Personal & Character Essays

“I think you find your voice when you quit censoring yourself. It isn’t external. It’s inside you. The reason [you aren’t] using it is the voice is being suppressed, usually because of some kind of decorum. …What are you keeping out of your writing? Allowing those things into your writing is ultimately how you find your voice.”
                                                                 ̶  Bill Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, April 2006

                           A Taste of Thanksgiving at Mom’s               

Dinner at my mom’s house could sometimes be a bit risky. Holidays were no exception. Mom was not the greatest cook around. To her credit, though, she fully acknowledged that fact. She did the best with what she knew.

My mother was a traditional mid-twentieth century homemaker. She did her duty cooking meals, although she did not particularly relish that task. She always took advantage of the latest packaged or canned convenience foods. In fact, most of our meals during my childhood in the 1960s and 70s came from a can, a box, or straight from the freezer. For example, she would take a steak out of the freezer, chip the frozen Styrofoam tray off with a butter knife, and plop it on a sizzling frying pan. At the table, my father would roll his eyes and loudly whisper, “We’re having the fillet of shoe sole again!”

Holiday time at my parent’s house in Boca was always a big deal. My two sisters and I and our families would always descend on the parental Homefront. It was a respite from our adult lives to enjoy our childhood traditions again—including the traditional holiday meal.

One particular holiday dinner flavors my memories, Thanksgiving 1992. One sister flew down from Massachusetts with her husband and three toddlers. The other came in from England with her husband. I drove across town with my boyfriend and nine-year-old son.

I offered to help in the kitchen, with the motive of appearing helpful while also wanting to rescue the meal. Nevertheless, Mom insisted on doing the all cooking herself. She knocked herself out. The side dishes were all classic mid-century conveniences. Although to be fair, I always did like her version of green bean casserole:  canned green beans mixed with canned cream of mushroom soup, and topped with those crunchy fried onions from a can. The mashed potatoes were the powdered type from a box ladled with gravy mixed from a packet. The cranberry relish was a quivering, cylinder-shaped mass with ripples matching those on the can, like rifling marks on a bullet shot from a gun.

Dinner looked wonderful on the table. Mom prided herself on setting an excellent table. She enjoyed pulling out her best Danish china, silver, and autumn-hued linen napkins. The turkey on a silver platter, ceremoniously placed in front of my dad, was a Norman Rockwell picture of glistening, golden perfection. It smelled wonderful. Dad carved and served the turkey, and everyone dug into the sides while catching up on family news.

I buried the serving spoon deep into the turkey, looking for some extra stuffing. Then the spoon exposed something plastic. I gingerly pulled the object out of the bird like a magician mysteriously lifting a rabbit out of a hat. Everyone stopped in mid-chew to stare in awe at the goopy thing I held up.

“Mom, you forgot to remove the bag of innards from the bird!” I said. A loud gasping “Uuuugh!” rose in chorus from everyone as Mom sheepishly replied, “What bag?”

My sister chimed in, “Oh, my God, Mom, you didn’t clean out the turkey before cooking it?  Gross!”

There was a mass exodus from the table to the garbage can to scrape off our plates. Everyone got a bellyache—but not from the turkey. It was from having a big laugh at our poor mother's expense. After the initial embarrassment, even she had to laugh.

We did finish the meal, with my second favorite dish:  store-bought pumpkin pie warmed in the microwave and piled high with whipped cream from the spray can.

© 2011, 2016 L W


My First Marriage

           I first married in 1980. It seems like forever ago. Dan was my college boyfriend. We met in our Anthropology class at the University in 1972 as an accident of circumstance. I slipped into class late every day and slid into the empty seat closest to the door and next to him. We came to know each other over the weeks by chatting after class. He was my third serious relationship. Dan looked like John Lennon during his “Bed-in” days with Yoko. He lived in a house off campus in a commune-type arrangement with four others. They liked to work on their motorcycles in the living room and trip to Frank Zappa and Grateful Dead albums. I thought they were “far out,” so I moved in with Dan and the rest.

