I read, I write, I tweet


That's right, you read it correctly: I've joined Twitter. 

I joined primarily as a way to connect with and follow some of my favorite writers, booksellers, bloggers, readers, publishers, literary agents, journals, magazines and anyone else who has a deep love for the written word.  I recently decided to stop fantasizing about writing a book and to just do it, so I'm throwing myself into the process.  For me, part of the process is learning from and being inspired by those who love to read and write and be surrounded by words, and Twitter is one of the most efficient ways of connecting with these people. 

So, if you love to read, or write, or just enjoy reading my blog, I invite you to be my twitter friend, or follow me, or tweet me, or whatever it's called.  And if Twitter isn't your thing, maybe you can recommend writers or bloggers or interesting people who I should be following.  Who can I learn from?  Which writers have inspired you?  Which libraries have impressive programming?  Do you have a stellar bookstore in your neighborhood?  What's your favorite book?  What's your favorite word?  If you had one hour left to live, and were given a piece of paper and a pencil, who would you write to and what would you say?  

Find me on Twitter @StewMody, or find me here, always.  

Thanks friends...



Since I last wrote, I can't tell you what I've been up to, but I can tell you what I've been thinking. My brain has been all over the place; it's been all around the world, at the beach, in the clouds, in the past, in the future, in a fog, in the gutter, focused on work, focused on house, focused on family, consumed with hopes and dreams and plans, and distracted by just about everything. Being inside my ADD head is like watching a fast-paced ping-pong game. Your focus is over here, now over there, now over here, now over there, and so on. It's exhausting, and exhilarating at the same time.

Here's a snippet of what I've been thinking about :

"Oh my God these pictures are gorgeous, we have to go to Taormina, Italy, yes we are going, where will we stay, (google hotels, google costs, google weather, google map), I can't wait to go to Taormina, Italy; Oh, travel, right, the beach, LBI, is our same house available this year? Let me open my laptop and email our rental agent; right, laptop, oh that reminds me I need to check out carpet prices for the stairwell, www. ...what was I doing? Oh right, I need to check the weather for tomorrow to see if it's gonna be warm enough to wear that skirt; oh, speaking of that skirt, I need to do laundry, (wander into bedroom, look out window into backyard), oh those bricks need to come up, we should make a fire-pit using those bricks, I need to get in touch with Tom about helping us conceptualize a garden, I don't have Tom's number, let me get in touch with Shazz. Man, Shazz and I used to go for some great walks together when I was training for the 3-day, I used to cover some serious distance when training for that walk. Wow, distance walking, I really really want to hike the AT at some point, and the AT crosses over Mt. Washington, and I really want to hike Mt. Washington and see where Steve died... Wow, I can't believe that Steve and Dad have died, it's so surreal, I need to write a book about Dad's death. I really really want to write this book, but how do I move from writing to publishing? OMG Borders is going out of business, I need to go there and look for a book on How To Publish a Book, (at Borders), I should look for a book on Taormina or Sicily- but wait, maybe New England, YES, Boston, Jay mentioned going to Boston the other night- no wait, the Grand Canyon, and Colorado, and National Parks, and- oh I need to find a book on Home Renovation, hmmm, the house, what should we do? Take over the first and second floor? How will we open the two floors up to be one home? I wonder how mom is doing with her home search in CT. I know she doesn't want any stairs, hmmm how will we handle our stairs if we keep a third floor tenant, "Jay can we make new stairs?", Thank God my parents' Master bedroom was on the ground floor and they didn't have to deal with stairs in his final months, man I miss Dad, I really need to write this book. Oh right, speaking of writing, I should blog real quick..."

And that brings us to the current moment, folks. Hope you like ping-pong; Game ON!

