Book Review: Blown Sideways Through Life: A Hilarious Tour de Resume, by Claudia Shear

Blown Sideways Through LifeBlown Sideways Through Life: A Hilarious Tour de Resume
by Claudia Shear
The Dial Press
116 pages

When I was job-hunting, one of the things that I found to be somewhat of a pain was having to complete a job application with the same exact information as on my resume. I know there are reasons for such, but it just always struck me as something that took entirely too long – and I don’t have nearly as many jobs in my history as most people.

Now, I can be thankful that I’m not Claudia Shear, who writes in her memoir-turned-one-woman-show Blown Sideways Through Life about the 64 different jobs she’s held – and quit, and been fired from, too.

“She worked as  (among other things) a pastry chef, a nude model, a waitress (a lot), a receptionist in a whorehouse, a brunch chef on Fire Island, a proofreader on Wall Street (a lot), and an Italian translator.” ~ from the book jacket

Told in essay format, on their own these stories seem to be simply a collection of “I had this crappy job, I hated it even there was this cool person or two that I worked with, but I wound up telling the owner to go fuck off, so I got fired or quit.”

Repeat. Repeat again. Sixty times.

This is billed as “a hilarious tour de resume,” which made me think that I was going to be in for a very funny read. Although there are certainly some amusing moments as Ms. Shear is sharing anecdotes about her various jobs, something about this kind of irked me and it took me awhile to figure out why. Because I can understand this “take this job and shove it” mentality once, maybe a couple times in one’s career… but not 64 times.

Finally, it dawned on me: I’m reading this in the wrong decade.

Because no way, no how does anyone, in this 2014 economy, treat 64 jobs with that kind of laissez-faire attitude. But Blown Sideways By Life wasn’t written in 2014; it was published nearly 20 years ago, when life was all kinds of different, indeed.

The takeaway is what matters, though, and it’s timeless. It’s especially relevant for this economy. It’s a reminder that every person taking your order, bagging your groceries, cleaning your hotel room, answering the phone, sweeping the floor, and getting your food is more than their job.

You got that, right? We, you, they are more than our jobs.

“You talk to the people who serve you the food the same way you talk to the people you eat the food with. You talk to the people who work for you the same way you talk to the people you work for…

“Sitting on rooftops, desktops, countertops, under counters; perched on milk crates, wine crates, paper cartons, front steps, hanging out in back alleys, deserted cafeterias, spooky hallways, we are all the same: a motley crew of artsy-fartsy types and single mothers and social misfits and immigrants who work six days, double shifts and send all the money home. We are people in recovery, people in denial, gay guys shocking the shit out of pizza guys from Queens – and vice versa. We all fit in because none of us belongs anywhere. And, boy, what you can learn: dirty words in every language and the fact that nobody is just a typist, just a dishwasher, just a cook, just a porter, just a prostitute. That everyone has a story. Everyone has at least one story that will stop your heart.” (pg. 114-115)

Score or Fumble? The NFL Tackles Domestic Violence. (Finally.)

Purple Ribbon

It’s wrong to hurt other people. Hurting other people is a very, very bad thing.

Most of us learn this life lesson pretty well sometime during our earliest years. Then there are some people who grow up, become football players, make unfathomable amounts of money, and think there’s no difference between tackling your opponent on the field and tackling your girlfriend until she’s unconscious or dead.

This mindset has been business-as-usual in the NFL for decades. Now, if Commissioner Roger Goodell is to be believed, the new football season has ushered in a new attitude. In a letter sent to all 32 team owners, Goodell wrote:

“My disciplinary decision [in the Ray Rice incident] led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future
properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we

You’ll forgive me for not performing a shaking my ass, pointing to the sky celebratory endzone dance for you.

I should be. But I can’t, and here’s why.

I spent five years working at Laurel House, a domestic violence agency in suburban Philadelphia, and during that time, had the opportunity to coordinate several fundraising events and domestic violence awareness projects with Coach Andy Reid and his wife Tammy during their tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Reids’ commitment and compassion to helping victims of domestic violence – often in private, off-camera ways – was something genuine and that our agency saw often. I’m grateful for having had that experience and for getting to know them in the way I did. The Philadelphia Eagles also lent their support – both financial and by having players involved – to our events. And more.

