Thursday, October 24, 2019

What's in a name and the "Cheers factor"

I don't have the fame, voice or money of the
"real Reba," but I do have her poster.
Now that this blog has finally joined the social media bandwagon, I’ve been going back through some old posts and sharing a few of them through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A favorite I came up on today is about the importance of your name and the “Cheers” factor (a place “where everybody knows your name”).

In this 2016 blog post, I wrote about the discomfort of having an unusual name when I was a child. I hated that my first grade teacher was trying to insist on calling me Rebecca because she didn’t like nicknames. I lamented that I was never able to find my name on the racks of hundreds of embossed keychains at the Gay Dolphin when I visited with my friends in middle school.

In the past week, I’ve eaten in three of my favorite local restaurants. While the food is always good at all three, that’s not really the main reason I frequent Eggs Up, Crave or Labraskas. It’s because they not only remember my name but also my convoluted tea order and how I like my eggs or hot dog or pizza.

In my middle aged world, someone remembering my name (or my food or drink order) means a lot. It means comfort and familiarity and a feeling that I, and my business, matter.

And while I’m always up to try new things - a new restaurant, new travel adventure, new type of food, or new way home - coming back to the places with the “Cheers factor” will always be my personal comfort food.

You can read that 2016 post about “What’s in a Name” here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Book review: An unlikely intersection of humanity … Dogs and Politicians

At first glance, the pairing may have seemed to be an odd juxtaposition of two authors on the Charleston Music Hall stage recently as they discussed their newly published books - one about dogs and one about politicians. It was a sold-out show.

These writers’ careers as two of the best photographers in their respective areas of expertise have brought them accolades, awards and left them with thousands of photographs.

But their recently published books share deeper insights than just pictures from their travels. These writers have taken years of observation, connections, creativity, and a sensitivity to the world around them and translated it, through their own unique lenses, into two compelling books.

Callie Shell spent more than 25 years photographing world leaders and international events just an arms-length away from some of the most powerful people in the world. For eight years, she chronicled Vice President Gore’s two terms. For the last two decades, her work has consistently shown up in the pages of Time, in Michelle Obama’s autobiography and in CNN news stories among many others.

Vincent Musi has spent a long and highly successful career photographing animals all over the world. His internationally recognized work has graced hundreds of pages in National Geographic over the years.

Not only did Callie and Vince share the stage in Charleston recently to promote their books – his about dogs and hers about the Obamas – but they also share their charming Sullivan’s Island home; their teenaged son, Hunter; and 20 years of marriage juggling international photo assignments while still keeping the home fires burning.

When Hunter reached high school, these globetrotting parents and internationally acclaimed photographers decided it was time to make some changes and stick closer to home before Hunter left them as empty nesters in a few years.

Vince realigned his “animal whispering” abilities moving from large exotic animals photographed in all corners of the globe to focus on dogs creatively photographed in the couple’s warehouse studio in downtown Charleston. Callie looked to her years of photo files from travelling with the Obamas to do something new.

Books were born.

 An unlikely pairing of topics? Maybe not. I guess when you think about it, there are some similarities between the subjects of their photos. Politicians can often be found nipping at each other just as dogs do. Likewise, dogs can often be found falling all over themselves as politicians tend to do.

Regardless of the connections around the subject matter, these two books are well worth reading – and buying. And don’t try to read them on your Kindle or iPad. Buy the hardback versions. These are books you’ll want to go back and re-read to just bask in the details and creativity of the subject matter. I’ve already been through both of them twice and am certain the pages will eventually be dog-earred (yes, pun intended).

While Callie’s book, Hope, Never Fear, may appear - because of its subject - to be a political story, that’s exactly what it’s not. As Callie noted in opening her talk at the Charleston Music Hall, her book is the story of hope and family, not politics.

image copyright Callie Shell
In the opening pages of the book, Callie tells the story of how two people who love their country, their families and their community can have the same impact on the kid playing basketball around corner as on the international leader around the world.

