

But public speaking—giving a formal presentation—has always made me nervous. (I am not alone—depending on what list you read, fear of public speaking ranks right up there with fear of dying.) So I figured when I started my own business, I’d better spend a little time getting over that particular fear—or at least learning to hide it better. Thus, Toastmasters.

A few observations about the journey to competence…

  • Early on, I took a presentation skills class from a really good speech coach. I’ve taken public speaking classes before, but somehow in this class the messages came through differently and resonated differently. Perhaps a case of “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
  • Recently I had a chance to watch this speech coach rehearse for an hour-long keynote address. Something about the process shifted my thinking from “presentation” to “performance.” Hard to even describe what happened, but I recall a similar experience watching Olympic downhill skiers many years ago when I was still learning to ski—“Oh, that’s the rhythm/motion/flow I’m supposed to have.” The next day on the hill—way more better!
  • I’ve written about affirmations on this blog. One of my affirmations this year has been “I have a voice that others need to hear.” That shift in my mindset has helped me stop worrying about what other people think and simply focus on what I need to say—after all, they “need to hear” me. How could I refuse them? 🙂
  • I took the opportunity to read a few of my poems aloud for the vocal variety speech, which really was my first foray into “performance” rather than “presentation.”
  • I practiced this last speech a LOT. I’ll be the first to admit, most of my speeches got nowhere near this level of preparation. Our club has a tradition of giving a standing ovation for the 10th speech—so I figured I’d better earn it. And, go figure, practice made a difference!
  • Finally, the “performance” of the speech became much easier because I had some passion for the topic. Since I liked what I was talking about, my facial expressions and gestures and movements more easily reflected that. No stilted feeling of “Oh, I need to put a gesture HERE.” I was in the “flow.”

Yesterday’s poem was written a couple months back, but was part of the process to reach speech #10. Yesterday I did intone my “first true words” in a manner of speaking. I’ll try to repurpose some of those words in an upcoming blog entry. I mean, really, who would not want to read “All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Science Fiction”??

Here’s to Toastmasters—to competence and beyond!


Listen to your own voice.

What does it say?


Block out other voices.

Ignore chittering chatter. Stop

listening to authorities.

You know enough. You’ve

learned enough.


Sort through the noise. Choose the sounds that

resonate. It’s time to write your own

score. The canticle of you.

Find the tones that work together,

the startling intricate variations.

What does your own second soprano say?

What does your own first tenor say?


Listen at the end of the day for the song

not of Solomon but of you,

you with the wisdom of Solomon.

Listen to your own voice.

Listen to your own voice speak

and sing and shout hallelujah.


Listen to your own voice as it heralds that you—you—have

arrived. You have arrived ready to sing,

your radiant voice about to intone

its first true words

its first true words

its first true words

the voice that is yours and yours alone.



listen for the world’s fervent ovation.


Your touch, your kiss, your glance

is electric.  Shock me again.

Sockfeet shuffling on carpet.

Electrical outlet, electrical cord.

Benjamin Franklin flying a kite.

Electrical storm, huddled in bed ignoring

blue flashes that pierce my eyelids.

Electric hairdryer and curling iron.

The things we do to be beautiful.

What is beautiful?  And why?

Why is beautiful?

Why is beautiful.

Electric fences to keep us in,

to keep them out.  When the power’s out,

escalators are staircases, elevators, still boxes.

Electricity travels from your skin to mine.

I see it.  I see your mind

churning ideas, churning out thoughts.

Lightning blazes, thunder explodes.

Thor throws his hammer that cannot miss.

Sif sits at his side, wondering

if all this is really necessary.

Couldn’t a gentle rain do the same thing?

But she has never been a mortal

coupled with another mortal

waiting out the gods’ wrath

and holding on for dear life.


We are having a lovely thunderstorm, so this poem seemed appropriate.

Rima XXIII (translation) – G. A. Bécquer

For a glance, a world;

for a smile, a heaven;

for a kiss…I do not know

what I would give you for a kiss.


Por una mirada, un mundo;

por una sonrisa, un cielo;

por un beso… ¡Yo no sé

qué te diera por un beso!


The original Spanish is from Gustavo Adolpho Bécquer. As always, any errors in the English translation are entirely my own.

My brother, the poet: A meditation on the nature of poetry

I recently received an email—in the form of a poem—from my brother.


The Sister’s Poetry



self absorbed people with time on their hands

sylvia plath

i have to throw up now

pretentious. arrogant. boring.

dear poets, no one gives a shit

sincerely, the world.

the mother calls

to read the sisters poetry

sigh. speakerphone while i jab this knitting needle into my eye

the words are about the house

where we grew up

the words reach my ears

but don’t really connect

on account of the blood from my eye

the mother reads it again

this time i listen

i did not hate the sister’s poem

maybe i like these words

they are interesting and make me feel things

they are not pretentious, they are not arrogant, they are not boring

clearly this is not poetry

glad i got to the bottom of that


I think he needs his own blog, yes?

I was going to get into an essay about how his poem encapsulates the problem with poetry and expectations about poetry…blah blah blah…and then I was afraid I would turn into, well, Sylvia Plath. So I stopped.

Well done, brother.

And I love you, too.

Rima XXI (translation) – G. A. Bécquer

What is poetry? you ask

as your blue eyes stare into mine.

What is poetry?  And you ask this of me?

Poetry…is you.


¿Qué es poesía?, dices, mientras clavas

en mi pupila tu pupila azul,

¡Qué es poesía! ¿Y tú me lo preguntas?

Poesía… eres tú.


The original lovely words are from Gustavo Adolpho Bécquer. Any errors in translation are entirely my own…

I am not dessert

(To Hillary)

I am black coffee and red wine.

I am carrots and celery and sometimes Kalamata olives.

I am salad.

And popcorn.

I am raw fish and smoked oysters.

I am chicken on the grill.


I am not coffee ice cream or red velvet cake.

I am not chocolate mousse or raspberry trifle.

I am so not crème brûlée.


Once in a while I am a piece of apple pie,

but not the kind with crumbs on top.