Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Right? ...

I listen to quite a few podcasts. I'm a bit of a podcast snob.

If the production values suck, I can't continue to listen. Life is too short and the podcast options are too many for me to spend time wincing at bad audio. Please, people, if you're calling in to a podcast, find a landline. They still exist in the world. I have one. I know I'm a dinosaur that way but recorded audio from a cell phone s--u--c--k--s.

For those 'casts that make the cut, though, the next hurdle for them to clear is the use of “... right?”

Oh, for the love of God, stop. S--t--o--p with with “... right?” as an utterance in every sentence. It's so nails-on-a-chalkboard.

It sounds like this:

"So, I went to the store, right? But there are problems with going to the store, right? Because you have to leave your house and maybe put on pants, right? But if you don't put on pants, you're probably going to be cold, right? And you may or may not get arrested for indecent exposure, right? I mean, hopefully you're wearing underwear, right? But even then, if you're not Walter White in the middle of the New Mexico desert, you probably can't pull off being in your underwear in public, right? But I went to the store, in pants, right? And I wanted to buy a package of Skittles, right? But I couldn't find the regular ones, just the tropical-fruit ones, right? Which are gross, right?"


Stop. Please. I beg you. Slow down your speech. Do your best to sync your mind and your mouth. “... right?” has become the new "um."

I'd rather hear "um," right?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Baffled ...

Is it a guy thing?

These stories, these mounting stories, about corruption and malfeasance, money laundering and bribery and so much head-spinning shit. I can't wrap my brain around operating in the world that way.

I know that there are corrupt women, too – Elizabeth Holmes, the Theranos CEO comes to mind, though I couldn't remember her name so I Googled "blood test woman scam" and yup, she's the top hit – and I understand that men, white men in particular, hold most of the power in the world and so it follows that they'd be guilty of most of the white-collar crimes.

But how do they arrive at that place? Is there a gateway crime? Some relatively small-potatoes offense that they get away with and that emboldens them to do worse the next time? And the next? And the next?

Is it a high? Is it the getting away with something that gets them off? Do they think they're so clever that they'll never get caught, flaunting the law?

Until they do. Get caught, that is.

But in the meantime, their consciences, they're clear? Paul Manafort can enjoy his expensive suits knowing that he affords them because he propped up a Ukrainian dictator? I understand him lying to banks to secure millions of dollars to try and pay off a Russian oligarch whom he thought would be satisfied with having a hand inside the Trump campaign but before that "OH SHIT" phase of his life, he was content?

Bernie Madoff was really OK taking people for everything they owned? Did he tell himself that their greed justified his grift?

Trump, clearly, was just fine with perpetuating the fraud of Trump "University." He seems to be fine with all the crap he's pulled his entire life.

He does not, however, seem to be fine with it catching up with him.

Do people like him really never think their time will come? Did Manafort think he'd get away with it forever? Or did he decide that he'd live what passed for a posh life in his mind until the jig was up and then he'd accept whatever he had coming?

He faces 305 years in prison. He's seen as a traitor to his country.

Really, Paul? Were the millions worth it?

Millions. Just millions. Not even billions.

Millions seems kinda pathetic, considering how much money real criminals pursue. That Russian oligarch you owe? He doesn't need the millions you owe him. Your indebtedness to him is far more valuable.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates has used his fortune to effect true change in the world. For the better. He elevates others because how much money does one man need?

Trump, on the other hand, elevates money above all else. And his pursuit of it is taking him right over the cliff. All he had left to peddle was his name and he's destroyed that.

For all of history – assuming that he doesn't blow up the planet and that there will be such a thing as history to record this period in American life – he will be known as worse than Nixon. Far worse. Nixon's crimes were domestic. Trump has sold out his country. In service of his ego?

It's pathetic.

That much I understand.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Sleep Is A Strange Bedfellow ...

I made pasta for lunch yesterday. Maybe that was the problem.

My brain was uncooperative in the afternoon. Focus? What's that?

I threw in the towel at 4 p.m. and headed for the couch.

I'm not sure what time I fell asleep but I awoke in darkness with the sense that it must be very late, the middle of the night. 2 a.m.? 3?

I got up to go to bed. Even if I only sleep a few hours in my bed, it's better than sleeping on the couch.

I came into the kitchen to get my phone, which had charged, and resolved to not look at the clock on the stove.

I looked anyway.

It was 10:54 p.m.

I laughed at myself. Hey, Beth, you crazy single gal! Remember those days when you'd be going out at 11 p.m.? Those days were a long time ago.

I got ready for bed, turned back the covers, slid in, and ... was wide awake.

Yup. I'm familiar with this rodeo.

I recounted the dream I had before waking up on the couch. It was particularly odd: nighttime, my car in the middle of an almost-empty parking lot, everything slicked by a thin coat of ice, a guy I knew appearing beside me sporting a mane of hair and wearing a tank top, ’70s vintage, a washed-out navy blue with red contrasting trim. We got into my car and I turned on the heat for him – I presumed he was cold – and he proceeded to pop the keyboard panel off of the laptop he was demonstrating to me.


I threw in the towel on sleep and headed to the couch again. I had fallen asleep well before Rachel so I figured I'd watch her show.

I was hungry, so I heated up some leftover pasta and had dinner about 1 a.m.

Early coverage of the royal wedding was due to begin at 3 a.m.

I headed to bed slightly before that.

And managed to sleep until 7:13.

There was a time when I could sleep through the night. That talent has eluded me for months now. I wonder if it will ever return.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Hello, Defroster Metaphor ...

Good morning, dawning realizations and connecting dots.

I'm sitting at the kitchen counter, my travel mug of coffee directly in front of me (the mug dictates my allotment for the day as well as keeping my coffee warmer longer), thinking. What to write about? I am committed to writing every day. Something. Something silly. Something ... well, let's not kid ourselves: most of what I write will never qualify as "profound" but at least I'm writing, clickety clacking, translating thoughts, getting back into a habit, showing up.

I have an idea for a post but it doesn't feel like "enough" and I have phrases jotted on sticky notes nearby and I'm staring at my defunct coffee maker on the floor next to my recycle basket and the word "opaque" springs to mind, and opacity giving way to clarity, and I think of a foggy shower mirror but no, a windshield makes more sense. A frosty windshield and a defroster, and clarity emerging and spreading from the bottom up.

Good job, brain.

Have another swig.

I have the great good fortune to know a lot of really exceptional people. One of those people is Charlie Meyerson, whom Chicagofolk may know from his days reading the news on WXRT or his days reading the news on WNUA or his guest appearances on radio stations about town or his work compiling Daywatch for the Chicago Tribune back in the day or Rivet Radio or his series of conversations at Dominican University or Chicago Public Square.

Charlie and I met an impossible number of years ago when I worked at the Trib and he worked at WNUA across the street and I did radio and TV stuff for the paper and he was one of the few folks who availed his station of the space we set aside in Tempo for radio listings. Only the width of Michigan Avenue separated us but we interacted by phone and fax. (Fax. See? We're ancient.)

Until the day I asked if we could meet up for coffee. I made the trek all the way across the street. He descended in an elevator and met me in the Starbucks in the lobby of his building.

And we're still in touch. We don't see each other very often – that's my fault – but I am a lucky gal because, as I did a couple weeks ago, I can ping him and hop on the phone with him and have an interesting chat that leads me to realizing things and jotting notes, which, as I mentioned, I have nearby.

One of my jottings: "Radio speaking, DUH!" When I was in high school, radio speaking was my main speech event. Charlie and I were talking about Chicago Public Square and how he compiles the digest that he shares with folks every day – seriously, you should subscribe; the daily digest email is free – and he mentioned that it's not dissimilar from what newsreaders on the radio do. They don't report out the news they deliver. They gather it from whatever sources they use and then read it on the air. Yup. Duh. In my radio-speaking days, we received packets of wire copy that we used to create our scripts. I literally cut apart the pages and then taped the stories onto my legal pad. Huh. It had never occurred to me that folks now do the same thing digitally, via links.

Our conversation continued. I recalled how I used to work on five sections of the Trib because I had the time and I had to be there are I wasn't much interested in being bored and Facebook wouldn't exist for many more years and hey, that turned out to be a double-edged sword as platforms go. But until that moment, I had never realized that my working on five sections of the paper then was a microcosm of my life now, working with various clients on various projects because I am, as Charlie put it so perfectly, "creatively restless."


Charlie is good about pursuing new ideas and endeavors – Rivet was winning awards right out of the gate – and living on the leading edge of where culture is heading. He recently set up subscription tiers to support CPS and I finally got around to subscribing. I don't support a lot of efforts with monthly subscriptions but I always see at least one story I wouldn't have seen otherwise when I read Charlie's emails (he produces two editions a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, like newspapers used to do) and I want to support folks who are doing good work and informing people and adding to the discourse in fun and interesting ways.

As J-D, my erstwhile hair architect, said years ago when I told him I was thinking of going red: "Let's just do it!"

It's a good ethos, a perfect partner to an encouragement Angelo once offered as I was coming up with excuses to not pursue an idea: "Just do it because it's fun."

Which is similar to what Charlie wrote in a follow-on email to our conversation a while back: "Go have fun." And, to reinforce his point, which wrote this week: "Hope you're having fun."