What we in Philadelphia knew was something the rest of the NFL didn’t. We knew that having the strength of the Eagles brand during 14 mostly pretty damn good seasons (no matter how the Reid era ended) was some of the most powerful advertising, advocacy and awareness for domestic violence that a nonprofit could have dreamed of. It was our personal Gatorade bucket challenge.

Imagine how different the NFL would be today if each one of the 31 teams had been doing this work alongside us for the past 14 years. We always wondered how much more magnified that message of prevention and awareness could have been if it was shouted throughout every stadium.

I’d like to believe Goodell is sincere and truthful about taking a stand against domestic violence. The reality is that attitudes about domestic violence change slowly, and usually not with press releases or letters hung up in locker rooms, especially in cultures that are indoctrinated to think otherwise. The NFL has been in overtime on this issue for entirely too long.

Now there’s a mandate and an opportunity for teams to partner with the experts in their communities to educate everyone from their players to the fans to the front office staff to the guy hawking the beers in the stands on how to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and how to get help for yourself or someone in crisis. It will take staff and funding and time – all of which are in short supply at domestic violence agencies across the country – but the NFL is a well-funded machine and has the dollars to do this right if they choose to do so.

As they kickoff a new season, here are two things the NFL can do within the next 60 days to demonstrate their commitment to helping to educate people about domestic violence.

1. Remove O.J. Simpson From the Hall of Fame. 
It’s been 20 years since the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, and yet O.J Simpson, former running back for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, still remains a member of the Hall of Fame.

In his letter, Goodell writes: “Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be …violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child. A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL.”

If Pete Rose can be banned from baseball for gambling, then O.J. can be removed from the Hall of Fame for practically beheading his ex-wife and companion while his children slept upstairs.

2. Drop the ball on the pink. 
Hey, have you heard about this disease called breast cancer? You have? I think most of us are Very Goddamned Aware of breast cancer. Then why, pray tell, do we really need the NFL to go all Pretty In Pink every October?

Between the fuchsia ties on the NFL Gameday hosts and the shoelaces on the players, October makes me long for the days of black-and-white television. (Yeah, buddy, I’m old enough to remember that.)  I don’t mean any disrespect to any of my friends or family who have been through this battle, but everyone knows someone who either has or has had breast cancer, most people know where to get answers and help (hint: another of my former employers, the American Cancer Society is a great resource).

Did you know that October happens to also be National Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Oh, you didn’t? I’m betting the NFL didn’t know that, either. What if, in addition to wearing purple, each NFL team distributed purple ribbons at every Sunday game in October along with instructions about what to do if you think someone is in an abusive relationship?

What if they launched a national campaign?

What if a DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) was stationed on-site at every game, for counseling?

What if the NFL created a foundation that would support direct services in local communities for education and shelter and legal assistance for domestic violence victims, and what if a significant, substantial, meaningful percentage (I’m talking almost 50%) of ticket sales from October went towards domestic violence services in each team’s local community?

I’m encouraged by Roger Goodell’s letter – and heartened that it includes some specific examples of ways that the NFL plans to change. Since January 2000, there have been 77 players involved in 85 domestic violence incidents so forgive me for feeling like this is too little, too late. The League has a history and a reputation of fumbling the ball on this issue.

Only time will tell if the NFL scores a touchdown on this one.  I’ll be watching.

And waiting to do my celebratory dance in the endzone.


Book Review: History of the Rain, by Niall Williams

History of the RainHistory of the Rain
by Niall Williams
355 pages

One of Paul McCartney’s most poignant songs, in my view, is the heartrending “Too Much Rain.” In it, he sings about the difficulties of smiling “when your heart is full of pain.” Sometimes, the unfairness of life’s difficulties is just “too much for anyone.” It’s not right, in one life, too much rain,” McCartney sings.  

The abundance of rain in this small Irish fishing village is both literal and figurative in History of the Rain, Niall Williams’ newest novel, which is on the longlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize.

Let me say this: I haven’t read any of the other nominees, but this one gets 5 stars out of 5 in my book. It will be on my Best Books I’ve Read in 2014 list as well as on my list of All Time Favorite books.

