Book News: Writing About COVID w/ Capsule Stories

Let’s get real: it was excruciating to write about COVID while existing through COVID. Whatever I managed to get on the page never felt right and it usually didn’t follow any kind of format, likely because I felt like I was drowning- drowning in e-learning, in uncertainty, in anxiety, and just about every other stressor you likely felt as well. In short, I wrote a LOT of very weird $%&*.

It took a long time to feel like I had something significant to share. So when I wrote a piece of flash (this means under 750 words and presenting with a succinct narrative in a profound moment), I knew it was something I could stand by. I knew it was a marker in time, a notch in history. I sent it out and received word last month that it would be picked up by Capsule Stories for their Second Isolation Edition (work written entirely during quarantine). Some literary publications put out digital magazines, some still print, but in this case, Capsule publishes in paperback. So I am humbled to share that my piece ‘Self-Storage’ has been published in this anthology.

I wrote ‘Self-Storage’ when I realized my then 5-year-old had outgrown the little handmade fabric mask that my sister had sewn for her. I grappled with the notion of storing and saving things from 2020, knowing full well that sometime in the future, one of my grandchildren will tell me they need to write a paper on the ‘pandemic of 2020’ and would I answer some questions? I know those days of retrospect are coming.

And I truly feel like this story (all 1 page of it) can explain it all- the heaviness, the energy, the worry, and the desperate attempts to make the best of it when I could.

If you are so inclined to purchase this book, it is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, and available by request wherever books are sold. I sincerely thank you for supporting my words and my work.

Book Release: Turning Points

It’s been a surreal week and I was able to do something I’ve dreamt of for so long: walk into a book store and hold a copy of my book.

In sharing this news, I think it’s important to infuse this caveat: I’ve had many other writing/book projects fail. I had a children’s book and a literary agent that never crossed the publishing finish line. I lost my longstanding newspaper column during the pandemic (and learned of this by reading The Chicago Tribune). I had a book of columns get rebuffed. I’ve had a full novel get a ton of buzz from agents without a single bite. All of that was devastating. But I still kept writing.

We never quite know what makes some projects flourish while others flounder- timing, trend, and a handful of other unique details. But I am immensely proud to have my short story ‘Outfit of the Day’ anthologized in Turning Points, the 75th Anniversary Anthology put out by the Off-Campus Writers’ Workshop. It was a marvel to collaborate with other writers- my first time doing so (also my first foray into fiction).

In being a Winnetka-based writing group, I was so heartened to see the response of readers willing to order this book through our local, indie book shop, The Book Stall. When I received the shop’s weekly newsletter, I was astounded to see Turning Points prominently featured on their Bestseller list. It was truly humbling. It made me especially thankful for all of my failed endeavors- yes, you read that correctly- to be a writer to learn to hold hands with the heavy onslaught of rejection. To grow from it. To fuel for the next opportunity. To push for what seems impossible.

If you are interested in ordering Turning Points, please consider ordering from your local book store. If that is not a possibility, please consider Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or inquiring with your local library.

One last thought to anyone who writes or has an urge to write- just keep going.

Overheard: St. Patrick’s Day Morning

Yes, I recognize that the balloons in the living room are more blue than green. I did not appreciate that realization at 11pm last night.

Kids sleep through vacuums, thunderstorms, and house alarms, but drop one balloon softly into their room and they will stir and thrash in their blankets while I cower in the hallway. Leprechauns don’t get caught making mischief. They just don’t.

I continue to be very Irish and very much not into Irish foods. Even Irish soda bread, the one thing I’m sorta okay with, tasted less than okay this morning. What is going on with that, I ask you.

She: has pulled out every article of green clothing she owns. Gold ribbon in hair for golden coins.
He: is uninterested and possibly, influenced by school and the concept of cool. Orange shirt and jeans.

Just yesterday, I entered the 7th circle of hell (PartyCity). I found myself running amok, placing strand of beads and shamrock headbands into a basket. Plates, cups, napkins. Green, green, green. $62 worth of festive.

And for what? For whom? For why?

Is this the new normal? These little holidays holding joy that allow us tiny celebrations in an era that has felt hard to celebrate? I thought about this as I considered our later plans: green milkshakes, spun in the blender, crushing ice into cream. Everyone’s tongue will be green.

This morning? Her little footsteps hurried to the top of the stairs. A gasp. Wonder. Awe. WOW.

I smiled a leprechaun’s smile.

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.

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.

Here we go!

Here we go!

Either what’s old is new again or WordPress just never stopped being cool. Regardless, I’m happy to be back. Things are eerily familiar and absurdly different.

WordPress was the site of my very first blog post way back in the day (2008? Earlier?!). Back then my biggest concerns were commercial real estate, Chicago restaurants, vampire books, documentaries, Netflix via mail (streaming did not exist), my Boston Terrier and running. These days things look a lot different (and definitely more suburban). I’m excited though! Stay tuned…lots of photos, stories, columns, updates, and BOOKS are on the way.

P.S. Thank you for reading and hanging out here. Bonus points if you are someone who is not my dad or my sister. Also, I painted the artwork above…it’s called ‘Walking Down the Street in a Straight Line.’ This information is both interesting and somewhat useless.