I'm getting there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Life-Changing Magic Of Dealing With The Crap On The Floor Of The Back Seat Of My Car ...

Marie Kondo's shorthand is "tidying up," and I do indeed like tidying up in my house but I don't think of tidying up my car even though that what I'm doing.

Generally, folks who are hopping into my car for the first time marvel that it's not filled with crap. No, the passenger seat and the floor in front of the passenger seat are not piled with Starbucks cups, newspapers, fast-food bags, plastic bags from the grocery store, the detritus of a busy life. And that would be because I do not have a busy life. I work from home. Getting in my car is not a foregone conclusion every day.

I used to be a bit better about keeping it vacuumed, too, and so, in that way, it looked extra nice. Maybe some dust on the dashboard – OK, maybe a lot of dust on the dashboard – but tidy. Ish. Tidy-ish.

The floor of the back seat, however, can be another story.

I have a menagerie of pals in the back seat behind me. It started with an Uglydoll my brother's family gave me for my birthday one year. Ox began riding around in the little cubby where the arm rest would fold up. And then my other brother gave me a big Gumby one year as a gag at Christmas. I wasn't sure what to do with him so I put him in the back seat when I left my parents' house that day and it was kinda funny, having Gumby as a passenger. So I kept him in the back seat. And other friends have been added around him.


Given that ain't no one gonna be sitting in Gumby's seat, the floor in front of Gumby and pals became the spot where I'd stash stuff: an umbrella, a tote bag with "car stuff" – a flashlight, a roll of duct tape, a hand scraper, etc. – and where I'd tuck garbage to get it out of the front seat until I could throw it away.

The passenger seat and the floor in front of it was nice and clear. Like the front seat. When Mom and Dad and I would go somewhere, I'd drive. Dad would sit in the back seat.

But Dad hadn't been in my car in a long time and so when I had things that I needed to drop off somewhere, someday, I'd toss 'em on the floor back there: batteries to recycle, plastic caps that I save for someone who takes them to a magical place where they get collected and recycled into plastic park benches, plastic bags full of plastic bags to drop off at the grocery store.

And yesterday was the day! I toted three large Ziploc bags full of caps to the magical cap-collecting place that I finally discovered. I took the batteries to the library because it's a designated drop-off spot. The plastic bags had already been stuffed into a rather full bin.

And I sauntered back to my car feeling lighter.

Here's to taking a few minutes to do things I've been meaning to do for months!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Life Lesson From My Weather App ...

It was supposed to rain. A lot. Thunderstorm icons all week. So. Much. Rain.

I fret about excessive rain. I have a finished basement. It's flooded three times. I now have a hard-wired generator and my plumbing has been rerouted so, short of lightning hitting the generator and it failing, I should have no more concerns about water in my basement. But my brain remembers. My adrenaline still wants to surge.

I have learned, however, to some degree, to calm down. I still fret but not nearly as much as I did in the past.

All the mechanical steps that can be taken have been taken.

I cannot control the weather.

And, I have come to understand, the weather app is often wrong. As I type this, this week's weather icons now predict sun or partial sun. From all thunderstorm icons to no thunderstorm icons at all.

As one of my cousins says, sarcastically, of meteorology: "It's not like it's science."

So, more and more, I'm learning to be. To take things as they come. To deal with them if / when they present themselves and not lose literal sleep over them.

To take a phrase from "What About Bob?": Baby steps.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Low-Key Mothers' Day ...

Yup, we had ribs. The weather was wonky yesterday. Warmer than forecasted! Sunny! Then cloudy. Then sunny again! Then the wind picked up and the temperature began to drop. Eventually, some rain showed up but just for a few minutes. So it would have been cooler by the lake. Because it's always cooler by the lake. Not the day to dine outside. I suggested that perhaps we can execute the lake plan on Fathers' Day, as a little memorial for Dad.

So I threw a couple of slabs of ribs in the oven, really gorgeous slabs of ribs; the butcher Mom goes to "makes" its own ribs when it cuts pork roasts, so they're meatier than what most folks conjure when they think of ribs and this pig must have been pretty big because I joked that these were the brontosaurus ribs that Fred Flintstone gets delivered to his car.

And I made mashed potatoes and a salad. And that was dinner. Simple. Yummy.

My oldest brother joined us and brought over two rather enormous plants for Mom's yard. They're really lovely. And I gave Mom a pound of her favorite dark-chocolate-covered raisins and, as a gag more than a gift, a broom from the dollar store onto which I tied a generous curling-ribbon bow made from our favorite colors. I told her that I think she should leave the bow on it to make sweeping more fun. She loves her dollar-store brooms. She's very (not at all) extravagant.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Thanks, Moms! ...

Mothers' Day has always been a low-key affair in our family. Mom is far from fancy. She doesn't like going out to brunch or dinner on Mothers' Day because she feels like everyone is rushed through meals to accommodate all the diners. She doesn't expect or want extravagant gifts. She doesn't doesn't expect excessive doting.

In somewhat-recent years, her request for dinner has been hamburgers and potato salad (we make kick-ass potato salad) and her day has been spent puttering around the yard, digging in the dirt, planting things here and there.

As I mentioned: low-key.

This year's observance is still TBD. We have a plan in mind but the weather is grey and chilly and doesn't lend itself to spending time outside near the lake. It may be more of a throw-a-couple-slabs-of-ribs-in-the-oven kind of day. She can nap or read or watch a movie.

Whatever she'd like to do will become the plan, as it should be today. And many other days, for that matter. The woman deserves a break. Being in charge of a family is not for sissies.

Thank you, Mom, for all you do and give and are.

And thanks to everyone who nurtures and helps little people become good older people. It really does take a village.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Wait Wait... Woo Hoo!

I had tickets for the December 7 taping of "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!"

Dad was moved into the nursing home on December 6.

We needed laughter then but, clearly, it wasn't the right time to go.

So, last night was the night. A lot has changed in five months. Mom was my date.

It was really fun and slightly surreal. I've listened to the show for a couple of years – I'm very late to the "Wait Wait..." party; I knew of it but I wasn't a listener – but watching it is a little strange. In a very good way. Listening to it tomorrow may be stranger. We shall see.

I've always marveled at Bill's talent for reading copy. Dude is Mr. One Take almost 100 percent of the time. Peter, likewise, is no slouch. Before the show started, he told us that they'd have to do some pickups at the end of show, lines that were flubbed that needed another take for the final edit of the broadcast. He said they'd gotten the process down to a science and that it would take about three minutes.

It may have taken less than that. But I love those moments, those reminders that things that appear seamless are rarely so.

Donna, his wife – I love that she and Bill are now husband and wife! – sat with us. I had dropped off cookies at Bill's office on the way to the taping, leaving them on his assistant's desk. Donna mentioned that they had cookies for dinner.

The best moment was Bill's impersonation of Melania Trump – lips pursed, eyes squinted, his version of her Slovenian accent: "Be ... best." Bill has a law degree and a fabled career in broadcasting and he looks very worldly and wise but, truly, the man has a goofy streak that makes him all the more awesome.

After the show, Peter had the crew bring up the house lights. Bill waved at me. I waved back. He's so adorable. I love him to pieces.

After the show, Mom and I followed Donna onstage to say hi to him. He thanked me for the cookies. "I've had one bag already!" he said in that perfect sonorous voice.

"They're not all for you!" I said, chuckling.

His bag contained a dozen oatmeal raisin cookies. He loves my oatmeal raisin cookies and I love that he loves my oatmeal raisin cookies but I'm dubious than anyone can eat 12 in one brief sitting. I packaged them three to a bundle. Perhaps he meant a bundle.

Or perhaps he meant a bag.

I hope his assistant gets the cookies I left for her!

Then again, I can always bake more.

Bill had to get backstage before doing the meet-and-greet after the show. "Go meet your adoring public!" I said.

Donna thanked me again. I told her that I'm always happy to bake for them, to just let me know.

I love baking to make others happy.

So simple. So fulfilling.

If you can get tickets to a taping, go.

We all need more fun in our lives.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Inspiration By Ronan Farrow ...

I'm not in the habit of reading transcripts of commencement speeches but someone on Twitter posted a link to Ronan's speech and mentioned that it was required reading for all journalism students.

I agree. But really, it's required reading for everyone.

I retweeted the link with the comment "Well, this is amazing. It is indeed often difficult to discern, in the midst of a challenge, the correct path forward. But it's easy to remember what values are important and what decisions we'll be proud to have made, outcome aside. Bravo, @RonanFarrow."

And that set me to thinking about the 3-Days I've done, two in particular, examples of perseverance and regret.

The walk I did with Mike and Erin and Shel was rough for me. As Day 3 progressed, so did my pain. They were growing concerned and encouraged me, more than once, to hop on a coach. (Hopping a ride on the 3-Day is called "sweeping" because vans "sweep" the route all day and pick up folks who need to stop walking. Motor coaches transport folks from pit stops to lunch or camp, depending the time of day.) Each time, I'd return the route. "I can't sweep from a stop," I'd say. "I have to at least be trying."

And my trying would be enough to get me to the next stop, the next decision point, and the decision was always to return to the route.

I made it to the end of the route that way. And I was glad. I could barely walk the next day but I knew my body would recover. It did.

