Thursday, December 3, 2009


I should be working on my novel. Beyond the World (technically my 3rd attempt at a novel) is almost finished. Rough estimate: I've got another 10-15 hours of work before I'm ready to give copies to my circle of first readers. A couple of weeks ago at OCWW, the award winning author E.E. Knight critiqued the first 30 pages and was very complimentary, which is a terrific confidence boost. So am I working on the last details? No. I'm goofing around with blogging. In the wee hours of the other night, instead of figuring out the final confrontation between my two main characters, I was tossing around ideas for blog posts. Actually, between 4:20 and 4:27 in the morning, I was hit with a basketful of ideas. If the Muse wants to play games by insisting that I write about this stuff, I won't risk offending by ignoring them.
Among the thoughts that I can still remember are these:

1) Over the Rainbow, Over the Threshold
Because I miss painting and color, I'd like to explore the similarities and differences in visual art and writing. The whole threshold motif is for my written expression (thus Liminalesque), but how do I get color, or at least a sense of color, in my writing? Who are the best writers of color? Dickens was good, but so often bleak. Cather took the detail to minutia. Anyone out there have any ideas?

2) The Firmament
There's some interesting writing in the Book of Common Prayer. How about this for a lead in: "Our days are like the grass,/ we flourish like a flower of the field;/ When the wind goes over it, it is gone,/ and its place shall know it no more." I'm rarely bored in church because under the guise of being pious, I'm searching for new story ideas. Some of them could be lulus.

3) Choir Diaries
Speaking of church, for several years I kept a diary of my experiences in choir, including our trips to sing in English cathedrals. Given the current popularity of memoir stuff, I know I have some good material, and someday, I will put together a book. In the meantime, a blog or two might be fun, as long as I leave out the bad stuff. For now.

3) It's All in the Name
Enough goody-two-shoes-choir-girl crap. I share with friends (who wish to remain anonymous) a little game. We make up nicknames for people we encounter. These are not names to be used in public, and for obvious reasons, I will only divulge the most innocent as examples. "Al Po." First name is Al, last name begins with P-O. "Mr. Lister." This is the most anal person I've ever met--lists everything, including what he eats for breakfast. "Old Yeller." This is the guy who screams at his kids on the soccer field. "Hair Pie." Don't ask.
I bet a blog on this could elicit some great comments, and some ideas for fictional (yeah, right) characters. Who doesn't have a secret nickname for the boss, teacher, student or client of peculiar attributes?

From this point, my sleep-deprived ruminations got a little fuzzier. The Muse, bored again with my mortal limitations, drifted away. Days later, I'm left sifting through the debris like the host of a wild party, clearing up half-empty glasses and dirty plates, hoping to find a scrap of something useful.

Friday, November 13, 2009

If I Were King of the Forrrrest....

So says the Cowardly Lion in Oz when he sings about all the things he'd do if only he had courage. Courage is essential to success. I don't mean the kind of courage that helps you walk down a dark street at midnight or climb a ladder to clean gutters; I'm referring to a subtler kind of courage. It's the courage to try new things and be persistent when the going gets tough. It's the kind of courage that we have as children that often gets lost as we age: the courage to metaphorically stumble, fall, then get up and try again.
By the time we reach our middle years, we're supposed to know what we're doing, be accomplished in our various endeavors, be teachers rather than risk-taking learners. For anyone in the arts, however, there is no such luxury. (Except, of course, for the uber commercially successful who can get away with cranking out formulaic garbage.) Being creative means always striving to do something new, taking the risk that someone's reaction to your work might be, "That sucks."
That kind of criticism isn't constructive, and it's hard to hear. Sometimes, too, a particular criticism isn't even accurate. But more often than not, feedback from a respected source is true and valuable, and if you listen, you learn. When I offer a piece of writing, either a story or just a blog post, for critique, I really do want to know what people think. Being able to take criticism well has taken me a long time, but I've realized it is an essential part of maturing as a writer. I want to know what doesn't work because that is how I'll learn. I may not always agree, but I'll always listen. And if I ever become so commercially successful that I can crank out garbage, I'll still listen--all the way to the bank.
So until I'm made King (or Queen) of the Forest, may the great and wonderful Wizard grant me the courage to write, rewrite and rewrite again, and to be persistent as I follow my own yellow brick road.
Do I really need to say comments are welcome?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Okay, that story I was writing when I almost burned down the house didn't even make the online postings in the Trib ghost story competition. I carefully followed the rules--under 700 words, and set in the Chicago area. I'm pissed, because frankly I thought it was pretty good. So I'm posting it here. Since I'm now in that major funk all writers experience when their efforts are so cavalierly treated by the world, I'd really appreciate comments--even (especially) if you think it sucks. Maybe I'll learn something.

