Elegy in a Pandemic: Letter to myself

(today I participated in a workshop through Off Campus Writers Workshop and there were some brilliant grief prompts presented by Chen Chen, who served as instructor/moderator. Here is what came out)

Dear ambitious scholar,

Grief is my dog’s collar tucked away in a box, high on the shelf in my closet.

My favorite shirt, the chambray button-down from that classic secondhand store, is fading away. I found two more holes this morning, one of which was hiding in plain sight near my elbow. It won’t be long now. I used to think it would crush me to lose this shirt- not the jewelry in velvet boxes or the designer trenchcoat- but this, this faded, tattered shirt with the heart-shaped pocket. It’s lesser now, the crush of it all.

I have been furious with my writing lately. It’s never been easier or harder. I’m writing everything: poems, fiction, nonfiction, and sex. Yes, sex writing was a whole class. The hours are long in the writing chair, in front of the writing screen.

All this writing has allowed me to manifest though. To bring out the grief without yelling at my kids or pulling at my hair. I continue to tread water in an angry sea. Yet I force the handholding of language and grief. Say it out loud or it doesn’t count.

What am I to do next and how can I do all of it? Everything within me is desperate to come out. How do I know the way? How do I know the path without directions?

Ambitious scholar, take notes and take your time. You will get there. You will get there.

Start Me Up

The new year has rolled out and the rollercoaster has begun. In just the first half of January, there have been dramatic shifts and prods within social media, government, law enforcement, D.E.I., journalism, and more. Brad Montague touched upon the enormity of this time as ‘toomuchery.’ The world keeps changing, the world keeps staying the same. Routine mixed with chaos, stirred with uncertainty. What happens when our very democracy is under violent attack and my child approaches me and asks for help with homework? He’s working on calculating area. Length x width.

The other day I impulse bought a set of clearance rack barrettes from Target. As if that would help anything. As if it would lessen the anxiety. But they sparkle on Zoom. They shimmer under the light of our dinner table. They help hide that awkward hair length I’m at- the growing-out-phase. But really, there is no help for moving through uncertainty. Sparkle is merely a distraction.

Family continues with distance and technology, and the occasional freezing cold walk at a forest preserve.

Our dog, Putter, continues to burrow on our laps and spread the warmth wherever she goes. In the ever-chill of a midwestern winter, I don’t really mind it. I’m just not always ready when I’m sitting down with coffee and a furry bundle leaps into my startled lap.

On Tuesday, Fitz cracked open an Ina Garten cookbook and made the fanciest comfort food he could find: lobster BLTs. They were sensational. A hall-of-fame kind of sandwich.

Clean, purge, donate. Every year this happens. The doling out of holiday decor, the sweeping removal of it, and my insistence at stripping things down, down, down to necessity. In a world of no control, I have to stop myself from pacing or organizing. In doing so, Fitz dug through office drawers and uncovered a treasure among relics (a rolodex! ancient biz cards!). Before the world changed and tilted, he had purchased a pair of earrings on Etsy for me. My initials. The two letters that have been singular in my identity for so long. A really lovely, thoughtful gift. It reminded me of that moment in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Clark is in the attic, attempting to discreetly hide presents…until he uncovers a dusty Mother’s Day gift from 1984. Oops.

I picked a helluva time to start school again but the program was just too good and the Instagram ad hit at the right time. Despite the chaos of schedule, I have really enjoyed eCornell. I’m studying Diversity & Inclusion.

Every day is still fresh. Every opportunity is still present. Yes, this year has already been too much, but many days lay ahead. Many days lay ahead. Start me up.

City Girl Confessions: The Last Column

IMG_9086.JPGNote: 22nd Century Media ceased publication as of April 2020. At the time, my column was submitted but never made it to publication. I share it with you today as the last in my City Girl Confessions series. 

I’ve had the honor of being your local columnist for six years. Every day, I’ve woken up feeling extraordinarily blessed to live here and write about living here. I love the picturesque lakefront, our local shops, and the people- the people make this town extraordinary. I don’t take any of this for granted.
Continue reading “City Girl Confessions: The Last Column”

An Evening with ‘The Niceties’ at Writers Theatre

I love the escape of theatre. I love that I can pause my life to steal away into a dark room, watch art that will spin my brain around, and return to my world feeling transformed. And I’m so very lucky to have a world-class theatre right here in Glencoe.

This past week I was invited to take in a performance of The Niceties at Writers Theatre. On an evening so cold the air stung my cheeks, I grabbed three friends and walked into the show, ready for whatever the experience held.

Two women 
A professor’s office 
A conversation on American history 

Your first thought might be…that’s not exactly riveting. But oh, the simplicity of this story  should not be overlooked. For one, the dialogue is sharp- I got the feeling that writer Eleanor Burgess placed every syllable of this play with purpose. At first, these women are chatting, then suddenly they are deep diving, threatening, accusing, worrying, chastising, provoking, and revealing. It’s a game of verbal volleyball. And you will feel bumped, set, and spiked.