Contrast that walk with the last event I did. I didn't know at the time that it was going to be my last event. I signed up to walk the following year but life intervened and I had to cancel my participation. The following year, the Nancy Brinker / Karen Handel / Planned Parenthood debacle unfolded and my days with Komen were done.

But that walk that turned out to be my last? I swept twice. And I regretted it. I wasn't in dire straits. I was just tired. Duh. Walking 60 miles in three days is tiring. I already knew that. And the humidity was really bad. (Why the Chicago events were held in August, I'll never understand.)

It was my seventh event. Maybe the luster had worn off. Whatever the reason, there is no excuse. I had committed to participating. I should have participated as fully as possible.

I regret that I didn't.

I've long since forgotten the pain of the walk with Mike, Erin, and Shel. But I remember the sense of accomplishment of having pushed through.

That's what I need to be doing more of in my life: pressing on, persevering when it would be easy to sweep.

Thank you, Ronan, for the reminder.

The world is a better place for your having realized that the only path forward was through.

This Is Me Remembering To Post ...

If I write nothing else today, at least I posted this!

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

It Happened Again ...

Who knew blogging every day would be so tricky?

I left my house yesterday at 9:45 a.m. and didn't return until 8:30 p.m.

I did not expect to be gone for nearly 11 hours.

I also did not post before I left the house and realized, during the course of the day, that I had not posted and that I should post when I got home, even just a line or two, to live up to my intent to post daily.

And then I put away groceries and plopped on the couch to watch Rachel and ... well, here we are, Wednesday morning.

But yesterday was very productive in a long-lasting way.

Also, I did get the grass cut Monday and it looks very nice.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Trend Toward The Good ...

This blog had become barren. Most of my time was spent clacking away on Facebook. But upon quitting Facebook, I vowed to write here more often. And then I decided I should follow Seth Godin's example and post every day. The words show up, he promises. And he's right. If I can yammer away all day on Twitter, surely I can find things to say in this space that I opened up in 2005.

And I did good! Daily posts! For four days in a row!

Then, this morning, I realized I didn't post yesterday. "Oh, I didn't post yesterday," I said to my computer this morning.

And it struck me: that is the flip side of where I'd been. I'd go for months without thinking about posting and now, I'm aware that I've missed a day.

But yesterday did not unfold as I had planned. It was already decided that we kids and Mom would convene at her house to go through Dad's effects and clean out the garage and his shed – which is a small garage – and tend to things that needed tending to; household projects never end.

I had texted Mom to mention that I could come over whenever, so she called to suggest I come by for breakfast. So I did. Except that I was still drinking my coffee and since I'm not quite yet old enough to drink coffee with meals as my grandmother used to do – I was going to have pasta for breakfast – she and I sat in her living room and I drank my coffee and then moved on to a bottle of water and she had her morning juice and then I heard my cell ringing in the kitchen and got up to see that it was one of my brothers calling, asking me to move my car so he could back up the driveway with his trailer. He was calling from the street in front of her house. Ah, technology.

So I moved my car. And then backed out Mom's car from the garage. And then pulled my car closer to Mom's to make room for my other brother when he arrived. And then we jumped right into emptying cabinets in the garage – that was my job – to sort through everything on a table that he had wisely thought to bring and set up and holy crap, my father had a lot of stuff. Like, a laughable amount of stuff. How many kinds of nails can one person own? Especially a person who didn't do a lot of nailing?

There are many old kitchen cabinets hanging up in the garage. They were all crammed full of stuff. Now, they damn near echo. Mom has oceans of room. I can't imagine she'll fill them up again. Dad was always the saver. Mom likes to go through stuff every so often and winnow each time.

It was a busy day, a productive day, a tiring day. I should have had my phone on me the whole time to know how many steps I took from the garage to the shed to the street back to the garage into the house down to the basement back to the garage up the stepladder down the stepladder to the table repeat repeat repeat 100 times back to the shed back to the garage shed garage shed garage house bathroom (I was downing bottles of water all day) lunch. Sitting. Oh, sitting. So pleasant and yet so dangerous. A body in motion tends to stay in motion but a body that's stopped to have a salad might just want to take a nap.

But we all got back up and headed to the basement to assess what needed to be done down there – not nearly as much as outside – so we headed back to our garage and shed chores and one brother had to take off but the three of us kept going and then the other brother left as the sun was beginning to set and Mom announced that she was going to make a drink and we sat outside for a bit – ah, stillness! – and chatted and then, uh oh, I had to try to get up. (She was in a chair. I was on the stoop.) But I managed. And here I am this morning, mobile – amazed at my mobility – and sipping coffee and clacking away.

I really need to cut the grass today.

More steps.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

'The Serpent King' ...


I try to not know about things before I experience them. I don't read reviews in advance. I may read them after, wondering if I agreed with a critic, but I don't want to know too much before.

But my friends know my tastes and make recommendations and they are almost never wrong. Or they don't make recommendations expressly but they make me aware of offerings and I'm intrigued by association.

And so it was with "The Serpent King" by Jeff Zentner. He's one of a coterie of YA authors I've come to know of and know. I'm author-adjacent. Angelo is link. Him I know know. Jennifer and Kerry I know secondarily and electronically. Jeff I know only by reputation – and now, his book.

When I first saw the title, I expected something ... medieval? Something ... in the fantasy genre? A YA fantasy novel?

I reserved it through my local library and received the notice that it was ready for me to pick up and then a lot of life was happening so there it sat. Until the last day of the hold, when I popped in to nab it. That was March 19. (I got the softcover edition. I'm posting both covers so if you look for it – and you should look for it – you won't be confused.)

I read the first couple pages right away and then set it down to tend to more life that was happening.

The library sent me an automatic renewal notice.

And then another.

And then another.

There was a lull in the lot of life that had been happening.

And so I read.

And I fell in love, especially with Lydia, her dialogue.

Bravo for a man who can write a smart teen girl so well!

I made a lot of headway, close to halfway, and then set it down again for a handful of days.

The library sent another notice. It was due back. No more renewals.

So I picked it up again yesterday. And read. A lot. And then picked it up on the way to bed. And read until I was about to fall asleep. And then finished it this morning.

It was not what I thought it might be, not really, but partly. When you read it, you'll understand.

I don't divulge story details because I don't want to spoil experiences for anyone. But I have to applaud "Crackers Barrel"! That made me laugh out loud, a detail for we grammar geeks in the vein of "attorneys general" "culs-de-sac."

Thank you, Jeff, for a story so well told, for taking me to places I didn't expect to go, and, most of all, for being yet another example of the metamorphosis from not-an-author to author, for further defining that path so that others may follow.

[ whispery voice to those reading this post ] You should buy his book.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Bean Sprouts ...

Sometimes, when I'm walking through the grocery store, my mind drifts to what folks from countries in struggling parts of the world would think about where we shop.

People walk for miles every day to get water. We have an entire aisle of it: distilled water, natural spring water, mineral water, carbonated water, flavored carbonated water – a dozen flavors of carbonated water – little eight-ounce bottles, 16-ounce bottles, 20-ounce bottles, gallons, three-gallon jugs with dispensers (I used to buy those when I lived in apartments; I don't remember Brita existing in those days), a station where folks can fill their own containers.

Wine? Here are 300 selections.

Cereal? Hot or cold? Bagged or boxed? How much sugar would you like? Never mind nutrition, have a bowlful of cookies and call it breakfast. There's an entire wall of coolers right over there, filled with almost any kind of milk you could want: skim, 1%, 2%, whole, organic, lactose-free, store brands, name brands, soy, almond, cashew, coconut, oat, banana, chocolate-flavored, strawberry-flavored ... .

Condiments? Here are 10 kinds of mustard, 20 brands of barbecue sauce. Don't tire yourself, Heinz has mixed ketchup and mayonnaise for you.

And yet, reliably, we can't find fresh bean sprouts. (By "we," I mean Mom and me.) We know of only one grocery store that still carries them. And every time we check the shelf, it's empty. Does the produce manager order two bags of bean sprouts each week and once they're gone, they're gone?

I know it's not the most common ingredient in cooking but nor is it exotic. There is some pretty weird-looking fruit for sale in the produce section. I can get my hands on cipollini onions. But bean sprouts elude me.

The other day, I got irked about that fact. Irked that I couldn't buy fresh bean sprouts.

And wow, how's that for privilege?

I walk through a cavernous grocery store – brightly lit, climate-controlled – where I can buy goods from all over the world (thanks, international aisle!) but I harumph that there's one ingredient not in stock?

Has our on-demand culture made me even demand-ier? I'm sure it has.

But my bean sprout lack has also reminded me, yet again, of our excessive bounty. I try to live in a place of appreciation. Every so often, though, I take a detour through a dearth of fresh bean sprouts.

I'll be on the lookout for them and menu plan accordingly.

But, as Mom pointed out, they're also sold in cans.

My needs are met, exceedingly so.

Here's to gratitude.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Speaking Of Freelancing ...

It didn't dawn on me until this morning that I should have linked to Seth's freelancer course on Udemy, appropriately titled Seth Godin's Freelancer Course. The subhed, though, conveys his intent: "Become Remarkable, Find Better Clients, and Do Work That Matters."

This is my five-star review:

"Seth never fails to make me think about things I've never considered as well as state things I already knew in such a way that I consider them from a slightly tweaked angle and refresh them in my mind.