I was intrigued from the second paragraph.

“We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That’s how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told.”(pg. 1) 

A few pages further, I wasn’t sure what to make of this novel about the Swains, a poor fishing family living in Ireland. It’s narrated by a bedridden Ruth Swain (she refers to herself as “Plain Ruth Swain”) who is mourning her twin brother Aeney, who, clearly, Something Sad happened to and who is very much beloved.

“Aeney was a magical boy. I knew. We all knew. Some people make you feel better about living. Some people you meet and you feel this little lift in your heart, this Ah, because there’s something in them that’s brighter or lighter, something beautiful or better than you, and here’s the magic: instead of feeling worse, instead of feeling why am I so ordinary? you feel just the opposite, you feel glad. In a weird way you feel better, because before this you hadn’t realised or you’d forgotten human beings could shine so.” (pg. 128)

Throughout most of the novel, we’re not sure why Ruth is bedridden, nor what happened to Aeney (until closer to the end), or if that’s the reason Ruth is bedridden or what.  What we do know is that it rains constantly in Faha, that there was a grandfather who was a pole-vaulter and a salmon-catcher, and that there was an Impossible Standard that the Swains felt compelled to live up to. We know that Ruth is trying to better understand her father Virgil (yes, Virgil) by reading the 3,958 books – mostly classics – that he owned and that are stacked throughout her attic room. She references these books often in her direct narration to the reader. They’re catalogued, dropped like acorns throughout the narrative. (Someone needs to start a book club of all 3,958 of these books.)

“I love the feel of a book. I love the touch and smell and sound of the pages. I love the handling. A book is a sensual thing. You sit curled in a chair with it or like me you take it to bed and it’s, well, enveloping. Weird I am. I know. What the Hell? as Bobby Bowe says to everything. You either get it or you don’t. When my father first took me to Ennis Library I went down among the shelves and felt company, not only the company of the writers, but the readers too, because they had lifted and opened and read these books. The books were worn in a way they can only get worn by hands and eyes and minds; these were the literal original Facebooks, the books where faces had been, and I just loved it, the whole strange sense of being aboard a readership.” (pg. 62)

I seriously underestimated this book at first because I didn’t quite know where Niall Williams was taking us with this one. (It all comes together at the end.)  In the meantime, here’s what makes Niall Williams so immensely talented as a writer: somehow, you trust him as an author and he makes you, the reader, trust him because the writing in this one is fantastic. Truly, it is some of the best writing I’ve ever read.  The metaphors (“sash windows rattling like denture laughter”) are gems.

Along with the writing, Williams draws you in with unforgettable characters. Ruthie is so smart, so sensitive and insightful  (“Hope, you see, takes a long time to die,”) yet so sad without the ones she loves.

“When I call my father Virgil Swain I think he’s a story. I think I invented him. I think maybe I never had a father and in the gap where he should be I have put a story. I see this figure on the riverbank and I try to match him to the boy I have imagined, but find instead a gristle of truth, that human beings are not seamless smooth creations, they have insoluble parts, and the closer you look the more mysterious they become.” (pg. 169)

“Because, just like his father, our father was not young when we were born, there was an extra-ness to the joy. It’s not that we were unexpected, it’s that until his children were in his arms he hadn’t actually gotten further than the imagining of us. He was a poet, and the least practical man in the world. And a baby is a practical thing.

Two babies, well.”  (pg. 129)

This is probably going to be among my favorite books of 2014. I’d love to see this win The Man Booker Prize so it gets more attention. (‘Course, I haven’t read any of the others, but whatever.)

“We tell stories. We tell stories to pass the time, to leave the world for a while, or go more deeply into it. We tell stories to heal the pain of living.” (pg. 176)

With History of the Rain, Niall Williams has written exactly that kind of story.

5 stars out of 5

Highly recommended









Flight Behavior Completes the Big Book Summer Challenge

Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

With tomorrow being the first day of school for my kids, this is the unofficial last day of summer in our house. It’s also a good time to give a wrap up report on my progress with the Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by my friend Sue at Book by Book.

I like this challenge because it’s low-key and fairly easy, making it perfect for the summertime. Sue keeps things simple: read one book of 400 pages or more. Even if I only read one book – my average for this challenge – it gives me a nice sense of accomplishment.