Dan and I had a tumultuous relationship; we lived together on and off over the next two years. After he had graduated, Dan went to New Jersey to work for his uncle. I transferred to another university farther west. In retrospect, I don’t know why I didn’t take that opportunity to set myself free and look for something better. Instead, we kept a long distance relationship going by corresponding for six months until returned to the University. I met another man, Dennis. He was tall, good-looking, and a highly intelligent graduate student. We flirted around for several weeks. Dan got desperate when he stopped receiving letters from me as often, so he started calling and pleading that things would be different if he came back out and reunited with me. I now know that I accepted that due to my low self-esteem instilled in me from my troubled childhood. Dennis was exhilarating but frightening at the same time because he was unfamiliarly good to me. The unknown of a man that could treat me well was unnerving. I felt I would be unable to hold on to him; I was unworthy or somehow inferior, and he would eventually see that. Dan was familiar with his angry temper and neediness. He was a sure thing, as good as I could get, in my mind. I let Dennis go, and Dan moved back with me. We spent the next six years living and working together on our own woodcraft business.

I graduated in 1976; then in 1980, Dan wanted to move our business to California. After so much time invested in our relationship, I insisted that if I was to go along, we were getting married and having a child. Dan agreed, and so I went.

It's not the end of the story, though. It’s more complicated than your average boy-meets-girl story. Our relationship, being volatile from the beginning, only got worse. Dan’s manipulation, put-downs, control, and over-the-top jealous rages were a major part of our daily life together. He would tell me his former girlfriends were prettier than I was. He required me to tell him where I was going and exactly when I would return. I could not speak to another man out of Dan’s presence. I was walking on eggshells daily, trying not to anger him. It seldom worked. Despite that, I made excuses in my mind for his behavior. Somehow, in my mind, I wasn’t good enough to deserve better treatment. Each day, I would think to myself, “Today was another bad one, but maybe tomorrow will be a better day.” Days turned into months and the years ticked on.

There were good times in between the bad. Dan did have some good points. He was good at making things with his hands, building and fixing things, which I like. We had common interests and tastes. We shared some laughs, travels, and life experiences. I liked his family, and they were good to me. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t getting any younger, and by the time I was in my late twenties, most of our friends were getting married and having babies. I thought that I was less than average looking and that I should be grateful that he supported and took care of me. I had held on to foolish emotional thoughts that things would improve. Things did improve for a while. Dan and I married. Remarkably, we did not fight for three years. Our son was born in 1983.

The drug scene in California in the early 1980s was rampant and growing. By 1984, Dan became addicted to cocaine. That just added fuel to his internal fire. Dan was losing the woodcraft business, so I took a part-time job, but it wasn’t enough. We went through all of our wedding money and borrowed more from my parents. He started selling some cocaine to buy more. Eventually, he became physically violent, paranoid, and psychotic. He hallucinated wild things and accusing me of plotting against him. Finally, it all came to a head one night in a violent fight in 1985. When he finally passed out in a drugged stupor, I called his father and revealed everything. My father-in-law jumped on a flight from his home in Texas that night. By morning, he had me, and the baby packed up and on a plane to my parents’ home on the east coast. When Dan awoke and discovered this, he attacked his father. I stayed with my parents until Dan’s dad convinced him to go to a rehabilitation center. His father paid the center a few thousand dollars, and on the promise, I returned. Dan promptly reneged. The next few months were a hellish nightmare. Eventually, we could not afford to live in California on our own, so I convinced him to move in with my parents. Within two weeks, we separated until the marriage ended in divorce in November 1986.

We met forty years ago, but I haven’t seen or spoken to him in almost twenty-five years. I don’t even know what he looks like anymore. Next year, I will be facing Dan as we walk our son down the aisle at his wedding. I wonder if I can let go of the past.

© 2012, 2016 LW


They Say Hindsight is 20-20

     “Hindsight is 20-20,” people always say. I’m not sure my mental vision is that acute. I seem to keep making the same mistakes. Perhaps, I have not been looking behind me enough. I thought I was introspective, but maybe I don’t listen to that voice inside my head. Do I distrust my intuition? Am forgetful of the consequences of past decisions? So conditioned by my past, I keep falling into the same traps again.