I've paused this course many times to capture thoughts that he's inspired, thoughts that have helped me connect dots and lead me [to] new ideas." (I just noticed a typo in it. Whoops. Editor Beth is not immune.)

I spend a lot of time in my head. If thinking counted as exercise, I'd look like Dara Torres. (I couldn't recall her name so I Googled "female swimmer abs" and sure enough, she's the first hit.)

One of my favorite things in life is hearing someone say something I've never thought of before, by which I don't mean to suggest that I've ever thought that I've thought all the thoughts that can be thought but when someone says something that really resonates, well, what's better than that? An utterance that adds, meaningfully, to a bank of knowledge and path forward in life? Yup, that's worth far more than $49.99.

And I know it's the epitome of salesy but his course comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Click through and watch a couple sample videos. I'm confident that you'll want more.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Renewed Awareness ...

I take a lot for granted.

I'm listening to Seth Godin's podcast, Akimbo, this morning, as I sip my coffee and listen to the birds, which I can hear well because my windows are open, and he just uttered a sentence I've heard him say many times: "You'll pay a lot, but you'll get more than you paid for." He's speaking about what freelancers charge. Or what we should charge. Beware billing yourself as the fastest and the cheapest, he says. In a race to the bottom, you just might win. Or worse, you'll come in second.

I don't call myself a freelancer anymore because too many take "freelancer" to mean "temporary." Years ago, a friend of the family asked if I was still freelancing. When I said yes, she said, "Well, I guess that's OK until you get a real job."

"Real jobs," she seems to be saying, are things like teaching and working in an office or being a nurse or any role in which you get up and leave the house and go to a place and collect a paycheck every two weeks.

There are a lot of people who don't have "real jobs." I have friends who make very comfortable livings as writers. All those books in bookstores? They're not written in cubicles in office buildings. All those movies in the multiplexes? Ditto. Dalton Trumbo used to write in his bathtub, drinking scotch and smoking cigarettes.

I tell folks that I work for myself. Because I do. But the longer I'm at this "freelance" game, the more I realize that I don't charge enough for the work I do. I'm getting better about that. There was a lot going on these past months so as December transitioned to January, I never did contact my clients to let them know that I was upping my rates. To date, my increases have been infrequent and small, an extra $5 a hour after some years.

But the freelancer ethos Seth sums up in one sentence – "You'll pay a lot, but you'll get more than you paid for" – reminded me of my early days working for a new client onsite years ago. Most folks zipped out of the office right at 5 p.m. But I had the schedule of work for the day and as the day drew to a close, I hadn't seen everything that was on the list. But nor was I sure if I should see everything that was on the list. So, I popped into the doorway of the creative director's office – my desk was right outside – to ask him to take a look at the schedule and let me know if I should expect to see any of the remaining projects.

"I wouldn't want to leave if someone needs me to look at something," I said.

"Of course you wouldn't," he said. He didn't mean that matter-of-factly. His tone suggested that others might just leave because it was time to leave. But I was conscientious enough to make sure everything had been seen or to stick around if there was still work for the day.

Apparently, not everyone does that.

Which kind of blows my mind.

Of course, I was just there for the day. Maybe staffers thought differently because they were going to be at their desks again the next day and so anything that didn't get done that day could get done in the morning. But I was new. I had no sense of whether projects could push to the next day, of whether deadlines were hard or soft.

I come from a newspaper world. Daily. Now. There are some projects that take a while but for the most part, everything happens every day. The presses are going to roll. There best be plates on them.

It's not lost on people that I respond to emails almost immediately. That's a vestige of my newspaper life.

When I transitioned to a corporate gig, I marveled at how long projects would be delayed. Timelines were guidelines. We almost never adhered to them. It was disconcerting, like learning to move in slow motion instead of running sprints.

I'm also really good at spotting errors and inconsistencies. My first task at one of those corporate jobs was to proofread a report. The senior editor handed the printout to me and said something like, "It's ready to go out the door but as long as you're here, a second set of eyes never hurts."

I found 100 mistakes. Some were really minor, like extra spaces, but errors have a cumulative effect. One extra space in a lengthy report may go unnoticed by the client but 100 instances of incorrect?

She was mortified. And to her credit, she owned up to what I found and was glad that she had me look at it.

Clients have told me that I'm one of the best editors they've ever worked with, which is nice because they come from worlds in which they've worked with a lot of editors.

I just don't think of my work that way. My work is my work. It's what I do. Of course I do it well. I used to presume that everyone else did, too.

A lot of people do. But, I've come to realize, there's a segment out there that skates. There are people who take the reigns of a team and there are others who are happy to draft on their effort. (I haven't used "draft" in that context in ages. My NASCAR background – yes, I have one – is showing.)

Though, I'm just realizing, the same was true in school. Team efforts were never balanced or equal. Someone always took the lead.

Now that the Dad chapter has ended, I'm surveying what's next for my work life. I may get a "real job" again. I may also increase my rates before 2019.

Clients, though, know this: You'll pay a lot, but you'll get more than you paid for.

Thanks, Seth.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Life Without Facebook ...

It exists!

I scheduled my account for deletion on April 10. Facebook informed me that I had 14 days in which to log back in and cancel my request.

Well, it's April 27. Facebook account has gone bye-bye.

Bye bye, Facebook account!

I'm still plenty engaged with Twitter – I'm a news junkie; I need my fix – but I don't miss Facebook. There are people with whom I hope to keep in touch but that's what email's for. Or – GASP! – mail! Like ... letters. Cards. Envelopes. Stamps. Something in mailboxes other than bills and direct-mail crap.

I've started reading a book that I've had checked out from the library since March.

I've been helping Mom with little chores here and there, some of which I would be doing anyway and some of which are part of the chapter that begins when someone passes away.

Aside: Even stashes of stuff that appear to be small are much bigger than expected. If you have any inclination to sort through your stuff and streamline your life, hoo boy, get crackin'. It makes life simpler and it feels good. Yesterday I learned that folks can donate old furs to animal shelters where they're used to make beds. It's called Coats for Cubs. The Humane Society used to run the program and it's since been taken over by Buffalo Exchange.

Now that the weather's becoming slightly more sane, I'm doing little chores outside. Yesterday evening, I sat on my front stoop and read the aforementioned book. Today, I might even take a walk! I've caught up on some podcasts. I want to make plans with friends to meet up for coffee or lunch or have them come by for coffee or lunch – we can linger here and not feel like we should turn over the table; also, I like to cook for folks – all Face, no -book!

I'm writing again. I may even take a class. Painting could be fun. I have an easel.

So many possibilities ... .

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Really, Really Ready ...

On Sunday, I put my shovel away.

During the wintry months – not just the winter months because those have lost their meaning – it leans up against the house, next to the railing, so when it snows, I can step out my front door, compact as little of the snow as possible with my not-small shoes, grab the shovel, and start clearing the snow.

We had a dusting last week, no shoveling necessary. But on April 22, I put the shovel away. If we get any more snow, even an amount that requires clearing, folks will just have to trudge through it. I'm not shoveling in the last week of April. Nuh uh.

Likewise, I put my snow brush / scraper back in my trunk. It lives in my back seat during the wintry months. (I needed to free my car from an ice cocoon on St. Patrick's Day.) In theory, I shouldn't need it again for six months. At least. I hope.

The silver lining in all of this is that I have not yet cut my grass for the first time this year. The longer I can put off the first mow, the happier I am. I cut it for the last time each year in mid- to late November. Not mowing until it's almost May is okayfine with me.

Flowers are blooming. The grass is greening. The trees are budding. I miss leaves. The other day, Snow was lounging near my neighbors' shed, one of the few spots of shade in our yards. Until the trees leaf, it's rather bright out there.

I'm no fan of summer, mind you. I'm sure you've read that here before. On Sunday, I was sitting on Mom's front stoop, taking a break from raking up twigs, and mentioned that summer could be just like that, thankyouverymuch, mid- to upper 60s, sunny with a breeze.

Maybe a smidgen warmer during the height of summer. I could agree to, oh, 78. But that's my upper limit.

And, of course, no humidity. That feeling of walking out of air conditioning and into a damp rag is my least-favorite part of summer.

This time of year, though, I'm game. It feels to get outside and move and do a bit of yard work. Until the trees are ready, though, I prefer to do that work under clouds.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Whither Retail? ...

My pal Laura – Hi, Laura! – who owns a store tweeted a link this morning to a story in the the Tribune with this headline:

"Even on Broadway, retail is dying before our eyes. Or is it? What does it all mean for Tribune Tower?"

The editor in me, as well as the consumer in me, is irked.

Chicago has a Broadway. I used to live near it. As in New York, it runs north- and south-ish. Not as in New York, it is not known as the theater district but it is home to plenty of stores.

But the piece is written by the Trib's theater critic, so, yup, the Broadway reference is about New York. But Tribune Tower is on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. And while Michigan Avenue is known as Chicago's shopping destination and is home to some very chichi brands, I presume that the rents on the Mag Mile do not equal those of the Great White Way. So, apples to oranges right off the bat.

Also, it's not really such a puzzler that folks who have just dropped many hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars for tickets to a Broadway show (most folks don't go to the theater alone, eh?) and may also be paying for accommodations in New York don't have a lot of extra cash to drop on shopping.