Morning Miracle


Most mornings, I over-sleep.  It's usually by choice, but still, with great regularity, I stay in the bed longer than I should.  This chronic decision always results in a fairly frantic morning routine for me.  I could (should) get up early, do yoga, have breakfast, peruse the internets, and ease into my day the way the sun eases into the morning sky.
But no, I don't.  And this daily decision results in me being dangerously late for my train to work just about every single day.  I mean there are mornings when I have to scream "waaaaaiiiitt" in order to stop the conductor from leaving without me.  I leave myself 2 minutes to get from my house to the station, when I should leave a good 5 minutes.  I seriously race out the door, sprint up the sidewalk, and drive like a lunatic to the station, thinking, "I'm gonna miss it today, there's just no way...".  But then, without fail, I pull in just as the train is pulling in, or just as the last passenger is boarding, and I wind up making the train. Every morning, its a mad dash to the station, and every morning, it's a miracle that I actually make the train. 

It's kind of nice actually; it's a good trade-off.  I give up yoga and meditative calm, but I get to bear witness to a miracle, every morning.  Now that's a way to start a day!  I'm on the train right now (miracle!) in total disbelief that I'm on the train.  It's a St. Patrick's Day miracle! 

Here's hoping your day is filled with miracles, too. Cheers!

From Jobless to Job Bliss


I had a profound realization today: I love my job.

I guess you could say that I've known this for some time, but today was just one of those days where I found myself engaged in exactly the kind of work I had hoped for upon graduation. While in school, I had a tough time articulating exactly what I wanted to do, but could easily recite a lengthy list of things I knew I didn't want to do.

Even though I didn't know what I wanted to be or precisely what I wanted to do, I had ideas about how I wanted to spend my days. Basically, I wanted to use my brain in some capacity, I wanted to conduct education and outreach in the community, I wanted my work to be relationship-focused, and I generally wanted to work towards putting a meaningful dent in a problem that affects individuals and communities. I currently find myself doing those things in my day-to-day, and I've gotta say, I feel quite satisfied.

As you may know, I am a volunteer coordinator for a Medicare fraud prevention education program. The program utilizes seniors to teach other seniors about Medicare fraud, and it is my job to find those senior volunteers, train them, and then find venues for them to go out and share the message of fraud prevention with their peers. One really great aspect of our program is that it's federally funded while also being relatively grassroots in nature, so we have quite a bit of autonomy in terms of how we choose to meet our goals. While there are best practices, there is no mandated or prescribed formula that we must follow. As long as we have an active volunteer force statewide and are reaching certain numbers of folks via presentations, community events and media placements, we're good. I'm generalizing, yes- but you get the point.

On any given day, I can be out in the community educating folks about fraud and our program; I can be creating new marketing materials; I can be recruiting and training new volunteers; I can be handling fraud cases that come in to our office; I can be creating new partnerships with other organizations; I can be writing press releases and articles; I can be developing new trainings, etc. Each day is different, and each day is challenging and rewarding in its own way.

Today I went out to speak to a group of professionals and community leaders of a particular ethnic and cultural background to tell them about our program; to offer programming to their clients, residents, constituents, etc., and to ask for their help in growing our program in their communities throughout Philadelphia. When I've gone out and done these things in the past, people are usually interested, engaged, and talk about partnering in the future while we exchange business cards and make promises to email each other at a later time. Today, people approached me right away and asked me to come to their agency after the meeting. I met one incredibly passionate community leader who took me to his agency where we met with four other people, and within 30 minutes we set up an action plan for not only bringing the message of fraud prevention into this particular community, but we also identified potential bilingual volunteers and even discussed a current, potentially fraudulent case. Wow.

Now this is what I'm talking about; we went from education to action in the course of an hour, and we set in motion something that could potentially expose fraudulent activity. We built relationships and forged new partnerships that will hopefully put a dent in a major social problem. Yes, this is what I wanted; this is why I went to school. And the icing on this goodness cake? I have some seriously awesome colleagues whom I admire, respect, and genuinely enjoy being around, whether we're engaged in some serious silliness or some silly seriousness.

