Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Name is Susan and I Have a Perfection Problem

It's interesting how situations can force you to confront your character, showing you things you never wanted to admit about yourself.

This show is a challenge - as I have mentioned, I am doing two jobs at the same time. At first, I was in a panic. I was frantically cranking out edited shows in a desperate attempt to stay a week or two ahead of the air schedule. It's not a good thing when the show date arrives and there's nothing to put there.

Then I had a couple of weeks of low production - I was doing interviews, stockpiling sound from the other sources and beginning to line up the dominoes of future shows in my mind.

As this was going on, I noticed something - I was relaxing my standards for my daily news job. Not that I wasn't getting the stories told, but I was less concerned about being wildly creative or breathtakingly sound-rich. And it bothers me. My fixation on doing a good job led to three awards for three different stories in 2008 and I'm prouder of that achievement than I admit to myself. I don't see any awards coming from the stories I've produced since taking over The Show With Issues.

Perhaps I'm a perfectionist?

It seems unlikely, really. I'm not a meticulous person - when I paint a room, I make a mess and clean up the slop later. I clean house but I miss the dustballs in the corner. When I write I tend to go with my first draft with very few revisions. That doesn't sound like a perfectionist to me.

Yet when I noticed that I was also making The Show less complex, easier to edit and basically cutting corners to make my life a little easier, it bothered me. A lot. The Show and my news stories have me all over's my writing, my name and my voice. And I want who I am to be identified with something really, really good.

Yet this past week, I did the usual seven stories for the daily news, plus cranked out four (yes four!) half hour edited shows. As I filed the last one, I got an email back from my supervisor saying, "Okay, insane lady." And I had to agree. Why on earth am I pushing so hard to be the most stellar worker on the planet?

I don't think I am looking for public acclaim (although that's up for discussion and thought as well) but I most certainly want the people I work with to say "Good job!" when that's what I've done.

So am I going to drive myself into the ground trying to be so terrific that my colleagues will not be able to avoid giving me kudos? That's sick. Or am I so horrified by incompetence that I go overboard to make sure I never get stuck with that label?

I am finding that the one part of the job where I thought I was weak is becoming a strength- I interview well. The people I'm talking with are thoroughly enjoying themselves and the resulting interviews are fascinating - we go in depth in a hurry.

I spoke with two authors on books about the Iraq war and its connection with big oil. We covered the bases in twenty minutes and had a good time doing it. Then I spoke with actress Laila Robins for the arts segment of the show and we ended up having a really good discussion about violence in the movies and on stage and what that means about our society. It's nowhere either of us thought we'd be going, but we poked around and she had some really strong opinions that I think the listeners are going to find compelling.

So goody - Perfect Me has something to feel good about. But Perfect Me isn't so happy with the quality of her day to day work, and Perfect Me is noticing every compromise in The Show. Where I plugged in two or three songs between stories, I now do one. I'm getting it down to a formula, and that makes it far easier to do. But something's being lost because of a time crunch and I'm sorry to see it go.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Day in the Life

Back to work today - I could get used to a schedule like this. One day off, a day on, two days off, work another day and then....the weekend! Sadly, this won't happen again for awhile. But it was a great breather.

Fridays are my day to work on The Show. And I had a full day scheduled. As usual, it started off a little strangely. I knew I had to interview someone at eleven and I'd written her name in my planner...but I couldn't remember why I was going to talk to her.

It's a strange feeling to know a name and a number and not have a clue why you were going to be talking. Fortunately, after a fruitless internet search for her name, I found a file card I'd made with one word on it: Thailand. That was enough. She was a woman I'd spoken to for a news story and in the course of conversation she revealed that she had just returned to the States after moving to Thailand. She and her husband had retired, packed their bags and moved there a couple of years ago. The only reason they'd returned was that the rental on their home in the States hadn't worked out and they had to come back to do repairs and figure out what to do next. Selling isn't an option in the current economy and she was asked to return to her old job on a temporary basis, so she seemed happy with the situation. But I wanted to know what it had been like, pulling up stakes and moving somewhere so completely different.

