Storytime: What’s in a Name Part 2

I mentioned in my last post that not only is the “last name that’s not actually even my last name” often pronounced incorrectly, so is my first name. It’s understandable, I suppose, that when your name is unusual and one letter different from a much more popular name, people might assume that your name is, in fact, the popular name. 

So many people do call me Brenda, but some come up with other things that apparently seem more correct than my actual name, like Breanna or, and this one I think is particularly interesting, Glenna. I had a junior high homeroom teacher who called me Breena all year as well. I’ve never met a Breena.

Just to be clear, Brenna isn’t pronounced in a particularly complicated way. It’s just Brenda without the D. BREH-na. Not at all fancy.

Generally, I use the same pattern to politely correct phone callers who say my name incorrectly. They say, “Hi, is this Brenda?” and I say, “Yes, this is Brenna,” and then they apologize and we continue our conversation. But sometimes people seem to feel like they know my name better than I do.

Please meet Jaime, a customer service person who called me regarding a service I was interested in. 

Phone rings

Me: Hello?

Jaime: Hello is this Breanna? I’m Jaime from Porch.

Me: Yes, this is Brenna.

Jaime: Great, is this a good time to talk, Breanna?

And so it went on for the entire conversation. Jaime seemed to be the sort of person that drops your name into the conversation a lot and it was wrong every time. 

Finally, we got to the part where she needed my email address in order to send me a quote. I figured that this would be the golden moment where she would figure it out. 

Me: It’s my name, so that’s Brenna Fender, B-R-E-N-N-A….

I got done spelling it all out and she repeated it back.

Here it comes, I thought.

Jaime: Okay Breanna, great, I’ll get that quote right out to you. And I’ll call you back tomorrow when you have more time so we can discuss the rest of the issues. Will 12:30 work?

Me: Yes, that’s fine. Thank you.


When 12:30 rolled around the next day, the phone rang and once again it was Jaime, and sure enough, she called me Breanna. We talked for a moment and then she wanted to put me through to Alex who would give me another quote. 

We stayed on the line together, and then when Alex answered, Jaime said, “Hi Alex. This is Breanna. Breanna, thank you for talking to me today and let me know if you need anything else.” And then she hung up.

And you know what Alex said?

Alex: Hi Breanna. Let me ask you a few questions so I can get you that quote.

So I just went ahead and laid it out there.

Me: Hi Alex. Actually, my name is BREH-NNA, not BRE-AAH-NNA. I told Jaime that several times but I finally gave up.

Alex laughed pretty hard. When he finished he said:

Alex: Okay, Brahnna, let me ask you those questions.


But Alex had an accent and I thought, okay, maybe that’s his best approximation. So we had our whole conversation and we got to the email-address-send-a-quote part. 

Me: It’s my name, so that’s Brenna Fender, B-R-E-N-N-A…

I finished it and before he said it back he said, “Oh. BREHNNA….”

And then we wrapped things up and I needed a nap.


Storytime: What’s in a Name? Part 1

You may have noticed that my name – Brenna – is kind of unusual. If you google “Brenna Fender,” you’ll mostly find stuff about me, although there is another woman named Brenna who married into the name Fender, which I find kind of irritating. It seems as though she’s a beauty consultant at Dress Barn, which is so far away from who I am that it’s actually pretty hilarious. I’m a little embarrassed for her. I mean, if people get mostly my stuff and think it’s hers, they are going to think she’s a TERRIBLE beauty consultant. Honestly, I’m surprised she hasn’t messaged me yet to offer me free consulting just to boost her image.

Probably she should get another name. I’m just saying. “Brenna Fender” is MINE.

Anyway, because my first name is BrenNa and my last name is FenDer, people sometimes swap the letters and call me Brenda Fenner. I get that. It makes sense. And really a lot of people just call me Brenda even without seeing my last name. “Brenda” is a much more common name, so they just assume it’s a typo, I guess. You know, in my email address and signature and such. 

So, to make my life a little more interesting, I married someone whose last name is easy to say, as long as you aren’t looking at it. If you read it and then say it the way it appears to be spelled using English phonetics, you’ll be very wrong.