In the show program, there was a paper insert. In it, the theatre broke the fourth wall: ‘you might find yourself tempted to choose a side. We urge you to resist that temptation. There are no heroes and no villains in this play.”

This is entirely true. The audience is also a part of the show. Just listen…you will hear cheers, jeers, guffaws, whoops, and even stunned gasps among your fellow viewers. It’s as if we were all crammed in that professor’s office together. You will get the sense that some of this uncomfortable dialogue has been waiting to be let out for hundreds of years. You will be shocked as you consider your own understanding of history- what are the parts you celebrate? What are the parts you don’t know? What are the parts that have been swiftly erased altogether?

As for the verbal volleyball game…it’s emotional as well. You will fret that as soon as you identify with one character, you quickly align with the other. You will be puzzled, concerned, and dismayed. You will realize that a happy ending is not coming. You will sit in silence when the lights go dark, and you will listen. And keep listening. And think that listening is the best thing you can do right now.

I walked into the cold night transformed once again. The conversation among my friends was wild- dissecting bits that stung, rehashing the dialogue that stayed. As we split off to drive home, we hopped on phone calls to marvel about the show. Then woke up this morning to do more of the same.

So why do we watch a story that confront uncomfortable truths? I will borrow a powerful line from the character Zoe: “We want to know the pain was worth it.”

I remain grateful for the chance to see The Niceties. I hope you see it, too.

Editor’s note: I was gifted four complimentary tickets to the show and encouraged to share my opinions, whatever they may be.

Convos With Writers: 11 Questions with Amanda Simkin

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‘Chicago mom’ is a term synonymous with Amanda Simkin. When I was freelancing for parenting websites, our paths kept crossing in such unique ways that by the time we officially met I thought, “Wait- how have we not been friends for years?!” Good news, we are friends, and I glean inspiration from this mama-of-two everyday- her luminous smile, candor, and entrepreneurial spirit make for a high-five-worthy convo.

Amanda’s writing went viral when she wrote a blog post about the best Christmas lights in the Chicago area. She swiftly crafted her blog into a full-blown business that helps guide parents and families, while celebrating all things Midwest.

So let’s dig in.

Continue reading “Convos With Writers: 11 Questions with Amanda Simkin”

Green Kitchen Nostalgia

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I just came across this photo of Anne Hathaway’s California Country kitchen and it gave me a wave of nostalgia…the kitchen in my previous house was the same sage green color as her cabinets. Green has always been an important color in my life and, surprisingly so, my marriage. My (only!) tattoo is green. My eyes are green. ‘Kelly’ is a very specific type of green. And in regards to my wedding…my invitations were green, my bridesmaids wore green cocktail dresses, and the groomsmen wore green custom Converse sneakers. I even had a green wedding cake! (in retrospect, it was not the most appetizing color for a dessert but I digress).

Why do I love it? It’s growth. It’s organic. It’s nature. Maybe even a little lucky.

So that’s my deal with green. Got any weird stories about your favorite color and why it’s your fave?

Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson

25 Things About Me: Pink Hair, High-Tops, and a Random Painting Hobby

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  1. I’ve written for magazines, blogs, websites, newspapers, radio, and Apps.
  2. My favorite movie is Quiz Show.
  3. My least favorite season is Summer.
  4. I am obsessed with miniature things, high top sneakers, and marshmallow desserts.
  5. I got married on a vineyard.
  6. My two favorite places to visit are my local library and Trader Joe’s.
  7. I was a dancer at Disneyworld, EuroDisney, and even performed at Wembley Hall in London on New Year’s Day.
  8. My alarm goes off every morning at 5:15am.
  9. I’m not much of a morning person but I’ve sort of trained myself to be.
  10. I don’t know how to whistle. Yes, I have tried and no, it’s not as easy as putting your lips together and blowing.
  11. I will buy any book written by Curtis Sittenfeld, Roxane Gay, or David Sedaris.
  12. My memory is razor-sharp with music. I can hear a song one time and have the words memorized.
  13. There are at least 15 books on my nightstand and at least 7 lip balms in my car.
  14. I’m one of those weird people that is oddly lucky when it comes to raffle drawings, door prizes, or contests.
  15. One of my favorite freelance gigs ever was attending the opening of a new candy store.
  16. I head up the LGBTQ+ Initiative at my church because I believe that all humans deserve to be loved and celebrated for being exactly who they are.
  17. I survived an emergency airplane landing; I safely evacuated by jumping down a giant, inflatable slide.
  18. Halloween is my favorite holiday but I am terrified of haunted houses.
  19. I still have a pair of ballet slippers shoved into a drawer. I can’t get rid of them; they make me feel like a dancer.
  20. When I’m super stressed, I paint.
  21. I love a NY Times crossword puzzle.
  22. I cannot curl my tongue (recessive gene for the win!)
  23. I can do backflips off a diving board. It’s my favorite party trick.
  24. I’m terribly uncoordinated on skis- both water and snow.
  25. I love chopping off my hair or dying it crazy colors (it was pink for Valentine’s Day).