The main thing that struck me after I spoke with her today was the story she told me about going to the local markets after she'd lived there awhile and people telling her it was time she spoke to them in their own language.

"You live here, you stay here, you speak Thai," she was told.

It sounded a lot like what I hear around the U.S. these days.

That interview was immediately followed by a phone call to the sustainability department head at Ford Motors. She's a nice young woman with an engineering degree whose job is to steer Ford into the future.

"Is there a perception in the industry that maybe you're all getting on board too late?" I asked her.

"Maybe a little. But we've started now and all we can do is the best we can."

The next interview (I told you it was a full day) was the woman who hosts the women's issues page at I first got in touch with her when I got The Show and she was very enthusiastic about getting involved. She used to have a radio show and she misses it. I figured she'd be a great person to talk to about women in the media. It's an upcoming theme on The Show (I have a great interview with Barbara Walters courtesy the host of another show at the station) and she'd written an editorial about the flap over CBS's Lara Logan. I didn't know who Logan was, but I watched some of her reports on YouTube and was particularly taken with her interview on The Daily Show. She told Jon Stewart that if she watched the news the rest of us watched, she'd want to blow her brains out. That's what I call refreshing candor.'s Linda Lowen thinks the tabloid's fascination with Logan's personal life wouldn't exist if Logan wasn't a beautiful woman. She compares Logan to Jessica Savitch...another smart, savvy woman who moved up fast in broadcasting. That sent me on a hunt for Savitch and I came up with gold - a very frank interview she did with David Letterman after she wrote her book, Anchorwoman. Savitch said what ticked her off the most was when she was referred to as a 'newsgirl'.

"Just once I'd like to see someone say, 'And today, newsboy Tom Brokaw said...'."

Linda and I enthusiastically agreed that we love CNN's Candy Crowley because she breaks every mold and every myth...and she does a damned good job without anyone making a big deal about it. Here's where you can see what Linda has to say on a lot of topics.

My last interview of the day was with two women from Project Vote Smart. They're trying very hard to make people aware they exist. I'm amazed everyone doesn't know. If you don't, you should go to

They are a non-partisan, non-profit group that keeps painstaking records of every politician's vote on every issue and makes that information available to the public free of charge. Their goal is to make voters able to make educated choices at the polls.

I asked them about the presidential campaign and they said although John McCain and Barack Obama have some clear differences on the issues, the one unfortunate thing they have in common is the way they campaign. Candidates, they have found, don't want to be too open about their own stands on the the's not good for the campaign. Instead, they poll voters, find out where their own strengths are and where their opponents are weakest, and campaign on those issues. That's something the people from Vote Smart think is unfortunate, and also something they don't see changing anytime soon. It's how our elections are run.

I spent the last couple of hours of the day editing the women in the news-themed show. That's a fun job...playing with a computer editing program, chopping up sound files, adding music and creating a finished product. It's a lot like a video game.

The bad news is that's not the next show scheduled to air. That one is almost ready to go, but I'm holding on until the last moment in hopes of getting a woman considered 'the voice of Tibet' to talk to me in time for a show that airs the day a peaceful candelight protest is scheduled against China's policy on Tibet.

If things went smoothly, I'd have nothing to stress about. And what fun would that be?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Trace Adkins and How I Lost Fifty Bucks

I took two days off from work. That sounds simple, but it's not when you're the only one responsible for creating a weekly half hour radio program. There was a lot of "get it done before you go" and "set it up for when you get back" going on. I'm finding this show takes a great deal of organizational skills - something I've never been accused of having in excess.

But I reached the end of the day Tuesday and decided that wherever I was in the process was going to have to do; I was going to a casino.