Now, I didn’t change my last name when I got married. I’m still Brenna Fender. My children both have my husband’s last name. I’ve encouraged them to politely correct people who say their names wrong, and I’ve written their last name phonetically for people who needed to read it aloud probably 100 times, even having in-person discussions with announcers at events who need to say it over PA systems. Even with that discussion, odds are good that it will be said wrong, but I try. I’ve been an event announcer before and I know it’s a really hard job to do, so I get it. But I feel like your name is an important part of you, and saying it correctly is just a respectful thing to do.

That said, people call me Mrs. Mispronounced Name a lot of the time. We’re more than a quarter of a century past when I made the choice to keep my name rather than take my husband’s, but many of my kids’ doctor’s offices and similar places assume otherwise. This occurs even when I’ve handed them my credit card WITH MY NAME ON IT 100 times. 

I’m not particularly bothered by being called Mrs. Mispronounced Name, but the problem is when it’s being said by someone who will also be addressing my kids. Do I correct the pronunciation on behalf of my children? But then it’s like I’m agreeing to that being my name, which it isn’t. So really I need to say something like, “It’s pronounced this way, but I actually go by Ms. Fender” which will probably raise eyebrows and create questions and whatnot and I’m generally not feeling like stirring up a whole discussion of REASONS when I just want to make my co-pay.

Due to my reluctance to speak up like a damn grown-up, I’ve wound up in a situation where a receptionist has called me Mrs. Mispronounced Name FOR YEARS. I have literally seen her nearly once a week for probably 5 years now and she’s said it wrong every time. If I’d just sucked it up and fixed the whole thing at the beginning, there would be no issue, but I can tell you that the statute of limitations on correcting my name with her has definitely run the hell out. It’s gotten to the point where I feel kind of sheepish every time she greets me or calls me over to pay (with the credit card with my name on it, but I digress). But I’m stuck.

Now every appointment is Telehealth and at first, she was sometimes calling me to take my payment prior to the appointment, but mostly someone else called (who also called me by the wrong name but that’s not the story here). And now I’ve reached my out of pocket deductible (yay?) so nobody calls me anymore. Perfect.

Except last week, we saw someone else in the practice for another issue, and we needed to make a follow-up appointment. The receptionist called me to set it up. Imagine my surprise when I answered the phone and that familiar voice said, “Brenda? It’s [redacted] from Dr. [redacted]’s* office. I’m calling to make that follow-up appointment you need.”

She called me by my first name. That’s never happened. And SHE MISPRONOUNCED IT. And guess what? I was so damn shocked I didn’t correct her. 


Maybe we need a new doctor. 

*Redacted because I actually still want to be able to make appointments in the future.

Bring Your Own Sun

Today, May 22, is the second anniversary of The Girl’s accident. I tried to get her to adopt the name Second Chance Day, or Second Chanceiversary or some such thing that sounds positive to refer to it,  but she’s still set on Death Day, a nod to Nearly Headless Nick from Harry Potter.

So. It’s Death Day.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the short version of the story is that, during a breath holding exercise at synchronized swimming practice two years ago, The Girl passed out under water, essentially drowning. Well-trained, young lifeguards pulled her from the water, performed life-saving CPR, and resuscitated her. Shallow Water Blackout, as such an incident is called, is a particularly sneaky and evil way to drown. Victims don’t even know they are blacking out, so there’s no chance for them to signal or fight back, and the amount of time for resuscitation without brain damage or death is substantially shorter than for traditional drowning victims. For more of our story, or to learn more about Shallow Water Blackout, please see “When Great Swimmers Drown and my follow up, “The Aftermath.”

I’m not super interested in the Facebook memories that will certainly be flooding me over the next few days, but honestly, this year’s anniversary of the day that my most favorite girl was literally less than two minutes away from dying is much better than the last. It took me well over a year to get over the vast majority of the fear that settled in after that experience. Our family’s recovery was complicated by an excessive number of medical visits and tests that stretched past the summer as doctors wanted to be very, very sure that what happened to The Girl was a “simple” case of Shallow Water Blackout and not a far more dangerous medical problem.

It was this delay that ultimately caused her to give up the sport she loved. By the time the doctors declared her able to go back to do a little bit of synchronized swimming training, far too much of the season had passed for her to fit into what was slated to be her best swimming year ever, the one where she was on the top of the age bracket, poised to potentially place at the Junior Olympics. It was her time, finally, after fighting her way up from being the youngest, being the smallest, being the weakest. But, you know, life doesn’t really owe us “our time.” And so it wasn’t to be.