Callie’s photographs blend the unique vantage point she was granted by the Obamas with her sharp eye for detail. These magnificent visuals frame a moving narrative drawn from her years of travel with the Obamas who trusted her with their most intimate family time. This adds up to dozens of her photographs that portray a realistic, yet nonpolitical, snapshot of a family who could just as easily be your neighbor as the leader of the free world.

The captions associated with Callie’s photographs come directly from Obamas. But her own moving words in the opening narrative reflecting her perspective of hope triumphing over fear are inspiring and uplifting. Don’t jump to the pictures before you read her introduction!

I became acquainted with Vince’s writing over the past couple of years because of his entertaining and hilarious Instagram posts with accompanying stories about the antics of the dogs he photographs for owners who travel from near and far (with Callie as his able studio assistant). These posts are what brought together the backbone for The Year of the Dogs.

image copyright Vincent J. Musi
Vince’s stories reflect his canine subjects’ personalities and quirky habits with a humor that can only come from his lively imagination plus his willingness to let dogs just be dogs. The narratives that accompany each pup’s unique photo range from sentimental to side splitting. Most of the dogs are still among the living. For others, the photos in the book stand as a memorial to much-loved pets.

Even if you think you can’t abide a dog, Vince’s book leaves you with that feeling of having just been loved on by a gentle Great Dane with a really long tongue. Even if you think you can’t stand a politician, Callie’s book leaves you with a renewed feeling of hope for humanity in general.

In the interest of full disclosure, I can’t claim that this is an objective or formal book review. Callie and I have been friends since we were teenagers. I’ve known Vince since we were young adults. When I first heard about their book plans, I knew their photography would be exquisite. But the writing in both books is moving with equal parts humor and insight sprinkled with their own unique perspectives.

In recent years, I’ve developed a personal practice of buying hardback books from independent booksellers only. I was glad to support Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston when I bought these books at Callie and Vince’s event at the Charleston Music Hall. Even if you can’t buy the books from a local indy store, buy the books. They will both be collectibles you’ll want to pull out and read often for a dose of laughter and a reminder of what binds us all together as humans.

Follow Vince and Callie on Instagram.

This review also appeared in the October 9 issue of Midlands Biz.

Monday, September 16, 2019

October 5: Danielle Howle and Friends House Concert

House concert: (hous KON-sert) - A gathering of friends and neighbors in an intimate home setting to celebrate and support local musicians.

OK … so I kind of made up that definition, but that does describe the concept.

The idea of house concerts goes back generations to Appalachian traditions. A performer en route between gigs may have had an open night to play at a host’s home along the way in exchange for a good meal and place to lay his head. The host would charge a small ticket price with proceeds going to the performer.

In the modern twist on a house concert, guests pay a small admission fee and bring a snack to share, their own adult beverages and chairs.
So that’s what’s going on October 5 – a house concert featuring the fabulous Danielle Howle and two very talented songwriter friends of hers. If you aren’t familiar with Danielle’s work, you need to be! Friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @DanielleHowleMusic and Insta @dmfhowle.

Here's the link to purchase advance tickets online. Once you purchase a ticket, Danielle will send you the house address for the concert.

I’ve loved Danielle’s music for many years going back to when she got started in the early 90s as “Danielle Howle and the Tantrums” on Columbia stages. Over the years, she has shared the stage with the likes of the Indigo Girls and Mark Bryan.

2018 house concert
You just never know what's going to happen at Danielle's house concert. Last year she brought a special guest who most recently played three big shows in Columbia. Two years ago was the launch of her new CD, and the year before, it was her send-off to a tour with the Indigo Girls.

This year will be her sixth concert at Chez 1425, and I'm thrilled Danielle will have two very talented singer/songwriters with her.

Fleming Moore is well-known in the Charleston-area music scene and hails from Summerville. I got to know him back in the spring when I attended Danielle's Swamp Sessions songwriters' retreat. He's a great songwriter who helped this novice writer work on putting music to lyrics I'd written (blog post about that experience here).