HSO's son, a grown man with a family of his own, is on the road crew on the Trace Adkins tour. Trace, if you don't know, is a big, burley, cowboy-hatted country singer with a deep bass voice and a rabid following of aspiring Hot Mamas inspired by his song of the same name. HSO's boy sets up the lights and spends a good part of the year living out of the tour bus. It's a strange life but one that seems to suit him.

"We'll be at the casino in New York," he told his father. "Come on up, stay a night, see the show and I'll get you in to meet Trace."

His father is a musician who cut his teeth on big hair bands and glam rock. He has a new album out that music critics seem to find difficult to categorize. I'd call it 'cinematic': it sounds like a movie soundtrack. One reviewer ended up calling HSO a 'mutant guitarist'. We kind of like that. "Swing, Battah Battah, Swing" isn't exactly HSO's style. But this is his boy offering, and it's a lovely gesture.

"Want to go?" he asked me.

I wouldn't miss it.

So we drove over three hours to a casino we'd only seen in commercials. The hotel tower stands alone amid miles of flat fields. It wasn't hard to find.

Inside, we found a bustling, modern, clean facility built around the concept of encouraging visitors to throw away their money. And they do.

The lobby is bright, shiny and welcoming. The rooms are more of the same. And the only thing to do there, unless you golf or want to spend the day getting a pedicure, is gamble. The casino is a massive, luxurious and dimly lit area in the center of the building and no matter where you go, someone nearby is betting on something.

The machines are bright and attractive. Many suck you in with familiarity - there's The Price is Right, Monopoly, and the classic match the fruit and win games. Others feel like video games - we saw an Alien game (presumably the Alien doesn't eat you if you lose), a pirate themed game (without Johnny Depp), a pharoah game (reminiscent of The Mummy), and everyone's favorites, Lotto and Keno. What is Keno, anyway? Everywhere we went, Keno numbers were flashing on flat screen televisions instead of the news.

We watched, mesmerized, as a woman kept pushing the button on her Keno game over and over, sometimes winning a dollar, more often losing. She didn't even look at what she was doing. She was talking to the woman beside her. Another woman was playing a match the fruit game. She patted the screen with her hands, willing it to stop where she wanted it to. It didn't look like that method helped much.

I handed over thirty dollars and got a plastic debit card which allowed me to play. Within ten minutes I was broke. I was dejected. I went to watch my companion play. HSO started out slowly, not sure how to play the video poker game he'd chosen. But soon he was hooked.

"I'm winning!" he announced. "I'm up twelve dollars!"

He paused.

"Maybe I should quit now."

But his machine had him in thrall and he pushed the button again, watching the cards flip over and reveal his hand.

HSO ended his gambling experience by walking away with a small win. Enough of a win that he gave me ten dollars to get me to stop grumbling about the money I'd lost.

"You," he informed me, "have a gambling problem."

"Yes," I agreed. "The problem is that I stink at it."

We had dinner with his son. The catering room was lined with a series of dishes that would do any fine restaurant proud. But the crew doesn't get to enjoy it. On show day, they run in and bolt down food while getting calls on their walkie talkies about last minute problems that need to be addressed.

"I have to run," we were told by our host. "There are some lights that aren't working and one of them caught fire."

We understood.

Our job was to line up in the lobby with others holding the coveted Trace Adkins Meet and Greet passes, from where we would eventually be escorted into the artist's presence for a quick hello and a photo opp.

I felt kind of bad about taking the spot from someone who might find it more of a treat, but HSO said he really wanted to let Trace know how much his son liked working for him. I agreed that was a good reason to take advantage of the opportunity.

Trace Adkins, if you don't know, is tall. I'm accustomed to tall people; my own son is six foot seven. But I don't meet many people close to his height. Trace, I'm told, is six foot six. Without his cowboy hat.

About fifty people lined up around the edge of the room and slowly made their way to Trace. A group of women started tittering before they even got next to him, and were so giddy by the time they got there they piled into him and nearly knocked him over.