Anyway, I'm just feeling all sorts of grateful for my job and for the people who make my days what they are. I think we tend to give a lot of energy to dissecting and analyzing what's wrong with our lives and what's lacking; I just wanted to give a shout out to what's right in my life, and to give thanks.

So, thanks job. You rock.


Spooked & Rejuve'd


I think it's a combination of being cooped up all winter and the influence of the books I've been reading recently (A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson; AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, by David Miller), but I've been craving wilderness lately. More specifically, I've been wanting to wander, roam, explore; I've been wanting to get lost in some small, relatively controlled way. I wasn't looking for a Blair Witch experience, nor was I modeling my adventure after Chris McCandless' experience in the Alaskan wilderness; rather, I was hoping for a day of solitudinous wandering through the winter woods.

So, as a birthday gift to myself, I took last Friday off from work and went for a hike in the woods. I drove about an hour west of Philadelphia to a back-country loop-ish trail on the outskirts of French Creek State Park. The trailhead was not actually in the park but on a rural back-road. There were two other cars parked in the lot, and as I pulled into my spot, the sound of dueling banjos crept into my mind. Deliverance, anyone? The banjos grew louder as I stepped out of the car and into the deafening silence of the wilderness. This was the first sign that I've been living in an urban area for awhile... I am so used to a constant stream of white noise, to the point where deep quiet was alarming at first.

Ahhh, but then I heard the whoosh of wind through the trees and inhaled the cool, crisp air and instantly felt at ease. I geared up, crossed the street, and slipped into the woods. Right away, I saw a man who was leaving the woods, and we quickly said hello. I don't know why, but something about this man spooked me out. He just didn't seem friendly, in fact, he seemed suspicious, guilty even.

As I walked along the early part of the trail, I couldn't shake the thought of this guy. I kept thinking, "ok, a strange man who gave me the heebee jeebees just saw me walk alone into the woods. There is only one other car in the lot, which means that there is only one other person somewhere along this entire trail. If that guy wanted to do me harm, he could easily find me and rape me, kill me, whatever". Seriously, these thoughts infiltrated my mind and made me paranoid for the first leg of the hike. This was sign number two that I've been living in Philadelphia for awhile, as I never feel spooked even when walking around different parts of the city at night.

It took me at least 30 minutes to realize that nobody was following me through the woods, trying to kill me. I finally realized that my concern, while valid, had escalated to an unsubstantiated paranoia and was interfering with my birthday wish of enjoying wandering through the woods. So with that, I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about being all alone in the big scary woods and start enjoying the fact that I was indeed all alone in the beautiful, quiet woods.

The rest of the day was exactly what I had hoped for. Although the trail was semi-blazed, there were several sections of trail that were unmarked and I literally felt lost. But it wasn't like "I'm in the middle of Siberia" lost; It was like "I can always backtrack if necessary" lost.
I encountered the one other person on the trail roughly an hour into the hike. We exchanged friendly hellos, talked about how gorgeous the day was, and wished each other a good hike. It felt liberating to wander and find my way. I crossed multiple creeks, navigated some rocky terrain, and climbed up some steep hills. I also discovered some excellent moss specimens, some of which were sun-kissed. Need I say more? Other than the sounds of my own steps, the wind, and the occasional animal, all was quiet. No people, no cars, no phone, no tv, no nothing. It was like the quiet car, but without the car and all of the people. It was bliss.

I did a lot of much-needed processing during the hike, too. I came to some realizations, fleshed out some creative ideas, let go of what needed to go, picked up some new curiosities, and expressed gratitude for where my journey has taken me thus far. It's amazing what a little solitude and fresh air can do for the psyche. Even though the I entered the woods feeling fairly spooked and like my life could potentially end at age 33, I emerged from the same woods feeling safe, triumphant and ready to embrace #34. Happy birthday to me :)

Quiet, Silent Car


It's no secret that I ride in the quiet car on the train.  I'm someone who deeply appreciates peace and quiet during my commute.  Nothing gets on my nerves more than people who talk on their phones on the train.  Ugh.  I realize they have every right to do this, I just think it's SO obnoxious and inconsiderate!  It's one thing to have a brief, quiet exchange, but what's with those people who think the train is their own private phone booth?  Um, we can hear you; we can ALL hear EVERY word that you say, despite your laughable efforts to be discreet.  There ain't nothin' private nor discreet about rush-hour.  