Robert Lighthouse, a native of Sweden, first came to the United States at the age of 18, determined to learn more about the music he loves -- Mississippi Delta Blues. He settled in DC and  established a cult following as a street musician before landing a steady gig at City Blues Cafe. His primary influences are Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters and Dr. Ross.

If the weather holds, we’ll be outside with the fire pit and string lights. There will be a few chairs, or bring your own or a blanket for picnic-style seating if you want. If we have to move inside, we’ll just wedge into the living room like we did last year.

And in the spirit of a true house concert, we'll have chili and fixins. Guests, please bring whatever you want to sip and a snack to share...this is potluck at its best!

You can get your $20 tix in advance on Danielle's website (all proceeds go to the musicians). Once you pay for the tickets, Danielle will send you an email with directions to the house. Kids are welcome, and those under 12 are free. No pets, please.

2017 house concert
2016 house concert


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Happy "Gotcha Day" to Flossie

This is us as we left PetsInc
for her new home
A year ago today, I spent a rainy afternoon at PetsInc walking refugee dogs that had been evacuated from coastal shelters during Hurricane Florence. I walked a dozen or so dogs over about an hour and a half giving them a little loving, some exercise and a place do their business. I volunteered that afternoon to give me a dog fix, but knew I wasn't ready for a new dog yet following the death of my beloved Dixie earlier in the year.

So much for best laid plans!

You can read Flossie's "gotcha story" here and get the details about how I saw her across the room as I was signing out of the shelter's office to head home. You can read about the several God-winks that brought us together. Also read here about how I came to open my heart again to bringing another dog into my life after losing Dixie.
The quote below is from a delightful essay from the playwright Eugene O'Neal who wrote so beautifully about losing his beloved dog, Blemie, and how getting another dog helped heal his loss.

The words are so true and surely helped my healing process.

One last request I earnestly make. I have heard my Mistress say, 'When Blemie dies we must never have another dog. I love him so much I could never love another one.'

Now I would ask her, for love of me, to have another. It would be a poor tribute to my memory never to have a dog again. What I would like to feel is that, having once had me in the family, now she cannot live without a dog!”

A polite southern lady

So, on this "Gotcha Day," I give huge thanks for my much-loved Flossie who came perfectly prepackaged for what I needed at that exact moment in my life. Surely she had lived at one point in a home that trained her to stay off the furniture, wait politely to be told to eat her food and love a belly rub. Her laid back, yet loving nature, has been the perfect addition to my life. She his wise eyes, a gentle nature, and loves a ride in the convertible, neighborhood walks and is happy to just laze around the house.

I give thanks for her every day!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Summer word nerd fixes and a new adventure

Now that I've been away from a traditional work environment for a few months, I've found a few things I'm missing … quick IT support, a dependable printer for my computer, impromptu brainstorming meetings, and word nerd colleagues down the hall who will debate grammar usage rules, share typos from major newspapers or debate the new changes in the AP Style Guide.

This summer, I've had to amuse myself with some of my own fixes to get the word nerd connections I've been missing. For the first time in my career, I bought my own new AP Style Guide and even subscribed to the online version. I re-read "Bird by Bird" and a number of my other favorite books on writing included in this earlier blog post and revisited this post on my grammatical pets peeves.

Next week, I will be getting back to a different kind of writing I've missed in recent years as I start on a new career adventure as an adjunct instructor in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at USC. I'll be teaching a class called Creative Strategy and Execution. I'm very excited about this!

A fun piece of this class will be getting to work with students on a type of writing that I love - ad copywriting. This type of writing will let us color outside the lines a little and maybe break a few of the writing rules I hold so dear as we work on developing creative ad copy, content and headlines that sell things.

Hopefully, this class will also get my own creativity ignited in a new way to take my personal writing in a new direction. Can't wait to see what this new adventure brings!

With the launch of the Random Connect Points Facebook page this summer, I'm linking back to some of my favorite old posts from the blog.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Signed, Sealed, Delivered (revisited)

I'm an evangelist for the handwritten note...whether it's a thank-you note or a newsy few lines just to say "hi" to someone. I love to write them, and I love to get them.

