Charlie Fern's Ink

Do what you say. Say it in color.

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Name: Charlie Fern
Location: San Diego-Austin-Washington-London

Charlie Fern is a former White House speechwriter who runs a full-scale communications consulting, PR and speechwriting firm. Ms. Fern is also an adjunct professor who teaches public relations at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A handful of items that money can't buy

Money can't buy the live music of life. A hummy Easter morning in my home: laughter, music, glasses clinking, tea kettle boiling. Or the sounds of life's firsts: My 4-year-old son's small, expressive, sing-song voice, which narrated an uncensored and steady stream of conscious thoughts as he puttered around the house searching for (and finding by himself) the brightly colored Easter eggs "hidden" in conspicuous places for him the night before.

Money can't buy the million butterflies released the moment of your first kiss: A once-in-a-lifetime rush of adolescent love that only you and one other person on earth will rightly remember. Money can't buy the sometimes bittersweet feeling that comes years later, when you realize you married the right person.
Money can't buy that deep, comfortable, peaceful sleep-state that settles in just moments before the alarm goes off. Nor can it buy the smell of my grandmother's powder room on a spring day: A combination of old stucco walls, wood floors, faded powders and potions, salt air, earth, and flowering peach trees; a scent that changes slightly when the breeze shifts and stirs the curtains... and summons a different flight of memories.

Money can't buy streams of consciousness, waves of emotion, or torrents of sensory experiences that we swim in right now; the taste, touch, sound, smell, and sight of life unfolding. Money can't buy the feelings, epiphanies, or memories of our firsts and lasts. Money can't buy the things that have the most potent energy, the most sacred meaning or the most precious value, like daydreams and passion and spontaneous laughter and surprise this music clip I stumbled across (thanks to the band Collective Soul), by Susan Boyles of England who reminds us that money also can't buy the amazing talents we're born with, like the voice of an angel.

Perhaps most importantly, money can't buy back the time that you didn't spend properly in the first place. So just stop for a minute once in a while. Forget the viewfinder. Focus on life, exclusively. Watch it unfold with your own two eyes. Breathe life in. Bathe in it, bask in it, revel in it.

I'll try to do the same.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Meet Flat Ginger

When I first saw this photo, I couldn't help but think of Flat Stanley, the paper doll that helps elementary school teachers teach children about geography, writing, and coloring inside the lines. Every year, thousands of students read the Flat Stanley book or visit the Flat website ( They trace, cut, and color thousands of Flat Stanleys and send them off to the four corners of the world. And then they wait patiently for news on Flat's whereabouts and activities.

I first met Flat Stanley when I worked in the Texas governor's office. He arrived in a letter to the Governor and First Lady from a Texas student. In the letter, the child explained how Flat came to be, and politely asked if Flat could spend the day with the first couple and be returned to the sender with photos and a full report. I helped write that report, which was enormously fun. Flat and I have bumped into each other once or twice since then. He paid me a visit at the White House, and I dutifully sent him home to his owner with another report.

Flat Ginger is the antithesis of Flat Stanley. And, it figures that she would bear a remarkable resemblance to the women on my dad’s side of the family. These ladies (cousins, aunts, grandmothers) were the defining element of summertime get-togethers in San Diego. You’d always find two or three of them sitting in a row or standing around in the kitchen. When they all got together, what a treat! It was like a Big Hair convention in technicolor turquoise and hot pink.

It was hard to tell them apart: jet black bouffants, radiant skin (well, radiated), muumuus or capri pants, festive beach heels, lipstick outside the lines, cigarette in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other. When they cooked, they wore homemade aprons just like the one on this cookie.

The cookie photo is strangely comforting. It's like seeing a long lost family photo for the first time. It is also unsettling, because it presents startling evidence that if you look like Flat Ginger, here, you’re probably the “fun” in dysfunctional.

I am told that poor Ginger met with an untimely demise. She was beheaded and eaten. I see no reason why she can't live on in infamy, though. Or, why the sisters can't make more of her.

We could send Flat Gingers all over the world, like Flat Stanley's slightly dysfunctional second cousin once removed from the oven. But instead of NASA or the White House, we'd have to send her to the Betty Ford Clinic. Or Morris-Phillips. Or to the Gallo brothers. She'd arrive with a letter from the sisters requesting her safe return, along with a bottle of wine and a cigarette. It could work. The sisters might even learn something new about geography.

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