What I am referring to are my relationships with men. In retrospect, I think I keep getting involved with controlling, abusive men because that’s how I thought all men were. That was how it was. An abusive and controlling man raised me, so I accepted that as normal. I had so few experiences to know otherwise.

My father was a controlling, demanding perfectionist, and an alcoholic. He got his way by yelling. He prided himself by saying, “I don’t get headaches. I give them!” My sisters and me, when Dad called us, had to be in front of him within three seconds or risk a smack. Every gift my father gave had conditions attached. I grew up so resentful, by the time I was twelve and he would ask me what to get me for Christmas, I would say, “Nothing.” He constantly told me what I did wrong and how disappointed he was with me, my behavior, my grades, and even my looks. That is how I grew up. I thought men were just this way.

Curiously, I had a grandfather, an uncle, and male cousins who were gentle and loving men.  For some reason, their qualities that I admired did not leave a big enough impression on my psyche to stick. My father's personality loomed large over me every day. Like a game of “monkey in the middle,” I was continually chasing his approval, but never able to grasp it.

When I began to form adult relationships with men, I always seemed drawn to the temperamental, controlling types. They seemed more comfortable, less foreign, or strange to me. My first husband was an angry, controlling, and abusive man. My second husband is emotionally needy and controlling. He has dramatic, moody swings, which he believes gives him license to verbally abuse and threaten me. He even claims that because he doesn’t hit me, it’s not abuse!

When I look back on the years of mental, emotional, and physical abuse, and anguish and pain it caused in me, it makes me angry with myself for wasting so much of my life that way. I was foolish to accept that. I am growing emotionally, but it is a long, slow battle within myself to unravel the decades of damage and erase the miles of negative mental tapes that tell me I’m not worthy of anything better. I now know am entitled to happiness. I am beginning to believe I am intelligent, talented, and worthy of being truly loved and treated kindly.

As I look back on my past relationships, I see that I selected men that had similar traits to those of my father. I see this, but it still doesn’t keep me from stepping into the same traps. Even after decades, I am still wrestling with how to change that behavior in myself.

Robert Frost once said,

“I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

I wonder when I will be able to take that unfamiliar road. It will make all the difference.

© 2012, 2016 LW


Mia and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day*

I was drifting in a light gray fog, comfortable and relaxed.  I heard the soft buzzing sound of my alarm clock. Then, I felt a jolting movement and I heard a man’s voice saying, “C’mon, get your fat ass out of bed.”  Reality came into focus as my eyes snapped open.  “Here we go again,” I thought to myself, “Off to another wonderful day.” I felt that familiar disappointment with the life that I had chosen for myself.

Each day, I say these words in my head, “Today was another bad one, but maybe tomorrow will be a better day.”  Days turn into months and years tick by and things never really seem to get any better.  There are good times interspersed with the bad.  But why, oh, why do I put up with so much bad stuff?  This is a question I ask myself when I try to make sense of my life and who I am.

I was raised in a dysfunctional middle-class family by an alcoholic perfectionist father and a mother suffering from depression and boredom.  My two sisters were alternately in allegiance with me and antagonistic with me like a wrestling tag team with the players continually switching sides.  

I was raised to believe I was not worthy of kindness and praise.  I was told by my family–and eventually by myself in the mirror–I was not good-looking. My nose was too big (my dad), my skin too sallow (my mom), my breasts too small (my well-endowed sister), my butt too big (me).  Guys on the street would “woof” at me as I would pass them.

My teachers refused to give me ‘A’s, even though I earned them, because I was too shy to answer questions in class and refused to study.  Never getting beyond a ‘B’ average was a glass ceiling I could not seem to get beyond.  I would have studied if I had been encouraged, but as was typical for the time, I always received that uninspiring report card comment, “Could do better if tried harder.”

My classmates avoided me because of my extreme shyness, and sometimes took advantage of my inability to tell on them by stabbing me on the arms with pencils and throwing sand inside the back of my dress for laughs.  All I could do is put up with it. I became an expert at enduring.