By the time the doctor said “maybe you could swim a little, ease back into it,” The Girl had already mourned her loss and was ready to move on. And I’ve got to tell you, it would have been very, very hard for me to return to sitting by the pool three or four days a week, watching breath holding exercises and feeling that sickness in my stomach, having flashbacks of her body on the pavement with her eyes rolled back in her head. While it was easier to do right away when the doctors hadn’t yet decided that further probing was needed, with the Junior Olympics on the line, and when her team and duet partner needed her, after some time to process things, some parts of the fear actually got a little harder. Time to think is not always your friend.

By the spring of last year, The Girl had dabbled in various activities and found new ways to spend her time, new things to learn. She worked hard at becoming a gymnast, but eventually realized that the bars were not her thing, and the sport of artistic gymnastics cannot be played competitively without a bar routine. But then I found out about a different gymnastics sport called Trampoline and Tumbling. She liked it right off, got on a team, and fought her way off the bottom again, going from a complete newbie to solid placements in Levels 4 and 5 after less than a year. A switch to a new gym kicked everything up a notch, and just under two years from the darkest day in her life, she became Regional Champion on two of the three Trampoline and Tumbling events (and the bronze medalist on the third)! She qualified for nationals and this summer she’ll be once again enjoying comparing her skills against athletes from around the country. And, true to form, she’s one of the youngest in her age group, and probably one of the newer competitors at the event. But that’s okay. She’ll be there, fighting her way back up again, amazing herself with her own accomplishments.

As a parent, I have learned so much from these continued experiences and from the amazing spirit of my daughter. I helped her through the darkest times, and reminded her who she was in the few moments that she might have forgotten, but really, it is she who teaches the majority of the lessons. I’d be foolish not to listen.

The Girl brings her own sun wherever she goes, and with it she brightens her own life as well as lives of others. She makes her own happy, and ultimately she will let nothing take it away from her, not even the very real threat of death.

Bring your own sun, friends. Life is too short to hide away in the dark, waiting for someone else’s light.


So now I’m a magazine planner, or something.

I’ve been working on an exciting new project and FINALLY I can tell you all about it!


This is the December issue. Can’t wait for January!

Late this summer, my good friend and co-worker Kathy Mocharnuk and I were given the opportunity to plan the entire January 2019 issue of Clean Run magazine! Determine the content, hire writers, manage our budget for the issue (THAT WAS TOUGH), the whole nine yards. In the process we learned that magazine planning is a lot more challenging than we thought! We also decided that we had a particular direction we wanted to go with the issue, and that starting several new series (and continuing some existing ones) would be a big part of that.

Which meant that, well, we couldn’t just plan one issue, could we? I mean, we had SERIES involved….

So we planned arcs, looked through previous submissions that haven’t run yet, sifted through proposals, and then we sent the editor, who at this point was only expecting one issue, a plan that arced across the year. We submitted it with a bit of an apology, but it was well received.

And so we went about the nuts and bolts of really planning it all.

A whole magazine. EXCITING!

We’ve worked hard to piece out the types of topics people of all skill and interest levels want so that we can serve everyone with something they need in each issue. We’re working on a way to make it easier for a reader to find their favorite topics each month. We’ve surveyed, we’ve analyzed, and we are ready for January!

We’ve got more work to go on the rest of the year after we see how the layout works – and what the managing editor thinks about it once it is all fit together. But we are really excited about it!

Our theme for January is NEW BEGINNINGS! And while Clean Run magazine won’t be radically different, and you won’t miss out on all your favorite stuff, we think that the changes and the mindset behind them will make the magazine really valuable to a wide variety of readers. We hope you agree!

If you don’t already subscribe and want to join the journey with us, purchase your subscription by December 12th. The info is here.

So, it’s May

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog, although I’ve not ignored it on purpose. It seems as though I always have more work to do than time to do it, so that leaves very little opportunity for sharing here. But I keep getting notifications that new people are following this blog and I feel like I’m being extra terrible by not saying hello and thank you to them, and to everyone, for their support.

So, “Hello.”

And “Thank you!”


As far as work goes, I’ve been making a lot of videos. Since I do them all myself, there are a lot of pieces and parts to coordinate. Here are one of my most recent and biggest productions:

You’ll find all manner of family and friends in these videos – if you know me and it’s video-making time, you never know when I’ll ask you to be my next star 🙂

I’ve also been writing lots of articles for Clean Run magazine, including several well-received editorials, which is nice. I’ve also got a regular series on agility-vehicles, and I’ve written several “one-off” articles as well. Writing editorials is one of my absolute favorite forms of work, so I’ve been really fortunate to get that opportunity this year.