I looked into prices for "Springsteen on Broadway." The top price on TicketBastard is more than $800 but tickets are sold out so I moseyed on over to SeatGeek and sure enough, tickets can be had, the top price for which seems to be around $2,500. $5,000+ for three hours? I know there are people in the world who can afford that but those people are not me.

In Chicago, a top ticket to "Hamilton" is more than $600. One of my brothers treated me to tickets for my birthday last year. We went a couple weeks ago. A matinee. The face value? $187. Each. And I don't want to think about TicketBastard's fees. It was a great show and I'd love to see it again but seats on the main floor don't offer much legroom as it is. And I've sat in the front row of the mezzanine with my knees pressed up against whatever the word is for the iron "wall" that contains people from falling onto the main floor. I shudder to think of what my knees would endure in the cheap seats.

Randolph Street is home to a number of theaters in Chicago but The Loop is the theater district more generally in terms of "Broadway in Chicago." The Goodman is on Dearborn. The Steppenwolf is on Halsted in Lincoln Park.

Folks may have slightly more cash to spend after seeing a show in Chicago but the world of retail has been changing. Carson's has been a Chicagoland staple for more than 100 years but the flagship location on State Street became a Target years ago. A Target. I haven't stepped foot in Macy's on State since it took over Marshall Field's. And that was many years ago.

But some recent policies strike me as really dumb. At Crate & Barrel not too long ago, the clerk asked me if I'd like a bag. Um, yes? I'm happy to reuse bags when I go grocery shopping but it hadn't occurred to me to take a bag with me into C&B. She told me she'd have to add the fee for the bag onto my total. I skipped the bag and walked out of the store with my purchase and the receipt. I appreciate that we all need to do our part to care for the planet but there was a time when it was fun to amass C&B bags to reuse them. C&B got its free advertising and folks like me, who love a good handle bag, had a stash for everyday toting.

I don't shop at C&B much anymore but combine Chicago's insane sales tax with having to pay for bags to carry purchases out of the store and gee, maybe I'll just order online next time and enjoy the convenience of having everything shipped to my door (even as I do think about the carbon footprint that involves).

See the problem?

It's not all Amazon's fault. Yes, I wish bookstores were still more prevalent. For many years, when I wanted a book, I wanted it. Right then. As soon as I could get to the store and find it on the shelf.

But I also bought a lot of books that way, many of which I never read – and have since donated – so for financial reasons, I started using my local libraries. A lot. Now I "date" books first and then decide whether to buy them. Some I buy online. Some I find in thrift stores. Some I buy directly from the authors. (It's fun having writers who are friends!) But if Borders were still nearby, I'd still shop there sometimes.

It breaks my heart that Trib Tower is going condo. (Though if I could afford a unit, I'd move in.) I wish that the Apple store had stuck to its location further north on Michigan Avenue instead of taking over Pioneer Court, just south of the Trib and what was once a lovely bit of open space in an increasingly crowded city.

But I don't think the ground floor of Trib Tower will have any problem attracting and maintaining tenants, though, as with Marshall Field's, I can't imagine ever setting foot inside there again.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Well, That Was Weird ...

If you read this blog via RSS feed and saw the title of a post without any content and thought, "Huh, that seems unfinished," it was. I'm not sure how I managed to publish it. I converted it back to a draft and I know next to nothing about the workings of RSS feeds so you may not have even seen it, so I may now be discussing something that does not exist in your awareness but the upshot is: that wasn't all I planned to say. I may revisit it and publish it. Or not.

Friday, April 13, 2018

I Quit Facebook ...

Monday morning, just like that.

I wrote a post on Facebook announcing that I was quitting that "shitty-ass Popsicle stand" – shitty for all of Zuckerberg's bullshit, not because of the faces I'd come to know; they're lovely – and then realized that I couldn't post and then quit immediately because folks wouldn't see the post. So I left it up for a day and then deleted my account on Tuesday morning.

Facebook informed me that I had a 14-day window, during which I could log back in and cancel my deletion request. I presume there are folks out there who quit in a fit of pique and then think, "OH SHIT," and log back in.

I do not intend to be one of them.

I did indeed meet some very nice people on Facebook whom I would otherwise not know but I decided to stop volunteering to be a rat in Zuckerberg's maze as well as a commodity whose information was (likely) harvested in the name of some really dark shit. (I didn't stick around to receive – or not – a notification that I was one of the 87 million people whose data was co-opted. But given that there are 330 million people in this country and many of those people are children and many of those people are older and that most of that combined population does not use Facebook, well, odds are good that the rest of us were affected, eh?)

Folks can follow me on Twitter. I retweeted content then cross-posted to Facebook, so those who followed me on Facebook for the news-iness of my feed can still get the same experience on the Twitter machine.

But I'm glad to be away from The Book of Face, as Doreen calls it. Life existed before it. Life goes on. I had stopped blogging in large part because I was devoting so much time to social media every day. I do believe I'll be clickety-clacking in this space more often again. And I've had some writing projects that have stalled for a variety of reasons that I want to revisit and either pick up again or cram far in the back of a virtual drawer, as it were. The idea of "wasting" words and ideas used to pain me greatly. But not so much anymore. It's excavation, really. Getting the "bad" words out of the way in order to get to a vein of something valuable, worthwhile. I used to picture the excavation as sorting through rubble. Which implies that something has already been destroyed. But as I use the word "vein" now, as in "ore," I realize that it's more about blasting through something formidable – comfort, complacency – and descending into the depths. Exploring isn't really exploring if it's happening in the familiar territory of plain sight. Been there. Done that. If I'm bored of it, I'd repel readers from the first page.

This week has been a good shift, not radical change but a new perspective. On Wednesday, one of my brothers took me and Mom to see "Hamilton," my birthday gift from last year. As I tweeted on the way home (no, I wasn't driving):

And I had a dream last night that fascinated me in its resolve, a subconscious reminder that I have moved well beyond a particular period in my life and consigned those feelings to the past.

So, writing. More writing. Here. In the screenplay. In the manuscript of my memoir. Wherever. Letters. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Chapters. Scenes. Acts. Entities, fully formed.

And, moreover, the determination to share them, to sell them, frankly. And the courage to take those steps. Because time is finite, as Bruce Springsteen once said: "Whatever your abilities and your talents are, your time is finite." Indeed.

Walking away from the theater on Wednesday, in that aura of awe of what I'd just seen, my brother asked, "So, when are you going to write one of those?"

I laughed. "Just as soon as I learn how to write a song?"

Notes. Measures. Lyrics. Verses.

We shall see.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Beholding Transformation ...

Let's begin here:

It is – in language Angelo would use – crazy banana pants that he and I are friends.

So many, many things had to happen in his life for him to arrive at being the host of "Rate My Space" on HGTV.

All I had to do was, well, be lying on the couch and watching him on HGTV one day. And then flip out at his reveal because it was the best reveal I had seen in the history of reveals. And then heave myself off the couch and walk a dozen or so steps to my laptop to find out whether he had an account on Twitter – Yup! – and tweet at him.

That was fall of 2009, give or take. It may have still been summer meteorologically.

And here we are now, in 2018.

Over the course of our friendship, I have told him that he's a good writer. He's demurred. But it's true. English is not his native tongue, which makes his talent all the more remarkable. But he is very, very, very smart. And he is that rare person who can do most everything well. He is insanely talented as an interior designer. He's a natural on camera to a degree I've rarely seen. He bakes perfect chocolate chip cookies. And he wrote a novel – this novel – in 17 days:

There is a lot about Angelo I don't know just as there is a lot about all of my friends that I don't know. It's impossible to convey a lifetime. And yet, I really didn't know the story he tells in the pages of this book.

When he asked me to read an early draft two years ago, I couldn't begin to fathom what I was about to learn.

Two chapters in, I emailed him:

"If I see you in March, I may never stop hugging you."

(We were planning to get together for dinner when he was in town. Which we did. I did not, however, hug him the entire time. I mean, there was food on the table and wine to consume. We needed our hands.)

Writing anything and putting it into the world is a hugely vulnerable act. But Angelo did not write just anything. He wrote his story. Fictionalized but autobiographical. And literally brutal. Readers need not guess if this book is based on his life. He spells that out in his author's note.

Over the past two years, I've witnessed two metamorphoses:

The magic of thoughts and experiences becoming words on an electronic page and being tended and nurtured by a host of people who produced the book I can now hold in my hands.

But more so, the awe-inspiring courage of my dear friend who waded into his psyche and bled onto the page to help himself but also – as is his exceedingly kind and generous nature – to help others. There are other Evans in the world who may not believe there is life beyond confusion and judgment and fear. This book is a lifeline.

Last night, I emailed him to ask, "So when do you find out if your book made the New York Times best-sellers list?"

I want that moment for him, that validation, but beyond the honor that landing on the list confers to a writer, it would demonstrate the reach of his story and its good in the world.

Regardless, this book represents a triumph, if only for one.

Bravo, my friend. I love you dearly. You're a hero and an inspiration.

The next dinner's on me.

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Reporting To A Landmark Every Day ...

Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune

It was never my intention to stay.

I landed a part-time job at the Chicago Tribune in the fall of ’92. In Sports.

Those who know me were understandably amused.

"Sports?" they'd ask, upon learning of my new gig. "Do you know anything about sports?"

"There are three periods in hockey and four quarters in football. I'll figure out the rest as I go."