So... I love that SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) has devoted a car on every peak train to me and my fellow peace and quiet loving riders.  How considerate!  In my ideal world, there would be one "loud car" and the rest would be quiet, leaving all the loud talkers together, constantly trying to out-talk the others.  A girl can dream...

But for now, I have one lone quiet car, and it is my salvation.  I have 25 golden, quiet minutes before work, and 25 minutes of much-needed muteness after work.  Every now and again, someone gets on the quiet car that isn't hip to the rules, and starts blabbing away.  The tension is palpable, and every rider's blood is boiling - I can guarantee it.  It's like someone coming into the non-smoking section of a restaurant (when there was such a thing), lighting up, and blowing offensive exhaust all over the non-smokers.  You kinda feel bad, cause they don't realize the rules; they can't imagine that there are a tribe of people who crave quiet.  Quiet?  It's unfathomable to them.  Why be quiet when you can be LOUD!!!!!???  The noise offenders also don't realize that this entire tribe of quite-loving people are quietly hating on them and poking needles into the mouths of the voodoo dolls they're quietly holding.  What can I say, we're a quiet yet brutal bunch.  Don't mess with the muted.

This is when the rules of the quiet car all come down to enforcement.  Us quiet types can be a little passive-aggressive when it comes to "SShhhhhh"ing other people.  The last thing we want to do is add to the already annoying sound-scape, so we tend to stare and make all sorts of huffy, non-verbal gestures.  I'm ashamed to say, we're big on shaming.  Shame on you, loud person!  That's what we're thinking, every single one of us.  

Every once in awhile, a ballsy rider with chutzpah will shout "Shut up, it's the quiet car", but mostly it's up to the conductor to either enforce or ignore the rules of the quiet car.  Some conductors simply don't care, and are probably loud-talkers themselves when they ride transit.  They do not seem to respect nor enforce the rules of the quiet car.  All sorts of violations occur under their leadership, resulting in an angsty bunch of quiet-deprived commuters who seem to be on the brink of going postal, particularly on Mondays.  Other conductors are really great about enforcing and respecting the rules, and go about it in a kind way.

There is one conductor, however, that I liken to the Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame.  You talk?   No train for you!  If you're going to talk in his quiet car, you might as well kill his family.  Same same.  Most conductors walk through the car and say "all tickets and passes please", but this guys respects quiet so much that he doesn't say anything, not a peep.  If he gets to your seat and you don't have your ticket or pass ready, he simply clicks his hole-punch clicker several times to non-verbally alert you of your failure to have your ticket or pass ready.  It's rather intimidating.  If he hears *any* talking, he will immediately approach the offender and call them out.  He is so quiet that he doesn't even announce the stops, leaving riders to guess which stop is next, which can be challenging in the dark.  

While I appreciate this particular conductor's adherence to the rules, I think he's gone overboard.  He makes me nervous.  The quiet car is supposed to be about peace, not fear.  Like I mentioned above, I don't mind minor infractions or the occasional noise; I just want a commute that is relatively free of chaos, noise, and tension.  I want quiet, not necessarily pin-drop silence.  This guy is so die-hard that I'm considering riding in the loud cars just to avoid him and his rigid ways.

Hmmm... wait a minute, I need to think this through; I need some quiet, preferably silence, to be able to meditate on this before I make a decision.  Lucky for me, I know just the place to find 25 minutes of guaranteed silence.  

Maybe he's not so bad after all...   But Shhhhh... don't tell him that - he'll kick you off the train!