In other news, we are coming up on what I’m calling our “accidentiversary.” It’s been nearly a year since the accident that greatly impacted our lives. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please check out When Great Swimmers Drown,  which you might want to share with your friends as swimming season approaches, and the follow-up, appropriately titled The Aftermath.

After the accident, The Girl was cleared to return to the pool to swim at the Junior Olympics, which was a huge blessing for us. But, out of an abundance of caution, the doctor withdrew that permission at the beginning of the fall swimming season as he and his staff continued with various tests. Giving up her spot on the synchronized swimming team was devastating. She lost her goals, a good chunk of her identity, her dreams, her routine, and her closest friends (although we’ve tried to stay in touch). I too have lost some of the same. It’s been a very hard year.

Because neither of us like to mope around or settle, we pushed to find another sport that would work for her. She tried out for a level 1 gymnastics team and was accepted. She worked hard at being a gymnast but could see that she was going to be held back by her lack of upper body strength. She gave it her best effort and did great at two in-house meets but she just didn’t have the drive or love for it like she did synchro. But then we found Trampoline and Tumbling, a sport that falls under the arm of USA Gymnastics.  It involves two different types of trampolines and floor work. It is a much smaller sport than artistic gymnastics, with friendly coaches and small groups that feel a little more like “home” for her, and she’s progressing rapidly. She tried out for the level 2 team and made it, so we are hoping that next year will involve more athletics and meets and physical challenges for her to work toward and enjoy.

I would have never imaged the struggles and fears that we would face as a family since the accident occurred. I firmly believe that in the end we’ll all be better people, but it’s a process.

More to come….


There’s Still Magic


Yes, that’s a Hufflepuff hat and a Potter-themed shirt. 

Today is my daughter’s 11th birthday. On her 10th, I had no idea what was in store for us, the treacherous roads that we would travel to make it to this day. But here we are, a new year, a new adventure. We hope for a safer one, that’s for sure.


Last week, I made an off-hand remark on Facebook about finally taking my daughter to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. We are huge Harry Potter fans but we’ve held off on going because it’s a pretty big expense and we don’t have a lot of money laying around to use for the fun kind of big expenses. But it’s her birthday and it seemed like the right time to get those tickets. And my intention was to go and buy them the next day after I wrote that post, but I didn’t because, quite frankly, I was planning on partially paying for the tickets with money harvested from the Change Bucket, and I wasn’t able to get to the bank to turn the change into much more socially acceptable bills. (Does everyone have a world’s heaviest bucket of change at home?) I think there’s more than $100 in there and that would make a nice, painless dent in the ticket price. So, Monday, today, was the day I was doing the bank run and then going to AAA to buy our golden tickets to Harry’s world.

But that little Facebook status I mentioned prompted one of my friends to contact another friend who works at Universal, right in Harry Potter’s world. That friend talked to some of her co-workers, and they all shared the story of the brave little girl who lived… just like Harry.

Those friends got together to make magic for that girl. My girl.

So, I am now planning several trips to Universal on comp passes that belong to hardworking cast members who make magic come to life every day for Harry Potter fans. People who count on those comp passes for their own friends and family donated them to a girl who has had a hard time and who has wished and wanted and saved to see their world for more than a year. People I don’t know but will hopefully get to meet to say “Thank you!”

When I told my daughter about the gift, it took her a few moments to process. As understanding dawned and she realized that many different people completely unknown to her got together to give her this gift, she cried. She felt the magic. She felt the love. I felt it all too.

It reminded me that we all have magic within us. We have the power to love and to share that love with not only family but also with friends and strangers. It’s love, limitless love, that makes magic. And the completely selfless love shown to people you don’t even know might be the most magical of all.

What a shame it would be to go through life a muggle, missing out on sharing that magic.

Soon my family will be immersed in the wizarding world, and our trip will be all the more magical because of the love that got us there.




The Aftermath

“I guess being unconscious during the entirety of a near-death experience has its benefits. So does being 10, I suppose. But I was very much conscious. And I am not 10.”