"That poor, poor man," I whispered to HSO.

Trace posed briefly with each person in line, though many people were nice enough to observe the request that group shots be made whenever possible. The couple ahead of us invited Trace to a ball game if he was ever around. Trace seemed to consider it.

It was our turn. I, for once, didn't have to do or say a thing. I just walked up with HSO, he was introduced as the father of the lighting guy, and the two of them had a brief chat. The camera, unfortunately, chose that moment to blink out, and we ended up with two very blurry pictures of a short woman and two tall men, one of them wearing a cowboy hat.

After that we stayed for the concert. It was loud. Very loud. HSO, who has been quitting cigarettes for forty years, peeled off two filters for me to stick in my ears. They helped.

We watched the show, thanked HSO's son as he hustled around breaking down the set which would be trucked to Michigan along with the entire crew within the next two hours, and went back to the casino.

"What you need," HSO told me, "is a big drink with an umbrella in it in a quiet bar."

What I got was a lemonade in the casino karaoke bar. Because what we discovered is that this casino is dry. Bone dry. Which added a whole new element of oddity to the experience.

"Not one of these people is drunk!" we exclaimed in shock.

If they weren't drunk, how do we explain why they were staggering around the casino, yelling at each other happily, staring fixedly at video screens and losing money with abandon? I just don't know. But it sure was interesting to watch.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Bellyflop into the Deep End of the Blog


I've been writing about my experiences as host of a nationally syndicated radio show for a couple of weeks. But I haven't shown it to anyone. I might get in trouble.

But I've decided not to worry about it. I spoke with Judith O'Reilly, whose blog "Wife in the North" has become a sensation in the UK and I've decided to put it all out here in the intergalactic netweb, as my Handsome Significant Other refers to it with appropriate Bush-ian sincerity. If anyone at my place of employment is offended, it's because they don't have a sense of humor. And I don't care for people who can't laugh at themselves. I laugh at myself. Constantly.

So here I will write my ongoing experiences as regional bureau chief for a sprawling-signalled radio station. I will confess my need to be the most amazing worker on the planet which would explain the ease with which I accepted the additional duties of host and producer of a weekly half hour issues show. I will admit that I am powerless to stop trying to be Superwoman. No one else may care. That's alright. I'll just put it out there. If you're reading, welcome aboard.

July 1, 2008

What the hell have I agreed to do? It sounded like fun at first.

“The current host is leaving to get married and go back to school,” the Boss told me, his nasally voice clearly certain he was offering me the opportunity of a lifetime. “We’ve got a replacement for her on the afternoon show…you did say you didn’t want to drive upstate to do that, right?”

That is true. It is an hour drive, gas has recently topped four dollars a gallon and the upstate office is a boiling stress tank.

“I’ve got to tell you…” his voice lowered. Perhaps some more forward member of the staff was standing outside his office door, ear tight to the plywood, whispering to the other desperate souls gathered there. He said…

“I think it was time for an overhaul. I’d like you to take over The Show With Issues." That is what I have begun calling the women’s show our public radio station carried as part of its national programming. “There are tough times coming. There are going to be cutbacks. And although you’re doing a wonderful job for us there in the boondocks bureau, you’re not essential. If you do this, you’ll be essential.”

“So you want me to do both?”

“Yup. It’s only a half hour show once a week…how much can it take?”

And with that attitude my new career as the host of a show heard around the world began.

I had no idea what I was getting into. It’s been a month since that phone call. My first show aired this week. And my stomach has been in constant knots as I fight tears sitting alone in my cozy office in a small upstate New York city.

I’ve been at this station for just over a year. In that time, I’ve moved back to the Catskills, where I grew up. I’ve bought a house I can’t afford. I’m living with a wonderful man who is, unfortunately, an amazingly talented musician. That means he’s usually broke. We’ve put more money than I can think about without being ill into a studio as the economy begins its roaring descent to the bottom of the roller coaster. I won three awards for journalistic excellence. I make less money than my daughter probably will at her new restaurant job. And I just turned fifty one.

