One year later, another meme surfaces . . .

August 17, 2013

Self-portrait, August 17, 2013

It’s probably wrong to imitate yourself, but last summer when I did the Esse Diem meme contest for fun, I secretly lamented that I wasn’t photographed with my own book.

Today, that is remedied. If you’d like to learn more about River Town and the various authors who contributed, please check us out on Amazon. You can read small blurbs from each chapter here.

Thank you for reading!

(Oh, and check out the winners from last summer, too! We had fun.)

Drum Roll, Please! The Meme Winners Are…

Yes, I sound a lot like your grandmother when I say this, but it is true: I am honored to have had each of the 17 submitted photographs in this little gavotte into sharing favorite books and poking some well-deserved fun at my own blogger image. Each one is unique, and witty, and well done. You make me proud!

To see all the entries, visit

There are two winners.

The first is the top prize for Reader’s Choice, and it goes to Jean Hanna Davis for her self-portrait with Kindle:

Voters in an online poll awarded her a staggering 40% of the votes cast. Congratulations, Jean! On its way to you is a copy of the book in my own self-portrait, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Naturally, you will receive the Kindle edition!

I am awarding an Editor’s Pick prize as well. This prize is based solely on my own gut reaction to how well a photograph mimics my own. My choice is the entry by Teresa McGlothlin Wissen for her self-portrait with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:

The black and white choice, the oddly unsettling (yet not unpleasant) expression over the book, and the facial proportions to the cover all made this photo stand out from the beginning. It also has a je ne sais quoi quality that haunts me. Teresa will receive a photographic print of the original book cover by Paul Bacon.

Truly, thank you to everyone who took the time to join in the fun of this project, and special thanks to Doug Imbrogno who invented it! You all are the best.

Just for Fun: The Esse Diem Meme!

My friend Doug Imbrogno is wicked smart, talented, and musical to boot. When he speaks, I listen.

The other day he made the off-hand suggestion that I put together an “Esse Diem meme” – because it would be fun and because he likes the way it sounds when he says it out loud. That’s good enough for me!

So here’s the deal: If you have ever written for, commented on, or are a reader of Esse Diem bloG, pick up one of your favorite books and recreate this picture in a self-portrait if you can (you can have someone else take it if it’s not working out the other way). Be sure to tell me what book you are holding and why it’s a favorite.

Esse Diem meme

Post it to your own website and I’ll link to you, or send me the digital photo at I’ll post the collection here the first week of September, and “Storify” it, too. I’ll cook up a prize for the Reader’s Choice award, as well as an Editor’s Pick. In the meantime, you can follow the fun at

(It’s not all God and essays over here, you know. Sometimes we just are goofy. But we try to be goofy in an intelligent manner. Ahem.)

Esse-a-Go-Go: The Celebrity Kroger Story

In my town, it has a special name. It is not just the grocery story. It is not simply Kroger’s Food and Drug.  It is….drumroll, please……Celebrity Kroger of Ashton Place.  (You can check into it on Facebook by that name, so you know it’s real.)

I learned of the true name of this community hub when I moved back to Charleston, West Virginia, a decade ago. This is my home town, and I pride myself on being in the know. I realized in short order I was about as far out of the know as you can get my first weekend home.  I wanted to go out for a beer, and it never crossed my mind to go downtown.  I ended up in a strip mall where I saw a bartender open a Corona and then attempt to put the top back on and put it back in the cooler. I hadn’t gotten the news that my little town was all grown up. I laugh now picturing myself in that yucky dive when I could have been downtown at one of many lovely new hangouts that had blossomed since my departure.

Among the swanky new places to see and be seen was, apparently, the grocery story. I learned quickly that there was only one grocery in Charleston where you could see Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, the governor, Rockefellers, members of the legislature, coal barons’ wives and kids, school supers and fashion models.

Aside: If you really want to have some fun, dab on some Giorgio Beverly Hills cologne, do a chignon with your hair, wear high heels and fake fur and sport some Jackie O sunglasses from Target. Speed through Kroger like you are late for a Botox and watch the heads turn. This would not get a second glance in any major city (OK, you’d get called out for the stinky cologne), but you can cause a riot in Celebrity Kroger because YOU MIGHT BE SOMEONE.

In reality, there is only one SOMEONE I ever wanted to see at Celebrity Kroger of Ashton Place.  His name is Mr. Lamanca.

At this point, I would appreciate if you would play the following video as soundtrack softy in the background for the remainder of my story.