I wrote “When Great Swimmers Drown” with the idea of sharing our story, and some of how I felt about it, with my friends and with organizations that had requested some quotes about the accident. I never expected it to spread beyond this blog, but it did: to the Today Show’s parenting community, to Red Crosses all over the US, to YMCAs, to swim coaches’ associations, to radio stations, and it was even translated into Polish for coaches of various water sports. Over 300,000 people have read the story on this blog and the Today Show’s site – who knows how many else have viewed it through other channels. It’s been interesting, and even a little bit scary, to watch something I created spin out of control into a life of its own.

It’s been nice to know that sharing what happened to us might help keep a tragedy from happening to others. And helping others was a great tool to focus myself on the experience in a way that wasn’t too upsetting. A sense of purpose kept me from looking inward too much. It was a good thing.

Time is passing, and my daughter seems no worse for the wear. I guess being unconscious during the entirety of a near-death experience has its benefits. So does being 10, I suppose.

But I was very much conscious. And I am not 10.

The first night in the pediatric ICU, I rested in bed curled around her feet, because the head of the bed was occupied with tubes and cords and a child who tossed about in discomfort. I didn’t really sleep at all, what with the cramped space and the nurses’ visits and the horrible images I knew were just behind my eyelids. In fact, I wondered if I would ever sleep again, knowing the dreams that would surely haunt me.

So for hours I cuddled my daughter’s feet and wondered just when they had gotten so big, like real kid’s, instead of the chubby, Fred Flintstone feet of a preschooler. I touched her soft skin and smiled at her crazy swimsuit tan lines every time I helped her to the bathroom.

So close I had come to never touching her again. Just a breath away, really.

That very same day it was reported that several people, some of them young, were killed at a concert in England. I did not read articles about it or watch the news stories. I cannot research it now to add facts or figures to this story, because there is only a breath between those poor, grieving parents and me. I had glimpsed, just for a second, what it was to be them, and it nearly breaks me to think about.

A week or so after the accident, my daughter was still receiving visitors. She was somewhat over all the attention, but very polite to the kind people who needed to see her for themselves to feel peace and closure. One of those visitors said, “Everything happens for a reason….”

And I thought, but didn’t say, “No, it doesn’t.” Because as much as I believe my own child to be Special with a capital S, those other parents, the ones who lost their daughters on the day I nearly lost mine, they believed the same. They still do, I’m sure, as they grieve their unbelievable, unbearable loss.  Don’t try to make sense of our great fortune in the face of near-tragedy. It makes you feel better, I know, to think that there’s some protection that covers you and those you love from disaster, some reason. But thinking that my daughter’s survival is part of something bigger demeans the lives of others that were lost. Don’t do that, please. It hurts my heart.

Now that the bustle of the medical issues is largely over, and my daughter and I are back from her exciting experience at the synchronized swimming Junior Olympics, in the still moments, I can feel it. That dreadful, blackhole-ish feeling that swirls through my stomach, with the whispers of what may have been, what would have been, with just a few moments more. Will those hauntings end? I don’t know. How could they, really?

It’s funny how near-tragedies can be. Before, if I read a news story in which someone escaped from disaster alive and relatively unharmed, I thought, “Ah, a happy ending.” But it turns out that there’s no real ending. And while we are certainly quite happy with our daughter’s survival and good health, what would be really, really happy would be the chance to turn back time and not have the accident happen in the first place. To “unknow.” To be the person who thought, at least on the surface, that she could keep her child relatively safe from the dangers of life through education and supervision and those sugar-coated gummy vitamins.

I’m not that person anymore.

I miss her, to be honest.

I’m doing okay, this new me-person that I am, with most things. I let my daughter and son take a Pokemon Go walk around the block together with only the usual warnings about not staring at the screen while crossing the street and whatnot. But still, there’s a differentness there. The waves of stomach pain, the sharp stabs of empathy for grieving parents, the brief moments of absolute fear that, though I escaped their ranks this time, sometime in the future, I could join them still.

There are no guarantees. There’s no super strength protection packaged in those gummy vitamins.

This control we think we have over our lives, it’s all a ruse. And while we all know it, really, we don’t know it. We don’t feel it through the walls. We don’t see it through the cracks. Except, now I do.

Usually I have a takeaway in my writings, a clever summary, a nifty moral, a word of advice. But I’m not sure that I do here. I just know that life is even more complicated than I ever thought, and that many of us traverse it at times in a state of rawness, tender to the touch. I guess the best hope is that the wounds scar over with time, leaving us without the fresh sting of experience and instead with just that tight, uncomfortable, pulling feeling of thickened skin; a reminder that there is so much more to us, and to life, than we see on the surface.


