Thursday, August 31, 2017

#Creativity Exercise: Find Your Four Words

While cleaning out a closet, I found a box full of old notes and clippings and a few drawings. This, this, is my self-portrait at 23 years of age.

Oy. So sad. So, so sad. I know why, and I won't bore you with the details -- let's just say men were involved. Now, looking at this, I just want to reach back and tell my dear younger self, "It gets better! It really does!"

The words that come to mind when I look at this are all negative. (Well, other than the part of my brain that says, "Damn, girl. That's not a bad self portrait.") And that brings us to today's creativity exercise!

My Instagram account includes a four-word bio -- and all four words make me happy: Writer. Mother. Baker. Friend. If you had only four words to describe yourself, what would they be? This is a quick exercise: Decide on your four words in the next 60 seconds. Go!

Looking for a longer creativity exercise? Draw a self portrait. Then put it in a box somewhere, for your future self to find ... and remember.

P.S.: I'm glad I lost the despair. I wish I still had that blue-and-white sweater.

Monday, August 21, 2017

In the Path of Totality

It's not often that a cosmic event coincides with one of my published poems, but today is the day! Being in the path of totality for the eclipse reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago. I'm happy to say it was published in The Kansas City Star. The book editor back then liked it; I hope you do too.

by Jan Sokoloff Harness

In the path of totality
the eclipse is complete.
darkness conquers
For a moment.

Those in the path
don’t look
directly at the sun.
don’t look
directly at the danger.

Standing in the path we
don’t look
directly at each other.
darkness conquers
For a moment.

P.S. You know what I think of when I think of this poem? My friend Angela cut it out of the newspaper when it was published and framed it for me. Kindness matters. Love wins.

P.P.S. Total Eclipse of the Heart. A classic, especially for today.

P.P.P.S. For goodness sake, if you're viewing the eclipse, protect your eyes.

Credit: Rick Fienberg

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday Fun: Attractive People ...

While we're celebrating 15 years of Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC, I should point out that I did work a few years before launching my own company. OK, a few decades. There was KBEA, KXTR, KUDL, WHB, UMKC, CCG and -- last but definitely not least -- Blades & Associates.

I figured the resume should have at least one company with a full name.

One of my proudest career accomplishments is that I am still friends with people from every job. I even married one of them.

A perk of being friends with people for years and years and years is that they remember things I forget. Today's post is courtesy of Barb Pruitt, the best boss I ever had and an amazing woman and role model. Simply put, she rocks. (So does her son, Wes. Check this out.)

Anyhoo, after reading my Wednesday post, Barb reminded me of one of her favorite quotes from my mom -- a mom-ism I had forgotten. When I would come home in tears with a horrible school picture, Mom would hug me and say, with all sincerity: "You're beautiful, Janet! And you know what? If you met a magazine model on the street, they're really not that pretty. Attractive people just don't photograph well. It's a fact."

I believe her. Here's to Mom, and Barb, and all you beautiful people! Now you know what to say when the kids bring those hideous school photos home. Attractive people just don't photograph well.
Yep. Me at 12 -- one of my best school pics. 
I was looking for the one the year before, with the white horn-rimmed glasses.
I apparently tossed that one. Go figure. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Creative Inspiration: Kissing Words

As we continue our 15th anniversary celebration for Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC, it's only appropriate to go back to the moment that inspired me to launch the company.

In 2002, my sweet sister Eva took me to a women's health conference in Columbia, Mo. The heart of the keynote speaker's presentation came down to one essential question: "What would you do today if you were brave?"

Words matter. Words change lives. That question changed mine. As I drove back to Kansas City, I knew what I would do. And, with support from family and friends, I did it.

Given the power of words, it's only fitting that our next Fabulous 15 list focuses on a few of my favorite quotes. Enjoy!

15 Fabulous Favorites: Quotes
Photo by the wonderful Leslie Adams,
my creative partner throughout!
  1. Wherever you go, go with all your heart.
    Confucius. I love this line so much, it's on my business cards.  
  2. Though she be but little, she is fierce.
    Shakespeare. Self-explanatory. 
  3. We write. We talk. That's what Jewish women do. We kiss words. 
    We kiss words. Three is magic. By Susan Schnur in Lilith.
  4. People change, and forget to tell each other. 
    Lillian Hellman. And she was right.
  5. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
    Edmund Burke.
  6. If you rest, you rust. 
    Helen Hayes. She's gone, but she didn't rust away. (Yes, I know. Some rest is good. I'm working on it. Hmmmm. Can you work on resting? You see my challenge.)
  7. Everything happens for the best. 
    Lillian Sokoloff. 
    Vastly different than the popular Everything happens for a reason. When I was a kid, the family went to Galveston and Dad locked the keys in the car. The locksmith who came to help saw our Star of David medallion on the dashboard -- turned out, he was anti-Semitic. He and Dad almost got into a fistfight. When he finally left, the three of us kids turned to Mom and demanded to know what happened for the best. And she said, "We got to stay a little longer at the beach."
  8. To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson gave me my definition of success. (Different sources differ on a word or two, but the essence remains and it speaks to my heart.)
  9. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. 
    Eleanor Roosevelt. I wonder what she would have been like as president. 
  10. Any landing you walk away from is a good landing. 
    I don't know who said it first. I heard it from a World War II pilot 40 years ago, and I'm sure he never knew how much it meant to me. I've used this line as reassurance many, many times after many, many rough landings. 
  11. Measure twice. Cut once.
    Yiddish wisdom. I come from a family of tailors. This will help you avoid some rough landings. 
  12. In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It goes on.
    Robert Frost. It does. It goes on. Even when you feel like it shouldn't. 
  13. At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you. 
    By Goethe, maybe? Not sure. But I am sure that it's true. And it's a lovely conspiracy
  14. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. 
    Aesop. Truth.
  15. Not all who wander are lost. 
    I love the J.R.R. Tolkien line and the poem it comes from, including this stanza:
    All that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
    The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.  
Since I'm a writer, not a mathematician, I'm going to ignore the numbers -- I'll give you 16 Scintillating Sayings rather than the 15 Fabulous Favorites. Why? Because my list wouldn't be complete with this final quote, one that shapes my life and my perspective. Still. Despite everything:

"I still believe that people are really good at heart."
Anne Frank

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Fun: Favorite KC Places

Friday seems like the perfect time to continue our celebration! (The CI team is partying all month, in honor of the 15th anniversary of Sokoloff Harness Communications.) Today, I'm going to take one of Shanna's ideas for a "15 Fabulous Favorites" list, and share some KC sites I love. You can visit many of these places. There are a few that require a special invitation ... 

15 Fabulous Favorites -- Kansas City Places

A favorite photo from a favorite place.
Taken by Kate Harness
  1. My house.
    When I started doodling out my list, this was immediately what came to mind. I love the house Tom and I had built over 30 years ago, and the home we have created here. There are some days when I just stand in the living room and smile. It's not super big, but our house is a very, very, very fine house. (No, the photo isn't from our house. But we do have this photo, framed.) 
  2. Kate's house.
    I love, love, love, love, love my daughter's house. She remodeled the entire thing and it's amazing. 
  3. McLain's Market.
    For those of you familiar with KC, I'm talking about the new McLain's. Which reminds me of the old McLain's. Which reminds me of my childhood. McLain's Market is one of my favorite places for coffee and conversation. It's possible sweets could be involved.  
  4. Rainy Day Books.
    You gotta love an independent book seller
  5.  Mission Hills.
    After you go to Rainy Day Books, drive through Mission Hills. When I was a kid, Dad would take us for Sunday drives and we often wound up in Mission Hills. He knew stories about every mansion -- the people who lived there, the bricks imported from Italy. The entire neighborhood is gorgeous and not gated. 
  6. Hedy's kitchen. 
    This is not a restaurant. But it could be. But I don't want it to be. This is my friend Hedy's gorgeous kitchen/dining room/sitting area, where Hedy and Judy and I gather regularly and miss Maureen since she moved to Tucson and catch up on life. Hedy creates sanctuary. It's a gift. 
  7. The Nelson Art Gallery.
    Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it's really the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Tell that to a KC native. Anyway, while you can't go into Hedy's kitchen, you can go to the Nelson. And if you're ever in KC, you absolutely should. It's world-class.
  8. Kansas City Power & Light Building.
    Oooh. You didn't see that one coming, did you? Tom and I once got to watch Fourth of July fireworks from the top of this landmark skyscraper. (No, the top is not open to the public. All those years in radio had their perks.) So, good memories. Plus, it's KC Art Deco at its best. 
  9. Char Bar.
    Why would a vegetarian put "The House of Meat" on her favorite list? Well, let me get out of third-person and tell you that I love their smoked jackfruit sandwiches. And, let's be serious. It's a list of KC places. If I don't include one BBQ restaurant, I have to move out of town. 
  10. Shanna's studio.
    There's one exercise studio on earth where I always feel comfortable, safe and strong. This is it. And the reason extends beyond wonderful Shanna -- I love the women I take classes with here
  11. Louisburg Cider Mill.
    Best cider donuts on the planet. And a lovely drive. If you see a contradiction in discussing donuts after exercise, we really can't be friends. 
  12. The Plaza.
    After I graduated college, I had no money. None. I lived at home for a few horrible months -- it's an act of love and grace that my parents ever spoke to me again after I took my bad attitude and moved out. When I did move, I went to the Plaza. So, not only do I love this shopping district for its classic KC-ness, I love the memory of being a young, independent woman in my Plaza apartment. 4627 Madison. It's a parking lot now
  13. The Bristol.
    One of my all-time favorite restaurants. Not only is the food delicious (How many biscuits can one woman eat? You don't want to know.), but the staff makes special occasions truly special. Think confetti on the table. Special greetings from the crew. Free dessert. 
  14. Kansas City International Airport.
    I know. It's not a great airport. It needs to be replaced. But it's home to memories that make me smile every time I go there. 
  15. Schaake's Pumpkin Patch. 
    Tradition! This is where we go to get our Halloween pumpkins. Every year. In all kinds of weather. Happy family. Happy momma. 