For a full 10 years at least, Mr. Lamanca was like Keyser Söze  to me, only cooler. I could not be in Kroger’s without someone coming on the intercom and paging, “Mr. Lamanca, Mr. Lamanca….please call line 2.” The name sounds great on the intercom, and it’s so clear that the man is Lord God King of Celebrity Kroger. Part of his glory is that he seems invisible. He rules all, yet from afar. No one else ever is mentioned on the intercom.

Who was this “Mr. Lamanca”? Was he real, or a hoax? Where was he, and how did he so effortlessly command the mothership from an undisclosed location?

Then one day, it happened.

I was walking through some aisle, I can’t remember which, when I looked up and there he was.

Joe Lamanca, third from left.

I just thought I would be asking a regular store employee how to find an item, and when I looked up I saw a name tag with the name, “Mr. Lamanca.”

I think I forgot how to breathe.

He said, “Hi, can I help you?”

I couldn’t speak. I kept staring from his shirt to his face and back again. I must have looked like an crazy person. He asked if he could help me again, this time with a little look of concern.

“I am so sorry,” I gasped. “It’s just that, you’re….do you know who you are? You’re….(I whispered it) Mr. Lamanca.”

He laughed, “Yes, yes I am.”

“I’ve wanted to meet you for years. I’m sorry if I’m freaking you out, you are just such a mystery, and this is really exciting. I am so happy to meet you! I love your store!” There was more, but I think you get the idea. I did everything except propose. It was hilarious, and I still hardly can believe it happened.

So all y’all who consider yourself all that and a bag of King Size Ruffles, Mr. Lamanca just took you to school. He IS Joe Quixote, the LORD of Lamanca, and though I’ve seen a few “celebrities” at Kroger over the  years, they pale in comparison.

Next goal: Find a way to be allowed to page him over the intercom. Just once.

Do you think that’s too much? 😉

Anastasia Moves In: My New Neighbors Are Royals

One of the greatest romantic, dramatic stories in history is the violent demise of the family of Russian Czar Nicholas II.  It’s a long and detailed unfolding of events that, if you are not familiar with it, can be reviewed on this link.  The Cliffs Notes are a bit like this:

Official portrait of the Czar, Nicholas II, 1898

Nicholas II ruled from 1894 until his abdication on 15 March 1917. His reign saw Imperial Russia go from being one of the foremost great powers of the world to economic and military collapse. Critics nicknamed him Bloody Nicholas because of the Khodynka Tragedy, Bloody Sunday, the anti-Semitic pogroms, his execution of political opponents, and his pursuit of military campaigns on a hitherto unprecedented scale.  As head of state, he approved the Russian mobilization of August 1914, which marked the first fatal step into World War I, a war in which 3.3 million Russians would be killed, thus leading to the demise of the Romanov dynasty less than three years later.

Nicholas II abdicated following the February Revolution of 1917 during which he and his family were imprisoned first in the Alexander Palaceat Tsarskoye Selo, then later in the Governor’s Mansion in Tobolsk, and finally at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Nicholas II, his wife, his son, his four daughters, the family’s medical doctor, the Tsar’s valet, the Empress’ lady-in-waiting, and the family’s cook were murdered in the same room by the Bolsheviks on the night of 16/17 July 1918. This led to the canonization of Nicholas II, his wife the Empress and their children as martyrs by various groups tied to the Russian Orthodox Church within Russia and, prominently, outside Russia.

One of his children, Antastasia, was believed killed with the family but no one could establish that for a fact until 2008.  I am glad to have a long-standing mystery resolved on one hand, and on the other I hate to see a good “what if” taken from all of us who like to imagine that Anastasia was really living among the rest of us, cloaked in Russian dynasty diamonds under her plain wool coat all these years.


All of this came up for me when I met my new neighbors.  They are very young with an infant daughter, and rent the house across the street.  This house has turned over tenants three times in the past 6 years, and each time I take a deep breath and wait to see who will neglect the property this time.  The landlord is out-of-state, and no one seems to care too terribly much what happens to the roof, the gutters, the landscape, or the carpet.

When I walked over to introduce myself, I don’t know exactly what I expected, but what I got left me rather stunned and speechless.  My neighbors don’t appear to have a lot of money.  They drive an older car, they dress in casual clothing, and his lean physique and beard suggest a life of blue-collar work.  Her flowing hair and ease of speech tell me she lives in a world without pretense, where things are not necessarily simple but relationships are assumed to be trustworthy and people are expected to be good.

He pointed to the roof of the house and expressed concern about yellow jackets in the gutters.  He’d already been stung several times cleaning out the inches of muck accumulated from years of neglect.  He noted the vines smothering a pine tree, and said he would soon be taking them down.  He had a long list of other concerns for the property and said he planned to ask permission from the landlord to start making some serious changes.