Even strangers laughed at me.  When I was forced to dance on stage at summer camp, I was going left when the others went right. “Look at that monkey on the end!” The other parents pointed at me, laughing. My face burned like it was on fire and tears stung like acid down my cheeks. So, it is no wonder to me now why I consistently chose men to have in my life who were not kind to me.  This was just the way life was for me.

“This place is a pigsty, clean up, do the dishes…do something around here, damn it!” He picked up a dirty dish and let it fall to the floor, smashing into scattering shards.  “Clean it the fuck up! You’re such a lousy, sloppy person.  I don’t know why I keep your ugly ass around here!” That was how my day would continue. 

I am college-educated with a science degree.  I am an artist, a creative person.  I love nature, animals, and kids. I think I have a kind heart.  I believe I have a lot to offer.  Consciously, I know everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, but somehow in my inner mind, I feel I am not as entitled to this as others. It makes me sad and jealous of them. I am pessimistic about my life, yet oddly, eternally optimistic that it can change.

Where are you going?” he snarled. “Be back in thirty minutes.” 

“Why?” I wondered. I was only going grocery shopping. We both knew it always took longer than that, but if he placed an unreasonable time limit on me, he knew it would give him a convenient excuse to berate me when I returned and hour later. 

“I know you talked to that guy in your class.” He actually had no way of knowing that, but he kept me always suspicious that he was spying on me somehow. This is how he would manipulate me into admitting things I did not want to talk about because I knew how it would end up.

“He asked if I could give him a ride to school on Monday, “I replied.

He grabbed my wrist and twisted it, spinning me around, pushing me against the wall, and leaving a skin burn on my arm. “So you’re cheating on me, you whore. I wondered how long it would take you.” His face was so close to mine, I could only focus my eyes on the floor as I felt the spray from his words. “You’re not driving him.”  I fell pray to his traps every time.

            “Honey, do you want to go out to eat tonight?  You pick the place; wherever you want to go,” he said.  His tactic to keep stringing me along was to give a momentary respite, only to be followed by more abuse later.  It kept me hanging on for the snatches of kindness.  This is how the day would continue, bait and slam, one after another.  It made my head spin and made me feel crazy.  Yet, I always held hope that things would improve. 

“It’s late, let’s go to bed,” he said as we got home.  Later he asked, “Don’t you want to make love?”

“No, I’m too tired.”

“You frigid bitch, fuck you, I’m gonna find someone else better than you,” he said as he ripped the covers off me and rolled up in them turning his back.

“Goodnight,” I replied, as hot tears began to roll.  It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Too many days are like that.  But, tomorrow might be a better day, I thought as I tried to return to the escape of sleep.

* A tip of the hat to Judith Viorst and Alexander for the awesome title. Ms. Viorst is the author of the children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

© 2012 B.D.