But I didn't plan to figure out much because I saw the Trib as a brief stop on the journey of my career, as much as I had any sense of where I was going. Six months, tops, and I'd be on my way.

I left five years later. Almost. I was a few months shy of the five-year mark. Or maybe a couple. By then, I had worked in Sports, in News, and in Features. I learned a lot. I met some fine people. But for myriad reasons, it was time to go.

So I was surprised by the blow of sadness that landed in my chest when I read that operations for the Trib would be moving out of the Tower. I was sad when the Sun-Times building was sold but I understood. It was a squatty, seven-story, oddly shaped building on one of the most prime sites in the city. I had worked there for a couple of summers and my grandfather had worked there many, many years before. But progress churns and so the news of the Sun-Times' sale passed through me with little more than a sad shrug.

But the Trib ... .

It's not that what I did there was important. It wasn't. I was a very small cog in a very large machine. But the paper had caché. People took our calls. Publicists all but fell over themselves to fulfill our requests. (Never was the power of the paper more evident to me than after I left. I went from hearing "We'll FedEx that to you tonight" to "I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with your publication. Could you submit your request on letterhead?")

The newsroom was never much to behold, though the heart of it is two stories tall, unlike most of the newsrooms you've seen on TV. That bit was dramatic. But the industrial carpet was dingy and all but vacuumed out of existence by the Polish cleaning ladies who had a stubbornly bad sense of timing. More times than I can remember, the intrusive drone of a vacuum coincided with deadlines, a few Doppler-like passes, forward and back, before someone would shout and the noise would stop. You'd think they would have made the connection. The desks were huge and matte black, editors and designers sitting around the periphery – "the rim" – and the editor in charge of the team in the middle – "the slot." The hulking computers – the Edit V! – on which I began my tenure were replaced by the ubiquitous beige desktops of the day. The transition was not all together smooth. We became well acquainted with the Help Desk.

But the building, you see, the Gothic tower – with its marble floors and wood-and-reeded-glass doors behind which you wouldn't be surprised to find the Maltese Falcon and the wood-paneled offices for the paper's leaders and legends – is its own bit of history. It is host to stones from landmarks from around the world, embedded into the facade, except for the display in the Nathan Hale Lobby that held – holds? – a tiny rock from the moon.

Tourists would wander around the building and point. Some would push through the revolving doors and step inside.

Like the newsroom, the lobby of the Tower is two stories, too. As you can glimpse in the photo above, it is beautiful and stately. The quotes are erudite and timeless and grave. There is great power in language and there is great privilege in recording history. Standing in the lobby, the sense is clear that from the time of the paper's founding until the Tower came to be, the Tribune was both aware of its role and up to the task.

A lot has changed since I worked there. So many of the staffers I knew have been let go. But the Tower – the promise – remained.

It hurts my heart, the thought of Trib staffers walking into the Prudential building next year. The Tower will stand without its soul.

I sit with the sadness but the pull is strong to return, to say goodbye.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Virtual Birthday Disc 2017 ...

There was a time when I'd invite a group of folks out to lunch for my birthday. It's been a number of years since I've been able to pull that off but I never lost my love for creating birthday CDs / place cards for the table.

This was the year I thought I might re-up the lunch tradition. Alas, life had other plans. But I spent some time compiling some tunes a few weeks ago and wrote up the "liner notes." So, in this era of Spotify and playlists, I'm sharing the virtual version of the birthday CD. Listen along in your head!

1. Adventure of a Lifetime, Coldplay
“Everything you want’s a dream away … we are diamonds, taking shape.” Indeed. Also, c’mon, that lick ... .

2. Thunder Island, Jay Ferguson
There’s a general theme to the songs on this disc. This catchy tune, though, is either “No way! I haven’t heard this in forever!” or, I hope, “Wow, I kinda love this!”

3. I Just Wanna Stop, Gino Vannelli
Because have you ever heard this song and been sorry? I haven’t. Also, the older I get, the more I appreciate tunes from further back in my musical life.

4. Love Make the World Go Round, Jennifer Lopez & Lin-Manuel Miranda
Written and recorded as a response to the Pulse massacre, it’s only become more poignant. “And love is love is love is love is love is love ... .” I am awed by Miranda’s talent.

5. Wonderful, Gary Go
I know it sounds like music for a commercial or the final scene of a rom-com but I love it for just those reasons, as well as the lyrics.

6. You Give Me Something, James Morrison
For a bit of a shift in tempo and tone. Also, I love the story of the song, love the delivery, love James’s voice.

7. Something Just Like This, The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
Yup, Chris Martin makes a second appearance. I was hooked the moment I heard this and I haven’t tired of it. What is going on in the chorus?! Also, there’s a symmetry to the notes that pleases me.

8. Shake It, Metro Station
We live in Chicagoland, kids. We get stuck in traffic. We need to prevent blood clots. (Yes, I’m now that old.) Music to dance in our cars! Let others see! Prevent road rage!

9. Best Days, Graham Colton
Because guys with acoustic guitars are underrepresented in American music. But seriously, I like Graham’s tune. Perhaps he should tour with James Morrison.

10. Dreams, Beck
Have you heard this tune? Then you understand.

11. What Is Love, Haddaway
Yep! (You know you love it!)

12. Sweetheart, Franke & The Knockouts
For some reason, this is the lone 45 I still possess. Loved it then and it holds up.

13. Looking Out, Brandi Carlile
Brandi and her guitar will never not wow me. So glad she opened for Shawn Colvin years ago.

14. Love Is All That Matters, Human League
Simple message, more necessary than ever. See No. 4. Also, a long-ago concert memory.

15. Drift Away, Dobie Gray
Because couldn’t we all do with getting lost in some rock ‘n’ roll and drifting away?

16. Talkin’ Bout A Revolution, Tracy Chapman
Revolution indeed. We’re so past due.

17. Night Fever, Bee Gees
‘Cause why not? We need more joy, kids!

18. Got To Be Real, Cheryl Lynn
Again with the movie-soundtrack tune but enough with artifice. Realness. Please. I crave it.

19. She’s The One, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Recorded live. In ’75. And still one of his and the band’s finest performances. It builds subtly then the piano at 2:03 unleashes ebullience the likes of which is almost never heard. True genius.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Let's Talk About Sex ...

Steve King, Republican Congressman from Iowa and – more importantly for the purposes of this post – male, introduced legislation that would effectively ban abortions, as they would be illegal after six weeks, a point at which many women don't yet know they're pregnant.

A goodly portion of the commercials I see are for Viagra or Cialis and I don't watch sports. So if I'm seeing commercials for erectile-dysfunction pills during the programming I watch, I'm going to presume that the ad buys are much bigger, say, during NFL games.

These medications are covered by insurance. [ Update: Alison commented to mention that ED meds are not, in fact, covered by insurance. My Googling reveals that that is sometimes the case but not always. I've amended item No. 4, below, accordingly. The federal government does pay a hefty tab for ED meds for VA patients each year, though I'm A-OK with our vets getting all that we've promised and more. ]

I am also aware, anecdotally, that men really like to have sex. So it stands to reason that they would be willing consumers of anything that enables them to pursue that pastime.

I am also also aware that men really do not like to wear condoms – "It ruins the sensation!" – nor do they like to get vasectomies. Snip-snips are no-nos for the Y-chromosome set.

Ergo, we womenfolk are expected to be the responsible party.

What else is new?

Let's review the miracle of possessing wombs:

Somewhere around 12 years old, give or take a couple years, our bodies begin the process of menstruation. In some cultures, girls and women are shunned from their communities while they're menstruating but in this country, we don't have to live in a hut or subsist in the forest for one week every month.

We have the creature comforts of sanitary napkins or tampons. (Many women don't. Think about what that's like.) Never mind the delight of shoving cotton into our vaginas on a regular basis. My point about these products is this: we have to buy them from, for a round number, 40 years – from the time we're 12 until the time we're 52. Every month. They are not inexpensive. They are only now, in some places, becoming tax-exempt. And, again, we have to buy them for 40 YEARS.

Some restrooms have napkin / tampon dispensers. Many do not. (In her book, Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?, Alyssa Mastromonaco writes of getting such a dispenser installed in the women's restrooom in the West Wing.) Many women carry a few tampons in their purse at all times. Most of us, I'd wager, have shared our stash with a woman in need.

And then there are cramps. Some women have terrible cramps every month – sometimes incapacitatingly so – others experience them rarely.

And then there are hormonal shifts. We can't control those. That's nature's doing. And yet, if we're not sunshine and roses, we reliably hear, "What the matter with you? Are you on your period?" That last word is often spat out with contempt.

Pardon us for being responsible for continuing the human race.

So then: birth control.

Thanks to better living through chemistry, womenfolk need not get pregnant constantly! Huzzah!

Birth control, however, also costs money. For women who are fortunate to have insurance, it has traditionally not cost a lot of money. Under the Affordable Care Act, birth control was paid for by insurance.

The Trump administration recently gutted that provision.

The GOP, you may also be aware, was doing its damndest to repeal the ACA and strip tens of millions of people of their health insurance all together.

I saw many people spouting variations on "So what? Birth control only costs a few bucks a month!"

It depends on a) whether you have insurance and b) the type of birth control. Some forms are more expensive than others.

Regardless, for someone making minimum wage, those dollars really count.

Still, pregnancies happen.