I could tell he intended to do it all himself.

She……how to say it……She has an elegance that goes beyond the sum of her parts.  I told my husband I just had a vibe that she was a lost princess, a royal soul who had been born into a modest life in West Virginia.  Her voice is soft and lyrical, and when she moves her hands and arms you get the feeling of watching a dancer.  She remembered my name after the first time we met, just speaking in the street.

Imperial monogram, House of Romanov

Yesterday, we spoke for the second time in several weeks, and I noticed a large full-color tattoo on her upper arm.  It’s an elaborate crown encrusted with jewels, and her baby daughter’s name is written below it in swirling script.

Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga, and Maria survived the first hail of bullets; the sisters were wearing over 1.3 kilograms of diamonds and precious gems sewn into their clothing, which provided some initial protection from the bullets and bayonets.

There are lot of people with money in the general vicinity where I live.  Suffice it to say, I have been around enough blocks to see the glaring irony in the general attitude many of them take that says, “I am more.  I am special.  I am valuable because of what I drive, where I live, and what I wear.”  They also rarely remember my name, pay other people to clean their gutters, and speak openly about their desire to get distance from their young children.

My new neighbors just kicked the bar way, way up.  I hope they buy the house.

P. S. I met an older man visiting them who said her was a family friend.  He seemed nice, but had a bit of a Rasputin edge.  I’ll be keeping an eye on him.

Images credit: Wikipedia

Rise of The Worm Wand: A Cautionary Tale

This post is a different flavor from my usual writing.  I wrote it as a submission for a wonderful blog called Monkey Goggles.  The site is excellent and besides that, it’s just pure fun.  One of my favorite posts on MG was the first one I ever read, and apparently it hits on all cylinders with a lot of people.  It is titled Mick Jagger’s Adventures is Toyland and is the 2nd most popular post of all time on Monkey Goggles.

Alas, my beloved MG went dormant at the end of 2010 and I never had the chance to submit my story.  I offer it to you here for your entertainment.  Consider it a humorous and slightly deranged take on Essays on Childhood.  Enjoy!

Rise of The Worm Wand: A Cautionary Tale

My sister and I are not quite three years apart, and we frequently are confused for one another by people who don’t know us well.  They say we look alike, but when pressed they can’t defend that.  She has blue eyes, I don’t; I’m a couple of inches taller; she dresses well, I don’t; she has never bitten her nails and I chew mine like gum.  Even now that I have brown hair and she has blonde people say, “You are so much alike!”  What they perceive, I suspect, is that we are both hard-wired products of 1970s children’s television.

Allow me to elaborate.

We grew up with Sesame Street and Shazam, Isis and The Land of the Lost.  (Don’t even get me started on Lidsville.)  We believed things, strange things, things that shaped the women we grew up to be.  We believed deep down that we were one bad accident away from becoming bionic – ripping phone books in half to get respect from a classroom of rowdy high school students, or leaping flat-footed to the roof of a building downtown.  A natural consequence of this belief is that we got a little cocky where perhaps it was not warranted; I think that still shows through sometimes and contributes to our perceived similarities.  That and a penchant for speaking in Muppet voices and waving our arms around like Kermit the Frog.

Both my sister and I developed chants and rituals directly tied to our widely underappreciated magical powers.  The adult take on a lot of it now would track to early obsessive compulsive disorder, but I really don’t think it was that.  I’m pretty sure it was primarily magic-related.  I mean, come on, if Isis could spin a certain number of times and hold her hands just right and say the right words, she could fly.  It made perfect sense to make sure I did things an even numbers of times — with the most magical power derived from factors of 8 — and conducted with my right hand or foot.  It was all about generating protective powers against breaking my mother’s back.  All good kids were doing that, right?

I know.  Don’t tell me.  I don’t really want my peculiarity confirmed.  It’s too late.

My sister took her fashion cues from Charlie’s Angels, and as an elementary student could rock a silk scarf better than Kate Jackson.   She also worshipped Mary Hart from Entertainment Tonight and envisioned taking over Mary’s empire one day.   I can’t explain why I never picked up on the comprehensive effort at good appearance that my sister did, but I want to blame it on a Barbie manikin head a friend of mine had.  I developed a conviction that if you just did your hair and makeup as if your body didn’t exist it was all good.  I’m finding out that’s not really so, but I’m too set in my ways to change much now.

