Brand building through storytelling

Letters From Rona (blog)

When depression comes to work

Perhaps it’s partly because I never had a daughter that the greatest joy I found in corporate life was mentoring gifted young women who today are leaders in their field. Then there’s the protegee I will call Ellen. Her blazing intellect, zest for challenge and seemingly unquenchable energy made her the go-to person for the toughest projects—until the light went out of her smile. What looked at first like a bad day became a sour week and then a spiritless month in which Ellen rarely emerged from her office. She kept the door closed and the window covered with paper. When she started missing her deadlines, I had no choice but to confront her. She admitted that while we all thought she was working, she’d been staring at her computer screen, unable to write or even read. Depression had paralyzed my star employee.

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The most important thing my mother never told me

Twenty-one years ago almost to the day, my mother died without telling me the one thing I most longed to hear. Her silence on a painful subject continued to trouble me, like a bum knee that aches in cold weather. When a wise stranger proposed that I write her a letter, I pooh-poohed the idea (nothing new about letters to the dead). It turned out that I spoke too soon.

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The lost girl on my mind

In my only memory of Pamela Mason, we’re cooking partners in Mrs. Boynton’s eighth-grade Home Ec class. Pam and her girlfriend get busy with the wooden spoons while I stare out the window and wait for the bell to ring. Pam takes a dim view of my indolence. She mutters to her less assertive friend, in a tone calculated to get my attention, “All Rona knows is Shakespeare!”

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As old habits die, new projects bloom

I’ve always thought of myself as a creature of habit. Every summer, a new pair of vaguely Roman-looking sandals from Mephisto (perferably silver). Every Christmas morning, fruit salad and frittata while the boys’ choir at King’s College, Cambridge sings “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (North American choirs won’t do; I must have English accents and a seventeenth-century organ). Up by seven, in bed by 10:30, two Pilates classes every week plus a workout with a merciless trainer. I never set my iPod to shuffle; I don’t want surprises from a trove of thousands of songs. I want to hear “Torn and Frayed” one more time.

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One car, two girlfriends, a weekend of memories

If you do not drive and haven’t hitchhiked since Jim Morrison was singing “Light My Fire,” a trip to Durham, New Hampshire presents a logistical conundrum. When my school held a reunion in Durham, two of us had to ask, “Who will drive me there?” The other one is blind. Me, I’m just phobic. I may not have the best excuse for breaking into a sweat at the thought of driving, but I do have the best, wittiest and most altogether delightful chauffeur any vehicularly challenged person could hope for: my friend Anne, the confidante of my mostly bleak adolescence.

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Back to the house that used to be mine

Every storied house deserves a name. Think Astor Court, scene of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. Or Sissinghurst Castle, home of one of Britain’s most celebrated gardens. Or Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s cantilevered masterpiece in the leafy depths of a nature reserve. Then there’s Maynard Hall, a name unheard-of even by the people who own it—a cheerful, 30-something couple who answered my knock at their door one recent weekend, just as they were rallying four kids to head off somewhere.

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My ballerina dream fulfilled

Almost 50 years after I hung up my one and only pair of pointe shoes, I seized my chance to wear a real Russian tutu—a gloriously frothy creation with more layers of silk tulle than there are petals in a bouquet of peonies. “Hey, I can dance!” I exclaimed. I hadn’t bargained on the curtsey. Real ballerinas drop to the floor and I’m a real sexagenarian.

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What’s in a nickname

Once upon a time, when Expo 67 was welcoming the world and Sergeant Pepper topped the charts, I willingly answered to a nickname. This would amaze everyone who’s been met with a frosty stare for addressing me as anything other than Rona. To be honest, I’m amazed myself, but only because I’d forgotten that a high school friend used to call me…oh, do I dare tell you?

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Missing John Callahan, warts and all

It’s been years since I discovered the black, ruthless wit of quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan. I admired him for savaging the myth of disability as both pitiful and ennobling. His death had me combing the Internet for stories of his life and forgotten snippets of his gleefully outrageous art. That’s when I discovered just how far this man would go to reveal his broken places in print. As a woman, I shuddered. But I’m still a fan. Here’s why.

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Rejoining my hometown tribe

I didn’t admit to an attack of nerves the week before my school reunion. But there had to be a reason why I lay awake night after night, my brain on high alert.

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