But the GOP does not want us to have access to abortion, never mind that it's a Constitutionally protected right, never mind that most of the people trying to prevent us from accessing abortion are men, who see nothing wrong with dictating what women can and can't do inside their bodies.

On Twitter recently, I saw a tweet from a guy asking Jeff Sessions which part of his body he's OK with the government controlling. Thanks, Guy on Twitter! We appreciate allies.

So, let's say a woman gets pregnant unintentionally. For the purposes of this discussion, let's say it wasn't a rape or incest.

The guy, who is literally responsible for the pregnancy, as women do not produce both egg and sperm, can stick around or not. He can contribute financially or not. Depending on the circumstances, women may end up having to go to court to get child support, another expense for them.

But let's rewind a bit:

A woman finds out she's pregnant. (Perhaps because she bought a pregnancy test. More dollars spent.)

She has morning sickness. It's bad. She has to call off often from her hourly wage job.

She gets fired.

So now she's pregnant and out of a job.

Does she have insurance?

Maybe. But if the GOP gets its way, insurance providers won't be required to cover maternity care.

Or maybe not.

If not, how is she supposed to access medical care for her pregnancy? She'll need to see an OB/GYN. Eventually, she'll need to give birth. Even if she gives birth at home, she'll need someone there who can help her through the process.

Once the baby is here, the baby will need a doctor for routine check-ups, inoculations, etc.

There was a time when we had a healthcare program specifically to cover children: CHIP.

But the GOP has let CHIP expire. It hasn't been renewed. Will it be? Who knows. The GOP, even with its unified control of government, has yet to pass any meaningful legislation (other than more sanctions for Russia, which have not been implemented, and gee, I wonder why).

So what's our new mom to do? Has she been able to get a new job during her pregnancy? I hope so. I hope she still has that job. If she takes time off of work after the baby is born, she may or may not be paid for that time, an absurd reality in this country.

If she still has her job, whether or not she takes time off, she now needs to pay for child care. Child care is expensive, often more expensive than someone earns. So they don't work. But they need income. They need to provide for the child they now have, the child they were forced to have by the government.

But people who apply for welfare programs are derided as "lazy" and "takers."

So, to recap:

1. Men like to have sex – so much so that they will take medication to ensure the ability to have it – but they don't like to wear condoms or undergo vasectomies.

2. Men expect to have sex.

3. Women also like to have sex but may get pregnant as a result.

4. Insurance [ sometimes ] pays for ED meds.

5. Insurance is no longer required to pay for birth control.

6. If a woman gets pregnant, the government is trying to mandate that she carry the pregnancy to term. Also:

— The man can stick around or not.

— The woman may or may not have health care to help her through her pregnancy and delivery. In the richest country on the planet, health care is not guaranteed to all citizens. It's a privilege, not a right.

— The woman may or may not be able to continue working. If so, she will be shamed for needing welfare assistance.

— The woman should not expect any government assistance with:
- Caring for her child medically
- Caring for her child so she can work
- Housing her child
- Feeding her child
- Clothing her child
- Educating her child (even public education costs some money)

And all of this is being dictated, by and large, by men, who will never face any of these issues head on. After a few minutes of pleasure, they can absent themselves from all of it.

Yes, we're angry about this. Even when we're not on our periods.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

One More Note ...

Every morning, I listen to "The Daily," the podcast from the New York Times. Today, Katherine Kendall, one of the actresses speaking out about Harvey Weinstein, recounted her experience of his intimidation; of his exposing himself to her, fully naked; of his refusing to let her leave; of her wondering if he was going to rape her. It is heartbreaking and infuriating to hear but one part, in particular, really struck me. Of the aftermath, she said, "I was pretty shut down at that point because I really felt scared, like he was in this all-powerful position and I was clearly never going to work again if I said anything. And, the other part to it is, he didn't actually touch me, so, you know, I wasn't sure if people would care. If I'm not bleeding and, you know, just wrecked, then does it really matter?" [ Emphasis added ]

Her voice changes when she says, "... does it really matter?" It gets smaller and more quiet in addition to the questioning.

Does it really matter?

A large, imposing presence of a man who had the power to make or break her career had harangued her into coming into his home and then retreated to another room and stripped naked and then presented himself to her and demanded physical and sexual acts of her and prevented her from leaving and then later sat in a cab and stared at her through the window of a bar for at least 20 minutes.

But he didn't force himself on her physically. He didn't rape her. So she questioned if people would care, if what happened to her really mattered.

Of course it mattered. She knew that. I know that. You know that. Of course it mattered.

It matters.

Since this despicable story has broken, more and more women – and men – are speaking out, telling their tales, creating space for others to feel safer to share.

I've written about a couple instances. As timing would have it, I posted about them a year ago yesterday. At the time, I was responding to the revelation of the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump. But I had written the post an election cycle ago, about Herman Cain. Perhaps the day will come when this topic will not be so timely.

But for today, it is.

That said, what I posted a year ago was, comparatively, benign. It was what I was willing to share at the time.

But there's more.

Unlike Katherine, I never questioned if it really mattered. Like Katherine, though, I didn't speak of it because I wasn't "bleeding and, you know, just wrecked."

But as Amber Tamblyn wrote in her Times piece about James Woods last month: "We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change."

Every story matters. Silence only serves those who believe they can rely on silence.

And so:

I was a junior in college. He was someone I had dated. We were no longer dating – I hadn't been willing to sleep with him because I wasn't ready to sleep with him so he started dating someone else – but we were together that night. I don't remember why, what preceded him being in my dorm. I remember reading something to him. I remember him tracing circles with his thumb inside the palm of my hand. I remember kissing him goodbye at the door. I remember his hands on my waist, his forearms parallel to the floor. I'm trying to remember now what changed, what signaled to me that something wasn't right. Did he lift my skirt? Did he kiss me more forcefully? Both? Both feel accurate but I can't recall for sure.

What I remember with perfect clarity, however, was that I knew I had to stop him. I was saying his name, raising my voice each time.

I don't know if it's more accurate to say that he was vacant or hyper-focused. Regardless, he wasn't responding to me.

I remember pressing down on his forearms with my hands with all of my might. His arms were immovable.

I remember realizing how strong he was, stronger than I had ever known.

I remember understanding that I wasn't in control.

Finally, I practically shouted his name and he seemed to return to the moment. He let go of me. He left.

We had contact, off and on, for many more years. To my recollection, we never spoke about that night.

I can recall only ever telling one person about this and obliquely at that.

I am shaking now as I type. Is it my body processing the memory? Is it fear of letting others know?

Either or both may be true. It doesn't really matter.

What matters, I hope, is adding one note to the choir, forcing the tune to change.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

This Is Me Not Being Quiet Anymore ...

I began kindergarten when I was 4.

Accordingly, I've always been a bit younger than my peers. Most of my friends were licensed to drive as sophomores. I had to wait until I was a junior. When I entered college, I was 17.

One of my friends and classmates was Kim, a black woman who was attending school while working. I don't precisely remember how old she was when I met her but my mind is whispering, "She was 26."

Every so often, a thought surfaces about Kim, about a time we were talking about how women – never mind black women – are treated as less important than men. I was young. I made some comment about not knowing that to be true.

Kim's response was all it needed to be: "Just wait."

I graduated when I was 21. At 22, I began work at the Chicago Tribune. In Sports. Early on, one of my male colleagues – age-wise one of my peers – made a comment about me only getting the job because I was a woman. I asked my boss about that. He was diplomatic about it and said something to the effect of "Yep. All candidates being more or less equal, it's not a bad thing to have more women in Sports."

When I left the paper just shy of five years later, they couldn't find anyone to do my job at my pay grade. So the powers that be upped it – from a 12 to a 17 – and hired a man. I presume he was the most qualified. I have no way of knowing for sure. But it wasn't lost on me that no one offered to pay me more to get me to stay.

I went on to work for another newspaper company and was well regarded. I've since worked for a couple of IT consulting companies and, like in Sports, it's not a bad thing to have more women in IT. Of course, I was an editor not an analyst but words are my forte, not technology.

These days, I work for myself.

I was raised by a strong woman. My mom is more patriarch than matriarch but she is also very kind. As is human nature, though, or at the very least a function of estrogen, she's not a big fan of confrontation. She avoids it when she can. She doesn't rile intentionally. And, as I was raised by her, neither do I.

Did, I should say. Times may have changed.

On Facebook and Twitter, I'm more and more blunt. It started with a letting go of my hesitancy to post anything political.

I got over that quickly. I'm one of the most political people I know. I crave information in that realm. I consume a gluttonous amount of it each day. My Twitter feed numbers nearly 500 and almost all of them are news-related accounts: publications, pundits, and the like.

I've been that way for some years now, growing more and more informed during the Obama administration, a Maddow acolyte.

Shortly after President Obama's election, I was out to breakfast with my mom. A group of old white women were at a table nearby, spouting the most racist bile, saying Michelle looked like an ape.

I didn't confront them. I so regret that now. I made loud comments to my mom but I was being passive-aggressive. I should have been forthright. I should have walked up to them and spoken my piece and then thrown some money on our table and left. I should have but I didn't.

Republicans didn't renounce Trump for his vile birtherism, they embraced it, used it to their perceived advantage. It helped in the short-term.

And then Trump "won."