Our early friendships had that Scooby Doo composition of mixed genders, smart kids, goof balls, pretty ones and jocks.  Though no one actually dubbed their vehicle The Mystery Machine, I distinctly remember one we called Super Pickle.  My sister’s friends were prone to poking around in places where they could be perceived as “those meddling kids.”  The Scooby Doo gang was just a highly evolved Breakfast Club, well ahead of its time.  Mr. Potato Head had a strange late-breaking impact in our teen years, when I kicked my sister out of my room so I could read in peace and she retaliated by lobbing an Idaho baker stuck with a lighted sparkler into my room like a grenade.  I told her well done, but she missed an opportunity for real genius when it wasn’t followed immediately by a handful of French fries as fall out.

I am fairly certain that this potato explosive event was the intersection of the magical thinking of very young children with the warped power-games of adolescence that gave rise to The Worm Wand.

I want to tell you that I remember exactly how this oddment came into being, but I don’t.  All it was, physically, was the remnants of a checkbook register.  Every check and deposit slip was torn out, and all that remained was a rectangle of cardboard edged with a thicker binding where all of the paper once was attached.  Something about the binding of the register edge made it pliable yet stable.  I made it into a hook-like finger and strangely, it acquired a power.

What could it do?  The one thing I needed it to do.  It could control my sister.

Obviously even then it was a game.  She would start to get on my nerves and I would reach into my purse and pull out The Worm Wand and utter, “Silence!  The Worm Wand commands you to stop pestering me!”  And she did, laughing hilariously the whole time, but she did.  It had a snowball effect.  Each time she obeyed the commands of The Worm Wand, its power seemed to grow.  “The Worm Wand commands you to change the channel.  The Worm Wand commands you to give your sister the last bag of chips.  The Worm Wands overrides your shot-gun call.”  I could get anything I wanted just by having the wand make an appearance and make it so.

In hindsight, only someone drunk with power would not have seen the inevitable coup that was brewing.  But drunk I was, and I got lazy.  One day my sister and I were sitting on the couch and she casually asked, “Hey, where’s The Worm Wand?”  Like a fool, I replied, “I think it’s upstairs in my room.”

I never dreamed she could move that fast.

She was up and off the couch as if she could fly.   My split-second hesitation was my undoing.  She was up the stairs three at a time and I tripped trying to keep up with her.  She disappeared for a moment, and as I flopped onto the landing I looked up to see my triumphant former servant wielding The Worm Wand over my head and screaming, “Ah ha!  Now you will pay!”

We both were laughing so hard we could not breathe.  I honestly thought I might expire on that landing from my convulsions and inability to respirate.

My sister and I have debriefed over The Worm Wand and its bizarre dynamic for decades now.  The whole thing achieved the status of one of the weirdest and funniest episodes from our childhood, and that is no small feat.  We did some very crazy stuff.

The Worm Wand was entertaining, but it also scared us, and in later years I found out why.  Most people have an innate tendency to submit  to authority.  That trait is no doubt there to keep us safe in most instances.  What The Worm Wand episode taught me was how arbitrary and nonsensical it can be, and how dangerous.  It was just a game, and it was very funny, but the scary part was to actually feel a random object gaining some influence over another person, and to feel that influence gaining a personality and life of its own.  Most of us don’t believe we are this vulnerable.  The value of The Worm Wand episode for me was the purity of the psychological experiment.  We didn’t set out to do anything, or to prove or debunk any theories.  We were just kids in our own little Lord of the Flies; yet we were old enough to feel unhinged by the experience.

I still think about ole TWW.  What triggers it can be as heavy as a news reference to the Nazi movement or as light was someone asking me to get in line.  The words “you can’t” or “you have to” never fall lightly on these ears.  Sometimes when the light is just right and I squint my eyes, the speaker gains the form of a hooked finger.

Or a checkbook register.  It’s hard to say.

Image credits: Google (various uncredited sources) and

Stodgy is Sexy

kate spade v. dansko

Yes, you heard that right!  As they say on their site, “It’s a movement.”  And not a moment too soon for this lady, I must confess………

I considered posting this photo several days ago, but didn’t really know what to say about it.  Is it a “before and after motherhood” photo?

Well, yes and no.

Is it a “I don’t go to parties, I go to the grocery store more than once a day” photo?

Well, yes and no.

It’s so much more, friends…..and now I know what it really is.  It’s the Stodgy is Sexy photo submission of the day!  Visit their site and join the revolution.  And bring your sensible shoes, will ya?

“The movement has begun. Arrogance is out. Conspicuous consumption is out. Risk is definitely out. In the ways we spend, dress, invest, and consume, we are returning to old values like thrift, simplicity, and basic common sense. Stodgy? Absolutely.

And stodgy is a good thing. Stodgy is sexy.”

100% unretouched image credit: Those-Are-My-Real-Shoes Gaucher. Update: Sadly, the Stodgy is Sexy website is no more. SIGH.