My Dad

      My dad grew up in Brooklyn, in the 1920s and 30s, the eldest son of an Italian immigrant. Starting the first grade in public school, not knowing one word of English, he learned fast. Later, he finished his master’s degree at Harvard in half the normal time. Dad was smart and enjoyed intimidating people with his braininess. He challenged everyone he met to a battle of wits with a math problem or puzzle he could solve faster than all comers.
      In the era of Prohibition, of gun-toting gangsters and the Great Depression, Dad became tough. Shorter than his younger brother, he fought against neighborhood bullies. Dad reveled in showing off his physical strength. As a teen, he enjoyed flexing muscles at the beach. Later, he was an Army drill sergeant in the Pacific in World War II, a job he thoroughly enjoyed, evidenced by his love of yelling, telling war stories, and ordering my sisters and me to line up while he’d bark a list of chores at us.
      The eldest of four kids, Dad learned leadership and independence. He was the alpha male of his pack, constantly fighting for top rank with his father like a pair of snarling dogs. It served him well later as an independent award-winning architect entering design competitions and competing for jobs against other world-class architects.
      My perfectionist father was the quintessential ‘A-type’ personality. The house should be cleaner, our grades better, we should read quietly, not run around making noise, and we should eat our spinach without complaint. There wasn’t much Mom or we kids did that was good enough.
      My talented dad saved portfolios of fabulous life-models sketches from his early art school days. He stayed in his basement workshop or the garage every weekend building, painting, or sculpting something amazing. He emulated paintings of artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko and remarked, “Mine are much better.”
      Dad could roller skate, scuba dive, invent things, whistle operas, and ski the Matterhorn. My father always seemed larger than life, invincible to me. But in his elder years, he developed cracks in his armor, allowing his vulnerability to show through. Always a heavy drinker and an angry man, Dad and eventually became disillusioned with his life. He confided in me, “One day I woke up, looked in the mirror, and I didn’t like who I saw,” he said. The confession took me by surprise. Up to that point, he always exuded such self-confidence and pride. Dad resolved to stay sober after that.
      Upset that all the architectural jobs were going to younger guys, he dyed his hair black again and got a facelift. After surgery, he laid bandaged and moaning. He whispered, “I had no idea it would hurt this much.” I was shocked, having never seen Dad shaken and hurting like a normal mortal before.
      After retirement, Dad made another startling confession: “I was always a good architect, but a lousy businessman. I hated schmoozing clients. I’m no good at meeting people.” In those statements, he revealed two truths making him even more human. First, he admitted he wasn’t better than everyone, was flawed, and had areas where he lacked talent. And second, he revealed he was a shy person, which told me why he had few friends, hid in the workshop most of his days, and lacked social graces when dealing with people. These stunning revelations were the final puzzle pieces in discovering my father was not the infallible, larger-than-life being he had always seemed, but human like the rest of us.

© 2012 B.D.


Dad or Daughter?

        I was slim as a youth, but stockier now. I’m shorter than average, but people say I appear tall because of my short waist and disproportionately long legs.  Unapparent to all but me is that my right leg is a quarter-inch shorter than my left, making my hips slightly crooked.  I have a bad left knee that sometimes cramps up or slips out.

My graceful hands are well manicured, square palmed, slim fingered, and smooth.  They are artist’s hands.  But my feet are dry-skinned, callused, knobby, and ungainly.  I bang them into things often.  When I exercise, I can build up muscle quickly and this makes me look strong.  I like flexing in the mirror.   

I have the pale olive Calabrese skin tone that instantly gives away my Italian heritage.  People say I look like a certain dark-complexioned celebrity.  To my dismay, I have a tendency to get those little annoying red dots all over that increase in number with age.  But my hair is my pride.  It was short during my youth, but for most of my life it’s been long.  It is very dark brownish black, straight, and shiny. 

I have eyes so dark brown, you almost cannot distinguish the pupils from the irises.  A person can look into them and see depth and soul.  My nose is Italian-looking. I am not fond of it, but other Italians seem to find it pleasing.  I have full lips with little curves at the corners and a proud, strong chin.

© 2012 B.D.


General Topic Essays

Learning AutoCAD

There are many different design and drafting computer software packages on the market. Some are very complex and difficult to learn and some are easier. Let me tell you about my experience working with AutoCAD, one of the easiest computer-aided drafting programs.

I have used various types of computer drafting software for over twenty years, and in my experience, most were not difficult to learn. You can take training courses for most software, but AutoCAD is probably the easiest to learn using tutorials alone. However, you must be computer literate to begin learning it. Even though I was knowledgeable on computers, initially, my employer required me to take an AutoCAD class at a local community college. It was easy, and I passed without any trouble at all. The assignments were fun, and I made many professional friendships among my classmates. It is a good idea to begin in that way, but it is not entirely necessary.

After my initial class, my employer only required that I use AutoCAD’s built-in tutorials each time they purchased an updated version. It’s simple to do. When you load the software, you simply click on the tutorial button in the beginning screen. From that point, proceeding into the tutorials is very self-explanatory. Once you begin a tutorial lesson, the on-screen instructions will lead you through each step. The tutorials are self-guided and you progress at your own pace.