At the 2017 Synchronized Swimming Junior Olympics in Riverside, California, in July.

When Great Swimmers Drown

My 10-year-old daughter is a Junior Olympic level synchronized swimmer. She’s been an accomplished swimmer since she was a toddler. So, of all the things I have worried about as her mother, drowning was not one.

But on May 22, 2017, that is exactly what happened.

At a regular synchronized swimming practice at the New Tampa YMCA, she did several laps with very few breaths in a row. She then attempted a 50 meter “zero under,” trying to swim the distance without taking a breath. She says that she felt great, and she remembers seeing the wall before thinking, “I should take a breath, but I’m almost there, I can do it!” And she did do it, but she blacked out before breathing, and sank to the bottom of the pool.

This phenomenon is called “shallow water blackout,” and it occurs often with experienced swimmers during breath-holding exercises or times in which they enter the water after “hyperventilating” (breathing rapidly and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the body to abnormally low levels, which can interfere with the brain’s signals to the body to take a breath). It happens to free divers, to children having breath-holding contests, and, especially, to competitive swimmers in training.

Drowning in general is quiet and much harder to detect than movies and television would have you believe. Victims have no energy for thrashing and screaming. Those who suffer from shallow water blackout are silent, and they don’t even realize what is happening. “I can do it!” they think, riding a wave of euphoria that is, instead, their brain shutting down from lack of oxygen.

Seconds before my daughter dropped to the bottom of the pool, an attentive YMCA lifeguard noticed that my daughter’s legs were moving oddly as she approached the wall at the end of her “under.” As she surfaced and then sank, the lifeguard sprang into action, signalling the three other lifeguards on duty to move into their well-rehearsed emergency procedures. By the time the lifeguard had lifted my daughter to the surface, unconscious and not breathing, another lifeguard was ready to pull her out and begin CPR. Other lifeguards brought the AED, cleared the pool, contacted authorities, and performed other tasks. They worked together efficiently and effectively, and my daughter was breathing, conscious, and able to speak by the time paramedics arrived.

Their actions, completed with confidence and without hesitation, saved my daughter, no question. Research says that shallow water blackout victims only have about 2.5 minutes to be resuscitated before they suffer brain damage or death. My daughter is fine and back in the pool, once again training for the Junior Olympics and prepared to continue her lifelong “straight A student” streak in the fall. I am grateful for the quick-acting lifeguards and for the YMCA’s emphasis on training and safety.

As a parent, getting the news that your child is gravely (and perhaps mortally) injured is life altering. I had no idea what it meant to be truly terrified. I never even realized that I didn’t know what true fear was. The altered consciousness, the limited focus, the way, hours later, I realized that I still couldn’t breathe properly, and that I’d hurt muscles and scraped my feet and never even processed those things because the part of my heart that lives in my daughter was nearly broken beyond repair.

Running out to the pool and finding it silent, with onlookers frozen against the fence while a small group huddled together over a figure that I knew was my child was an experience I’ll never forget, and I surely don’t want to live through again. I learned so many lessons, some of which I’ll share over time, and some of which I’d like to forget and to spare any other person from experiencing. My heart breaks for parents who have had similar experiences, some of which ended tragically. I have peered through the crack into your world and I’m so very, very sorry for your loss. I know now that I cannot truly understand how you feel, some pain far beyond what I could ever imagine, and I ache for you.

If our experience can save others from tragedy, I’d like to share it far and wide. Don’t take water safety for granted. Please learn more about drowning in general and shallow water blackout in specific (visit for more information). And please don’t take your children for granted either. They can be gone in the time it takes you to take a shower at the YMCA.20170531_130143

At a thank you luncheon for the lifeguards a week and a half after the accident.


*Lifeguards names/photos were not shared because three out of the four are minors.

Brenna Fender is a freelance writer who can be reached at, or via Facebook .

Mourning George Michael

This is supposed to be a work blog, but this is a non-work entry. Sometimes you have to write what you feel.

George Michael died on Christmas Day. My Facebook is full of messages from people my age mourning the loss of their teen idol.

I get that. Speaking as a teen of the 80s, I had 200 photos of George tacked to my bedroom walls. That’s an actual number; I counted when I took them all down to redo the wallpaper. God bless my parents for tolerating that many tack holes in the walls.