A Most Enduring Mother’s Day Gift

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a favorite column of mine written in 2016 for The Glencoe Anchor. Its words are some of my favorite as it pertains to this holiday and the mothers and mother-like figures we celebrate.

I feel as though I’m drowning in gift guides. Each day brings about an email, a tweet, or a conversation that starts with something like, “What are you getting your mom for Mother’s Day?” and ends with “Hmm…well, at least I have some time.” I’ve seen lists, flash sales, quizzes, and even a heart shaped pizza touted as the ideal Mother’s Day commemoration. 

This is a tricky holiday and a very good one. Fortunately we have an occasion in which we can recognize incredible women in our lives that have mothered and mentored us in a capacity that has had profound influence. But let me be candid: we are all conflicted about our mothers in the best possible way. You see, those little personality traits that they have that drive us a bit nuts? Let the world come full circle when you find yourself yelling at gridlock traffic, folding socks a peculiar way, or preparing a recipe in the same dedicated fashion. We ARE our mothers sometimes and that can be a wild roller coaster reality to accept. 

It’s okay to idolize your mom, too. No matter your age, acknowledging the deft multi-tasker, expert advice giver, master chef, gentle soul, and kind disposition of this person resonates deep in the heart. I still get a little emotional when my mom bakes me a banana bread or presents me with that perfect, most thoughtful gift. Mothers just have that way of getting to us like no one else can. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on something delicate: we aren’t all lucky enough to have a mother. Maybe she doesn’t live nearby or perhaps she is simply not here. For this extra special group, I implore you to exercise gentle consideration. No matter what happens in life, a mother is a constant. She is a wave in the ocean or the rising of the sun. To be without a mother on Mother’s Day can feel like you’ve lost your own hands. It’s a good time to check-in with these friends and be the constant for someone who needs it. At the very least, it’s an excuse to gather together and share one of those heart-shaped pizzas. 

Back to those endless gift guides. Society might have you considering spa appointments or sparkling jewelry, but I’m here to share a secret that will change your gift-giving forever. It is meaningful, exquisite, and you won’t find it on any ‘must have’ gift guide: This Mother’s Day, share with your mother a time or memory when you were proud of her. Pick up the phone and tell her about it. Don’t text or clog her cell phone with emojis. Don’t pen a longwinded email. Let her hear your voice when you speak. Let her recognize your connection to that memory. Let the moment be authentic even if it feels weird or emotional. 

As for me, I will share this: Mom, I remember seeing your smiling face in the audience at every dance performance of my life…every recital, half-time show, competition, and awards ceremony. I was so proud of your unwavering support. I was proud of all the times you enjoyed my performance and the times when you were candid about me doing better. Now that I’m a mother myself I deeply appreciate how you constantly carved out time in your life to cheer me on. I know that it wasn’t easy but you sure made it look effortless.

Ode to The Riviera

The last time I went to a concert at The Riviera was a lifetime ago. Truly. I think it was 2004. I hadn’t even met my husband at that point.

The concert I attended? The Killers…who were baby famous at the time (remember Mr. Brightside?). The music was great but what stuck with me most was how insanely cool the venue was. I felt like I had been transported when I walked inside and looked up at the gorgeously ornate ceiling above the bar, its paint peeling off in thick, curled wedges.

It’s beautiful. It’s ramshackle. It’s standing room only. Your shoes might stick to the floor but the vibe is super chill and the bathrooms stalls are scrawled with funny quips. Basically heaven!

What I learned a lifetime ago at The Riviera was that I am a lover of small venue concerts. Sure, I’ve done Buffett and Dave Matthews shows at Alpine Valley (important: I’ve since retired permanently from Dave Matthews). I’ve sang my heart out to the Rolling Stones at Wrigley Field. I had the time of my life seeing T-Swift during her Reputation arena tour in Indianapolis. But there is something so mind-blowing about hanging out with your person, listening to incredible music in an intimate venue that resembles someone’s cool, old basement.

We saw James Bay (Electric Light tour). I was in heaven.

I had really fallen for his stuff since his debut on Saturday Night Live. As I finished the draft of my second novel, I looped some of his songs on a playlist that kept my motivation high as I typed away and edited. I knew every lyric, every chord change. His music sent me down a rabbit hole of bliss, lust, persistence, and fun- precisely what I needed to tap into as I wrote.

On the train ride home Fitz and I were recalling our favorite parts of the show. “I can’t get over The Riv,” Fitz said. “I’d go back to that place again and again.”

I just smiled.