And there I was, January 21, 2017, an unseasonably warm day, making my way to be one of the 20,000-ish people gathering in Grant Park for the Women's March.

Only there weren't 20,000 of us. There were something like 250,000 of us. "A sea of pink under a sky of blue," I posted to Instagram that day. The sky was cloudless. We marched west. Then north. The sun was almost too warm on our backs. My friend and I stepped off the route. We heard choppers overhead and watched the news footage on our phones. We encountered marchers again heading south. And then, when we returned to my friend's apartment and turned on the TV, we laughed when we learned that the march had been called off because there were too many people. Really? We had no idea. And no one stopped the thousands of us who walked through the streets. The Chicago PD led the way.

In these past months, I've opened the door a little wider. I began to post things on Facebook that I know aren't "safe," that may challenge some beliefs.

And then Charlottesville happened.

And honey, I am done.

Earlier today, in a Facebook post and Twitter thread, I wrote:

I noticed the other day that my Facebook friend count went down by one. Today, I thought of who might have unfriended. Yup, I thought right. Guess he was displeased with a recent disagreement among a few of us in the comments under a post. OK. Buh bye. In light of what has happened in recent days, I no longer have any inclination to keep my mouth shut or my fingers still in the interest of not making waves. Not anymore. And I regret that I let that reticence dictate so much for so long. I know I can be blunt. And profane. And I may challenge some mores and norms. But I never intend to be hurtful. So if I post something that offends you, let's discuss it (if you're so inclined).

I truly value kindness. I have no desire to ever be mean. But I am done being quiet for the sake of others' comfort. I will not seek out confrontations but when they arise, I intend to say what should be said, to stand up for anyone who is being mistreated.

Likewise, I will look for even more moments to do good, to smile, to lend a hand.

More and more, I'm getting better about boundaries. I end relationships that no longer serve me. Work-wise, I ask for what I'm worth.

It's taken me decades to get here but I'm fond of this surefooted path.

It's a fascinating journey, becoming myself.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Revelation On A Saturday Morning ...

I knew I'd written something similar before. I am a master rehasher. But, as with the process of writing and finding just the right words, sometimes I have to explain things to myself in a number of ways.

On June 21, 2016, I posted this and ended it thusly:

The notion that I might write something someday that will help someone in turn is what propels me, a moment of connection or recognition, the relief in knowing that someone else has felt the same way. I keep that in mind as I write. I don't write toward that end. I do my best not to contrive. But those moments do arrive. And for now, the someone I end up helping is me.

I read that again moments ago, pleased with myself for having had the thought and for having expressed it well, and then the gremlin in my head said, "You wrote that more than a year ago. Look at how much time you waste."

The gremlin has a point. But also, the gremlin can go to hell.

Because things take as long as they take.

And this morning, skimming a book from the library that I've renewed several times, I had a thought. It felt important but not fully formed. So I sat there a moment longer, talking to myself, as I am wont to do, as talking to myself helps me make my thoughts more concrete.

And I realized this:

I have been stalled on a memoir I've been noodling around with for a long time not because I don't want to write it – when I get an idea I like in my head, nothing stops me until I've realized it in the world – but because I didn't believe there was a point, a combination of the "Who are you to write this?" nagging and the sense that if I'm still reading books looking for guidance, if no one has the answer, what good would one more book – my book – do?

But, as I mentioned, I stayed on the path and realized that while I have read many, many books and while it is true that no book has held "the" answer I've sought, every book has contributed its own glimmer of illumination. Individually, no, no one phrase or sentence or sentiment has unlocked "the" door but collectively? They're the items on the list of a treasure hunt. They have led me to this place.

And this place is the moment of understanding that the memoir is worth writing a) because I need to write it but also b) because it might provide a glimmer that a reader may find helpful, even if all it is is a moment of relief to know that someone else has stood in that same place of not knowing.

At which point, I started to cry. Because that's what I do when I've untangled a knot of thoughts to discover the something that is true.

I still feel like I need help with the shape of the book, and that's where Marion Roach Smith will come in. Memoir is a doozy of a genre, turns out. It seems so unassuming on its face – tell a story about yourself! – but our lives comprise endless moments and anecdotes. They're not all germane. They require a great amount of sorting.

But first, I had to hear the nagging voice so I could respond to it.

This is my response.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Creativity In The Era Of Trump ...

Last night, amid the breaking news and punditry, I had a flash of an idea:

It would be fun to record a song – a torchy, sultry number, as that would appeal to Trump's sense of his irresistible nature as well as suit my voice – that lavished praise on him for a few bars ... then kicked him in the groin in the chorus.

This morning, I put pencil to paper as lyrics started popping into my head.

I didn't write a complete song in the first pass but then I realized that with Trump's attention span, a verse, chorus, and coda would be plenty, maybe even too much.

I have a simple melody in my head and I pondered recording it a capella but it would be fun to arrange and produce it so if that's your wheelhouse and you're game, let me know.

[ Untitled, For Now ]

You're a star, they let you do anything
You're a winner, so big, through and through
The problems, alone you can fix them
But Mueller's got a message for you

Oh, Donald, you're going to prison
The big house is where you will stay
The White House will someday recover
Just as soon as they take you away

The handcuffs, they're not golden
To Putin you're only beholden
And there is no KFC in prison

I feel better already ... .

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Monday, June 19, 2017

On Popularity (And Indifference To Popularity) ...

This blog has become a bit of a wasteland, an infrequently populated place that was once quite a hub of activity. A lot of my thoughts are now boiled down to 140 characters or threaded if I have something extended to express.

But every so often, the impulse to share something in a tweet is overcome by the realization that there's simply much more to say, and so, here we are. A blog post. A rare blog post. The link for which I can tweet.

Today's post is inspired by this: Why Popularity Matters So Much—Even After High School.

It popped up in the Medium Daily Digest, an email that I scroll through each morning but which rarely contains headlines that inspire me to click.

So kudos to Mitch – or whomever wrote the headline – for capturing my attention which led me to read an excerpt from his book, Popularity: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World.

The post is interesting, so I expect the book is, too. And I love that Adam Grant is blurbed on the cover: "This book helped me understand why I wasn't cool as a kid, why I'm still not today, and why I shouldn't care."


I wasn't cool as a kid. I'm still not today. And, indeed, I don't care.

Which isn't to say I don't want people to like me. Being liked is nice.

But being liked and being popular are different things.

Moreover, my preference is more that people don't dislike me. I have come to appreciate that some people simply will not like me on principle. As a very wise friend says, "It is always the other person's shit, Beth. Always."

Well, maybe not always. If I have done something to upset someone in some way, I'd like to have the chance to address it and apologize for it if an apology is called for in that instance. Or perhaps what's needed is a clarification, a moment of "You misunderstood what I meant ... ."

But I hope I am conducting myself in such a way as to not give folk active and accurate reasons to dislike me.

Popularity, though? Meh.

I don't care about my number of Twitter followers. For a long time, I didn't accept connection requests on Facebook or LinkedIn unless I knew the person. Then I considered that perhaps I was cutting myself off from encountering some interesting people or people who might be folks I should know in order to advance some area of my life, some insight, some growth, professional or personal. And so I started expanding my circles ever so slightly.

But not much. I once knew a guy who was damn near obsessed with amassing friends on Facebook, never mind that they weren't really friends at all. They were local personalities whom I expect accepted every friend request that came along.

In his excerpt, Mitch quotes Daniel Clemens, a popular Yale student who has achieved much professional success: "We teach writing and arithmetic. We expect folks to do very well in science and reading from a very early age. But the ability to establish great relationships with others seems to be every bit as important to success if not more, yet it’s not taught in a formal way. We usually learn about relationships by trial and error — how to get along with peers and how to be popular. For those who can do it, great. But for others, it is a lifetime of struggling, never understanding why their peers have issues with them."

I have a knack for establishing relationships with others. Whether they're "great" is subjective. But friends have commented on it. One asked, "What is it about you? You meet these people and become friends with them."

He was referencing a few folks I know who are "famous" or perhaps "known."

Relationships don't form with everyone I meet. I interviewed Melissa Etheridge for a story some years back. She invited me to come to a show on her upcoming tour. I did. I met her very briefly. I'm sure she has no recollection of it and we haven't been in touch since.

Some encounters are fleeting – like the one with the mom in the parking lot of a store who was trying to load groceries into the back of her vehicle while her newborn baby, in a carrier on her chest, screamed his little head off; I helped her with her groceries and then returned her cart to the front of the store – while other encounters – with those "famous" or not – turn into friendships.

And the reason, as I see it, is pretty damn simple: I'm a nice-enough person.

I try to be kind. I try to be helpful. I try to be sincere. I'm not trying to game the system or scam people or engage for purely selfish reasons.

But forming substantive relationships and "popularity" strike me as different things.

When I was in school, "popular" seemed then as it seems now: largely superficial, rooted first and foremost in appearances. But, as I see it, it's also assigned. The most popular people I remember from school didn't strike me as striving for popularity. Popularity was placed upon them. Those who strive to be popular by definition aren't and, to my mind, can't be.

These days, I suppose popularity is often cultivated. Some are genuinely adored for their flamboyance or personality or artistry. But others have become successful in parlaying a glimmer of notoriety into an outsize following.

Which begs the question: why do so many follow?

But that is another topic for another post.