Aside from posters and photos, I owned professionally produced videos (Wham! in China, anyone?) and stacks of VHS tapes full of interviews and TV performances that I recorded from MTV and other shows. If George was on TV, I recorded it. I owned every album, 45, B-side, and rare-whatever I could get my hands on, including an autographed LP I won in some contest. I also owned a several-inch thick notebook full of articles I’d cut from the pages of Tiger Beat and other fan magazines. These articles were alphabetized by title. I’m not kidding.

I’d made friends who also were obsessed with George, although there’s a chance that my enthusiasm swept some of them along a little. If so, they were good sports about it. We went so far as to hold at least one birthday party for George in which we ate hot fudge sundaes and played trivia games we’d created based on songs and videos (“What color is the wallpaper in the living room of the Bad Boys video?”). Even back then I knew I was over-the-top. I told people that being obsessed with George Michael kept me out of trouble. Precocious, but true.

But, like most woo-girls of the 80s, by the time George’s presence in America’s music scene faded (post-Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, which is still today a truly excellent, relevant album), my interest in him was reduced to an appreciation of his previous music. I didn’t follow his career once it became harder to do so, and by the time the internet really got rolling, it didn’t occur to me to peek in on what he was up to.

And then some years ago I learned about Spotify and on a whim I looked up George, thinking I’d catch a listen to Make it Big. What I found was a lot of interesting music that I’d missed. I binge-listened, fascinated by the chance to hear his talent morph and develop as he matured. I didn’t love everything that he had done but I could really appreciate it for the impressive body of work that it was. I realized what a truly talented, amazing musician he was, something I hadn’t understood and appreciated long ago when I was mostly interested in his boyish good looks and lovely voice.

I started checking out recordings of live performances on youtube and encountered many interviews with George covering the parts of his career that I had missed. I listened to them while I worked, eventually literally listening to every George Michael interview I could find on youtube. I know that sounds ridiculous but I’m pretty sure I actually listened to (if not watched) every. George Michael. interview. on. Youtube.

And you know what? I fell in love with him all over again.

Not in the same way, of course. I no longer expected that he would run into me in an aisle at Publix and sweep me off my feet. (Yes, I know there are problems with that fantasy. Don’t point them out.)

But, seriously, I realized that George was a pretty amazing human being outside of his abilities as a musician. He was extremely intelligent, but also humble and with a great, self-deprecating sense of humor. He seemed to own up to his struggles and mistakes, and he talked openly about crippling depression and loss. I discovered that George quietly donated large amounts of money to various charities on a regular basis (and supported charities with his time and donated music as well).

He invested years, money, and effort in a losing legal battle with Sony in an attempt to stand up for his rights and those of other artists. It nearly killed his career in the US, but he thought it was important, not only for himself but for others. He went to bat for what he believed in, making political statements that mattered to him even when he was told it would hurt his record sales (and it did, for a time).

I never heard of George throwing shade at another musician, or starting a twitter war (he called his followers “my lovelies,” by the way, like we were all a part of his extended family). I’m sure there were conflicts with others, who doesn’t have those? But he certainly wasn’t dramatic about it, and the fact that you never heard celebrities saying bad things about him either speaks volumes as well.

George loved his dogs dearly, and he was recently involved in a movement to change dog resale laws in the UK. All that money and fame and he still spent a lot of time in the company of his yellow Labs.

He was open but private, good but flawed, brilliant but capable of stupid mistakes. He was strong enough to admit those mistakes and weather the consequences, but perhaps not quite strong enough to avoid making the same mistakes again.

George Michael may have been your teen idol, but he’d become an amazing person as well, one worth appreciating as an adult. So while with George’s death we say goodbye to our youth, our dreams, and our fantasies, we should also say goodbye to the kind of person that the world needs more of. Someone who had a lot more to give, and who is gone far too soon.

Goodbye, George. We will miss you.

A Few Things

I have a few things out on the web that are new. One is for pet dog owners called “Things You Don’t Know About Dog Training.” It seems to be well-received, which is nice.

I also edited together my first promo that did not have a script, which was harder than I thought it would be: June 2016 Clean Run Magazine Promo

Last week, I held a Facebook party. That was my second one and I had a lot of fun with it. The people who attended seemed to have fun too. There will be more of those in the future 🙂