(If you think you’ve got what it takes to tackle a chunkster or two this week, you still have time to join the challenge, as it doesn’t end until September 1.)

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver was my choice this year. Originally I had selected The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, but I couldn’t get into that one.

At the beginning of this story, Dellarobia Turnbow is a unhappily married wife and mother living in Appalachia – and contemplating cheating on her husband. While en route to meeting her lover, she turns back upon noticing that an entire field of her family’s mountain is aflame. It’s a sign of something bigger, she thinks, and indeed it is: rather than fire, the vision is thousands of monarch butterflies that have migrated north from their native habitat to rural Tennessee because of the effects of climate change.

The butterflies’ flight from the only home they’ve known serves as a symbol for much larger issues and themes in the novel, all of which Ms. Kingsolver handles with the skill of a writer that knows the science behind her facts and knows how to craft a gorgeous sentence to draw her reader into the drama.

I listened to Flight Behavior on audio (it’s 17 hours long) and while I enjoyed the novel, I think I would have liked it more had I read it exclusively in print.  (I also have a copy on my Kindle, and that’s 610 pages.). Barbara Kingsolver’s narration was fine, but one of my pet peeves as an audio book listener is female narrators “doing” male voices, especially those with an accent. That irks me to no end and that’s fairly prevalent throughout the audio version.

Recommended. 3.5 stars out of 5


still remembering kristin

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (30)

You are not forgotten today.

Remembering you and thinking of your family with love.

Live While You (and They’re) Young: A Parent’s Guide for Surviving One Direction


One Direction - See You in Philadelphia - Aug 13, 2014

The Day has finally, blessedly arrived.

The Girl and I have arrived in Philadelphia for the momentous occasion of this evening’s One Direction concert at Lincoln Financial Field, which we’ll be attending with approximately 80,000 other devotees.

To say that my girl is a One Direction fan is putting it mildly.  Every visible space in her room is covered with some piece of 1D merchandise: posters, magazine articles, even a life-size cardboard cut-out of Harry Styles himself.  She writes a 1D blog. I’ve been informed that Mr. Styles is my future son-in-law, a prospect which The Husband and I heartily approve of because it will accelerate the likelihood that The Husband and I may actually get to retire someday (at least before, say, age 96).

Tonight’s concert extravaganza is not our first time paying homage (and a boatload of money) to the lads of One Direction.  We saw them last summer in Pittsburgh, an experience which qualifies me – in my humble opinion – to offer up some advice to my fellow parental concert-goers this evening on how to properly enjoy the show and their kid’s One Direction obsession.

1. Get familiar with the music. 

Back in the day, our parents knew every line of every song by heart of our favorite bands. Not so much anymore, in the days of iPods and iWhatevers.  Chances are, you know a few of 1D’s most popular songs but you might want to give yourself a crash course in the others. Dare I say, there’s some pretty stuff on those three albums of theirs. Because we’re going to the concert with my BFF from 4th grade and in my hometown of Philadelphia, I’ve already told my daughter that this mom who cries at credit card commercials is likely to break out the tissues for “Don’t Forget Where You Belong,” if it’s included in their repertoire. (“Don’t forget where you belong–home/ Don’t forget where you belong–home/  If you ever feel alone–don’t/  You were never on your own/ And the proof is in this song.”)  Cheesy? Hell, yeah. But cheese is good.  

2. Use the experience as the bonding experience it is. 

That time your best friend camped out overnight for Michael Jackson tickets at Gold Medal Sporting Goods and you weren’t allowed but your mom relented and drove you over there at 4 a.m. anyway? The one about the band who you did PR work for when they came to your college and your then-boss hit on them but got pissed when the musicians flirted with your 20 year old self instead? All true, in my case.) This is a prime opportunity to drag out those stories and show your kid that you, too, know what it’s like to be A Fan of Good Music. And cute musicians.

On second thought, maybe some stories are not quite ready for prime time. Just sayin’. But it’s a hell of lot of fun to dance down memory lane.