The ironic thing is that as I was offered The Show, I was working on developing a show of my own. And it’s now on hold as I try to mold this existing program into something I can be proud of. I have no time for my own idea.

It’s fun. It is. Sometimes. I threw together the first three shows without breathing hard…I used material I already had on adoption for the first two shows…amazing interviews…one with a woman who surrendered her son, found him sixteen years later and became an activist for adoption reform, another with twin sisters who discovered after thirty years that they’d been separated and adopted out as part of a scientific study. I started to put my stamp on the show, adding music, creating profiles of interesting artistic women.

Now the heat is on – the show is airing, I’m not three shows ahead anymore and I’m still doing two stories a day with my reporter hat on. To say I am overwhelmed would not be an exaggeration. To say I’m ready to grab my sweetie, disappear into the night without a forwarding address and start fresh in another country would be spot on.

There are good things about producing and hosting this show. I don’t have a co-host…so there’s no one to coordinate things with. I love to write. I have plenty of ideas. What’s lacking is time. I could do this job full time and make it something I’m really proud of. But instead I get one day a week and an occasional afternoon. I’m fast, but I’m not sure I’m that fast. My Superpowers may not include "writing as fast as a speeding bullet."

My supervisor, the smart young news manager, is a godsend. She’s happy with my work, we like each other, and she understands that I’m absolutely freaking out. She and the dour veteran host of another program are handling the shuffling of papers and filing of reports for me. My responsibilities are the fun things – dreaming up shows, doing interviews, editing the program into an mp3 format. I have no room to complain. But I am. I’m scared. And I’m solely responsible for filling half an hour of air time at 147 radio stations around the country and Armed Forces Radio. I’m in trouble.

July 12, 2008

A Saturday morning, waiting for Handsome Significant Other to pull himself together (his hair takes longer to do than mine!) and shlep down to Brooklyn to move Daughter out of her third floor walkup and into a funky little house ten minutes away from us.

She’s a gem, that girl, and what, to others, might look like aimless wandering reminds me of my own confusion at age 19. She’s handling it far better than I did. She graduated high school, didn’t get into her college of choice and enrolled in a film school in Manhattan. Moved down there all alone into a dismal little box in the Bronx separated from the landlady's apartment by a curtain. She’d never lived outside our small town in Connecticut.

She quickly discovered that proximity to the subway was vital and she was the only blonde, blue-eyed girl in miles. I went down to see her the first weekend and immediately begged her to move. After a few months staying with a friend of HSO’s in Soho, she got an apartment in Brooklyn. She shared it with a sweet and completely unreliable gay boy friend who sometimes paid his share of the rent and sometimes didn’t while she worked for less than minimum wage at a trendy shop. It got old fast.

We rented a van and drove it two hours to the city. Double parked, opened the side doors and were almost immediately sideswiped by a junker car driven by a guy who didn’t mind if he put another dent in his vehicle. In fact, he couldn't figure out which one was the new one. He looked, shook his head and drove off.

We packed her up and drove north.

Her new place is adorable: a funky little house in the country she’ll be sharing with two other girls she met through me.

“I got stung by a bee,” she told me as she carried in another box. “I’m ready to go back to Brooklyn.”

Mother’s guilt begins, and kicks into high gear the next day as she tells me her roommates are non-stop socializers.

“People are coming and going constantly. I don’t want to be the bad guy, but this is my home. I don’t want strangers in and out of here all the time.”

I hear her roommates introducing her to someone new as she’s talking to me on the phone.

“Yeah. Hi.”

“You can tell them to tone it down,” I suggest. “You’re paying rent, too. You’re allowed.”

She sighs. “If it keeps going, I will.”

I hang up the phone and tell HSO.

“She’s not going to like it there,” he says.

I sigh. It's back to work for me tomorrow.