When a handwritten note from a young friend landed in my mailbox this week, I danced a little jig. I knew who it was from by the handwriting. I knew it would hold something interesting. And it did.

It also reminded me to go back and read a blog post I'd written six years ago when I had gotten a similar note from the same young friend.

She had taken on the practice of writing a note a day during one of her early years out of college. I was flattered to receive several of them over the course of the year - not knowing at that point of her plan.

Her note this week and this archived post from Random Connect Points reminded me to pull out my pretty box of notes and get writing! Maybe it will inspire you too!

Thanks JessicaPhillips Tyson for the nudge.

During August, I'll be revisiting some of my favorite past posts from Random Connect Points with a shout out to those who inspired them.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What does it mean to be called a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I attempted to publish a neighborhood magazine in the fourth grade. I wrote for the high school paper. I went to college thinking I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I won a VFW essay writing contest in the fifth grade. I’ve always loved to write letters.
But I’ve always struggled with exactly what it means to be a writer. Can you officially be a writer just because you write? How many published books, poems, magazine articles or songs does it take to officially be a writer? What makes someone fit the definition of a writer? And who is the keeper of that definition, anyway? Merriam Webster? Anne Lamott? Mrs. Hanna, my eighth grade English teacher?

How is questioning whether I can be called a writer just because I write any different from questioning if I can I be called a musician because I play music? Or can I be labeled a gardener because I have a straggly herb garden? Can I be described as a cook because I make killer lasagna? Or do I qualify as a florist because I arrange flowers? Do these labels even matter? It’s not like I’m trying to pad my resume for a future job search.

This week, a friend’s younger brother, who has published several books, introduced me to someone as “a fellow writer.” I took that as a huge compliment coming from a “published author.” The fact that I later questioned his description of me as “a writer” got me to consider what it would take to think of myself that way.

I try to write every day - whether it’s a few scribbles in my journal notebook, some lines of a song idea jotted down on an envelope, a thank you note, hundreds of words for a freelance magazine article or rambling thoughts that end up in my OneNote files on my phone.

For the first 30 days of this retirement season, I had a discipline of a “Daily 200” – writing just 200 words  day to reflect on what I was doing, learning, cleaning out, writing, observing. I posted these daily words on my blog, “Random Connect Points,” as a way to impose some writing discipline in my new world order.

Now, looking back on those posts from several months ago, I see that sharing my writing with others is truly a point of connection for me – regardless of whether the person reading is the recipient of my handwritten note or the reader of a large circulation magazine where my article appears.

Since 2013, I’ve used “Random Connect Points” as the depository for my writing projects. It’s really been more of a place to keep track of my writing than a place to share it publicly. Topics I’ve covered are as diverse as book reviews, word nerd tendencies, travel journals, aging, perfectionism, dog love, grace, “adulting” challenges, grammar pet peeves, bikes and music (lots about music).

I’ve come to realize that, for me, writing just boils down to forging connections. The biggest compliment someone can pay my writing is to tell me they felt a connection (whether it was to me, another person or something bigger than themselves) through my words. That’s where the name of my blog came from.

The description of “Random Connect Points” on the main blog page reads “I've always got words shooting out of the ends of my fingers, and this blog is my attempt to put some order to the random connect points that result when my fingers hit the keyboard. Like many things in life, the blog may be a little messy in places, so just ignore that like you would a pile of clothes on the floor.”

So today, I’m officially declaring myself a writer for this season of my life and inviting you connect with what I’m writing. “Random Connect Points” isn’t visually flashy or fancy, and you may occasionally find a few messes. But if you’d like to be notified when something new goes up, shoot me an email at, and I’ll add you to my subscription list. Or just follow the blog’s Facebook or Instagram (@random_connect_points) to get the link to new posts.

Through the month of August, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite past posts on Facebook and Insta. Hope you’ll stop in, and I look forward to connecting!