Each tutorial taught me how to do progressively more complex tasks. I started by learning the most basic functions first, such as drawing and editing lines. Then, I progressed through the lessons on creating arrays, blocks, and layers. Finally, I finished the most difficult tutorials last, 3D modeling and writing LISP routines. You will probably want to go through the tutorials in the same order as I did and the numerical order listed in the AutoCAD program itself. I took me three weeks to go through all of the tutorial lessons. You will most likely spend the same amount of time as I did, if you complete one lesson per day.

I have been a drafting technician in the field of civil engineering for the past thirty-three years. I used various brands of computer-aided drafting software professionally for 28 of those years and AutoCAD for twenty-two years. After completing all of the guided tutorials included in each new version of AutoCAD, I guarantee you will be proficient at creating any type of CAD drawing and be able to perform at any technician-level drafting job, such as mechanical, civil, or architectural drafting.

© 2012 L. W.

Comparison of Nelson Mandela’s Inaugural Address and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I Have a Dream” speech were two very important speeches in history. These speeches have some things in common and some differences.

The authors of both speeches were leaders in racial equality movements. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for rights and equal treatment of Blacks in America. Nelson Mandela, upon becoming the first Black president elected in South Africa, stopped the apartheid segregation laws.

Both speeches were very powerful. The speakers impressed important points upon their audiences by using repeated phrases. Mr. Mandela said, “The time [for the healing, to build]” and “Let there be [justice, peace, work].” Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day..." and “Let freedom ring….” In both speeches, the men expressed their hopes for improvements in the racial relationships in their countries.

Even though both speeches share many similarities, there were also some differences. Nelson Mandela is South African and was elected president. His speech was a ceremonial inaugural address. Martin Luther King Jr. was African American and a religious minister. His speech was an inspirational protest address.

Overall, the most striking thing is that both of the speakers are addressing the people of their countries about their dreams and hopes for racial conciliation and for a better day in the future.

© 2011 L. W./D.W.********

On Being considerate of others



Definition: Considerate – con·sid·er·ate, ken sídderet (adj.) mindful of and acting in regards to the needs, wishes, and feelings of others; thoughtful; kind; courteous; understanding; caring; selfless.

From Human history’s greatest philosophers, prophets, spiritual guides, and thinkers to our own children we can find out what it means to us in our society and in living on our planet to be considerate. The very statement, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated,” has been passed down through the ages of human society in a variety of wordings, and in every language, but with identical and enduring meaning.

Author, Dawna Markova, comments that, “Nowadays, kids are being educated in a context in which the adults around them believe the future will be worse than the present. We are crushing our children with our own pessimism and cynicism.” That was 17 years ago, and things did get worse. We seem to be forgetting, in this ever more angry, impatient, and fast-paced world, the lessons of our own parents, teachers, and preachers on how to treat others the way we, ourselves, would like to be treated.

Consideration encompasses many forms of behavior toward other beings. And we should not forget that animals and plants reside on this planet with us. We are dependent on them, thus they are deserving of our consideration as well.

Friendliness or hospitality is a good behavior to start thinking about. A smile, eye-contact, and a cheerful greeting or acknowledgement of someone’s presence is the gateway to consideration of others.

Politeness or good manners is the best second behavior to practice. “Please,” “thank you,” “excuse me”, and “I’m sorry” are words often forgotten or used insincerely nowadays. This goes hand-in-hand with respect for others, from young to old, from adults to youth, and from humans to our living planet and all its non-human inhabitants.

Honesty and trustworthiness seem to have become outmoded, old-fashioned qualities of character. Keeping promises, telling the truth (in a non-hurtful way), and playing by the rules (not cheating, playing fair) seem to have become disadvantageous modes of behavior in politics and in the business world.

A few more important concepts that are slipping from common usage, but are really more important than ever are cooperation, sharing, selflessness, dignity, and forgiveness.

Other qualities of consideration for others are often overlooked, but should never be forgotten. These are: being a good listener, asking permission, patience, punctuality, helpfulness, cleanliness (especially for the environment), and caring for others (for the less advantaged, elderly, sick, young, neighbors, strangers, and other creatures).

And lastly, but probably most importantly, consideration for others includes kindness, compassion, and selflessness. Without these qualities of personal character and behavior, the rest could not exist.

© 2011 L. W.

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