As with my favorite book list, this is all subject to change tomorrow. Possibly today. I hope you have a great weekend! Go someplace special. xxoo

Monday, August 7, 2017

#MondayMotivation -- Trust Your Dream

This month marks 15 years since I decided to ignore conventional wisdom (don't quit your day job), trust my dream and launch Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC. I am tremendously grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way, and those who have given me the honor of helping them! My big advice after 15 years?
Throughout August, in honor of the fabulous 15, I'm going to post lists of 15 favorites. I decided, naturally enough, to start with books -- and quickly realized there's no way I could choose 15 favorite books. So, here's today's list of the 15 favorites on my bookshelves. Read fast. It could change tomorrow ...

15 Fabulous Favorites -- Books

  1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    Life changing. I still want to be Jo. 
  2. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
    Drawn from her life. And mine. And quite possibly yours. 
  3. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
    I have several of his other books, and don't like them as well. But, if I could only choose five favorite books of all time, this would make the list. 
  4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    I could have listed Siddhartha or The Odyssey or Les Miserables ... or any of the books I still have that I read in my lit classes at Center Senior High School. Thank you, Miss Harvey and Mrs. Harper. I'm sorry I argued with you. I'm sure you were right re: that symbolism.
  5. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
    I love the book. You can start with the blog. Best description of depression EVER. And that's just part of it. I mean, This is Why I'll Never be an Adult
  6. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
    Vonnegut is the best-represented author on my bookshelves. I don't have all of his books, but I do have a lot of them. I chose this one because, as I remember, it was the first one I read. 
  7. The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut
    A remarkable memoir by the elder Vonnegut's son. Excellent writing runs in the family. 
  8. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
    Also life changing -- nothing like reading this as a young Jewish girl, Anne's age. 
  9. i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings
    My favorite poem, in book form, illustrated by mati mcdonough.
  10. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
    If you've ever lost a loved one, and you haven't read this book -- read it. 
  11. The Pocket Book of Modern Verse, edited by Oscar Williams
    My first true love gave me this and it includes a few of my all-time favorite poems, including Cascando by Samuel Beckett and A Space in the Air by Jon Silkin. And Robert Frost is in there, so I won't list a Frost collection. 
  12. Samurai Widow by Judith Jacklin Belushi
    Fascinating journey through grief and recovery.
  13. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
    Reading and discussing this in college was the first time I really went: "Oh. That professor just transformed my entire literary experience." Thank you, Mrs. Ehrlich. 
  14. The Associated Press Styebook
    Am I a word nerd? Yes. Do I like rules? Yes. Do I look at this book all the time? Yes. Why clutter up my mind with effect and affect when I have my trusty stylebook?
  15. The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope
    My Bobbsey Twin will understand -- as she has, from the days when my love for books began!

I have purposefully not included books written by people I know and/or love and/or am connected to via social media -- like Shanna and Mark and Steve and Cotton and Brian and Bob and Stephanie and Walt and Phil and Donna and Peternelle, because that would have taken up most of the list!

If you have any ideas (or requests) for future lists of 15 Fabulous Favorites, let me know!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Creative Critic: Peternelle van Arsdale and Celeste Ng

As it turns out, there's a limit to how much political insanity I can deal with during a day. By evening, I've usually had my fill of it all -- so I'm spending less time online. Bright spot! That gives me more time to read.

The last two books I've read are shelter in the storm; beautifully written tales that make me eager to read the next works from both authors.

In The Beast is an Animal, Peternelle van Arsdale transports you to a world unlike any you've ever encountered, and makes it feel like home. You know this place, even though it's populated with magical creatures, evil and wonderful. Yes, it's a young adult novel about soul eaters. Don't let that stop you from buying it -- much of today's best writing is classified as young adult, and the best fantasy reflects reality.

Truly. I mean, if you've never dealt with a soul eater, then you've never been employed.

Peternelle also publishes a great newsletter; you can sign up for it here. As she says, "C'mon. Give it a try. Life is too short to live with regrets."

I have one regret about the next book I'm recommending -- I regret that I waited so long to read it.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng made all the top lists when it was published -- I bought it for my daughter Mary some time ago, and recently "borrowed" it from her. She's not getting it back. This one goes on my favorites bookshelf.

It's the story of a Chinese American family dealing with the death of a child and it should come with a warning: Don't read the last few chapters while on a plane. Not that I cried -- a lot -- while sitting next to a complete stranger or anything. (We're not talking sniffles. We're talking tears rolling down my face.)

The next book from Celeste -- Little Fires Everywhere -- is due out next month, Sept. 12. I will be reading it ASAP. Maybe I'll let Mary borrow it. Hmmm. No. Probably not.

Celeste also has a cool story online from the 2015 Twitter Fiction Festival. (She was an invited author the year I was in the festival as a contest winner. And I was pretty dang excited to be in her company, even loosely and virtually.)

Interestingly, both The Beast is an Animal and Everything I Never Told You explore some of the same topics -- family, loss, the challenge of being an outsider, the power of love to both hurt and heal.

Gorgeously conceived, written and edited books have always been an oasis for me. Given the days we live in, these two books are absolute gifts, instant transport to another time and place. Take a break. Read the books.