3. Embrace the passion.

If Directioners are anything else, they’re passionate. At least my kid is. And that’s the thing that makes this fun. Our lives can sometimes seem a bit, well, routine.  At least mine is. Concerts and carefree road-trippin’ five hours across the state to see a band are very much a thing of my ancient past. But here’s what I’ve learned through my daughter’s obsession with One Direction:

Remembering what it was like then to love something so deeply (whether it was that boy from down the street or that boy band from an ocean away), somehow makes it possible to rediscover the passion and the fun in your life today. Sure, staying up all night might be defined as 9:00 p.m. now.  But in the midst of this, it’s still possible to find the stuff that memories will be made of.

And live while you – and they – are still young.


The Sunday Salon: Currently, 8/10/2014

The Sunday Salon

Time/Place: 8:28 p.m., my family room

Watching: My kids are watching the Teen Choice Awards.  It’s been 29 minutes and I’ve lost count of how many arguments they’ve gotten into already. I may need to separate them. (You’d think they were toddlers. They’re 12.)

Eating/Drinking: I’m wrestling with yet another killer sinus headache this weekend, so I made a pot of gluten-free matzoh ball soup for dinner. Green beans and veggie chicken patties (the latter being for The Husband and kids) rounded out our meal.

Flight BehaviorListening: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver is still my audio book in the car, for at least the second week in a row. I have it on my Kindle too and I read some while waiting for The Boy at an appointment this afternoon.

Anticipating: Audio books and my Kindle are going to be my primary reading mainstays for the upcoming week. The kids and I are road-trippin’ it back to my hometown of Philadelphia mid-week. The Boy will be spending a few days with my in-laws, and The Girl and I are heading to the One Direction concert. (My girl is beyond obsessed with One Direction, to put it kindly.) We’re going to the concert with my best friend since 4th grade and her daughter.  I’ll get to spend a rare day hanging out with my BFF along with some time at my mom’s.

The kids will wrap up their summer vacation (school starts in two weeks!) with some time at the grandparents’ while I head back to the ‘Burgh solo – and in addition to finishing up Flight Behavior, I have Rob Lowe’s second memoir, Love Life queued up to listen to.  (I mean, I can certainly think of less desirable people than Rob Lowe to spend six hours in the car with.) Also on deck as an audio book is Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.

Reading: Because of the bricks sitting on my sinuses, reading has been a bit difficult – a very unfortunate situation because I’m in the middle of History of the Rain by Niall Williams. This is one of the nominees for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, and my God, this is so damn good.

I seriously underestimated this book at first. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to make of this novel about the Swains, a fishing family living in Ireland. It’s narrated by a bedridden Ruth Swain (as of page 152, we still don’t know why) who is mourning her twin brother Aeney (we don’t know what happened to him, but Williams has given his reader a sense of the circumstances). Ruth is trying to better understand her father Virgil (yes, Virgil) by reading the 3,958 books – mostly classics – that he owned and that are stacked throughout her room. She references them a lot in her direct narration to the reader. (Someone needs to start a book club of all 3,958 of these books.)

Doesn’t sound like much, right? I know. But the writing in this one is fantastic. And the character of Ruthie! My heart’s breaking for her. This is what The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (which I did not like) could have been.

Anyway. This is probably going to be among my favorite books of 2014. I’d love to see this win The Man Booker Prize so it gets more attention. (‘Course, I haven’t read any of the others, but whatever.)

Poetry June 2014Finally, despite an especially busy workweek, I was able to get outside for lunch several times this week and read for a bit. For whatever reason, poetry has been somewhat of a stress-reliever lately while still continuing to elude me most of the time. (Go figure.) Perhaps I just like a literary challenge – or, perhaps, not too much of one that I can’t move along quickly to the next piece.

I’m really liking the various literary journals that the Library subscribes to, and they’ve been my lunchtime reading. This week I read the June 2014 issue of Poetry Magazine, published by the Poetry Foundation. I was most struck by Anne Frank’s High Heels” by Phillis Levin. Right from the title, we know Anne Frank didn’t wear high heels – she didn’t get a chance to. What those high heels represent – the possibilities, the future, the journeys yet to be taken, the roads to be discovered – give Phillis Levin’s poem even more of a sense of loss, making it even more powerful.

(Go ahead and click on the link to read it – and take special note of the date mentioned in the poem.)