Happy Halloween.


I know now that it is true: in the late autumn when the leaves are burnt gold and the skies deepen, when sunlight slants acutely in the afternoon and fades to the obsidian evening, the veil, that amorphous distance between two worlds, grows thin. For me to accept this had not been easy.
As a toxicologist for Abbott Laboratories, I was not by nature or habit given to flights of fancy. Research and rational thought, preferably expressed in scientific terms dictated reality for me. My wife, Marissa, was far more imaginative. Indeed, it was her effervescent personality that enchanted me when we first met, and her cheerful attitude was often just the tonic I needed when work or the word in general depressed me.
Two years ago, we decided to move from the large house where we had raised our children to something smaller. We chose a charming little Victorian in Lake Bluff. The realtor had shown us through the octogenarian house on a bright Saturday morning in September. Her nervous little admission that the previous owners believed the place was haunted amused my wife, but carried absolutely no weight with me. The house, recently remodeled, suited our needs perfectly. It meant a much shorter commute to my North Chicago office. There was a fenced-in yard for our two dogs, and Marissa was delighted by the third-floor view of Lake Michigan. We moved in on October 19th.
It was the dogs who knew first. Watson and Crick--two pleasant, well-behaved golden retrievers--had been part of our family for nine years. Even before our children grew up and moved away from home, the dogs had been slightly spoiled. They ate their home-cooked dog meals when we ate our dinner and slept at the foot of our bed every night.
The first night in the new house, both dogs whined about climbing the stairs. I was all for leaving them in the kitchen, but Marissa wouldn't hear of it. I carried Crick up the stairs. Reluctantly, Watson followed behind. But the night didn't go well. Twice, they woke us barking their fool heads off. At three in the morning, Watson began frantically scratching the bedroom door, destroying paint and woodwork, while Crick set about howling in a way that made my blood run cold. They bolted down the stairs the minute I opened the bedroom door. Later, I noticed that one of them had, uncharacteristically, urinated on the carpet. They spent the rest of the night outside. Fro days, rain or shine, they refused to set foot in the house so that we had to take them to stay indefinitely with our daughter.
With the dogs gone, Marissa changed. My sweet wife, who had disliked reading newspapers because she thought they were too depressing, became obsessed with morbid stories. Every day, she walked to the Village Market to buy a paper. She studied accident reports, murders, and death notices. At dinner, instead of her usual cheery conversations about Garden Club or a new recipe, she would recite the grim statistics of the dead. In less than a week, she lost weight, her hair hung in dull wisps, and her face took on an unhealthy pallor. I began to avoid her company.
Work kept me occupied, but the commute became a problem: I dreaded time at home. The logical escape was household chores, so late on Halloween afternoon, I decided to clean the gutters. Never acrophobic, scaling a ladder to the roof-line of a three-story house did not distress me. I clambered up the rungs with the energy of a man half my age, and began the messy but necessary task of clearing dead leaves and debris. Leaning far out to my left as I reached around a dormer window, I was concentrating on my work, so I did not see, until too late, the waxen face grinning viciously at the window.
Now I, too, await the autumn twilight when we souls, no longer within our corporeal selves, try to find our way home.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Writing Can Be Dangerous

Last Wednesday was, without doubt, the quintessential autumn day. The misty rains of early morning stopped in time for me and Woki to walk to the Lake where the sun was just burning through the clouds enough to make the trees glow in all their brilliant splendor. The streets truly were paved with gold. No sooner had we returned home than I set out again, this time for a run along other roads where the ravines looked like Aladdin's cave of treasure. An hour later, back home again, I dutifully sat down to write. Immersed in a new short story ("Returning"), I took breaks only to refill the tea mug and make a few quick preparations for dinner. At 2:30, when I still had enough time before my first student of the day, I impulsively decided to squeeze in another walk--I'd been working hard.
Ah, it was so lovely! As Woki and I walked along, I congratulated myself on my efficiency. I had done my household chores, written steadily for several hours, and could continue to ponder my story as I enjoyed the lovely weather. Was the tone right? Had I created convincing characters? Did the end come too abruptly?
Twenty-five minutes later, walking up the driveway, I heard a funny sound. It got louder on the deck, and louder still as I came in the back porch. Frantically, I fumbled with the key when I simultaneously realized that the buzzing noise was our smoke detector and I had walked off and left Woki's chicken livers boiling on the stove.
Burnt chicken liver smells really, really bad. Angry gray smoke was wafting through the entire house. I grabbed the pan off the stove and carried the noxious mess to the backyard. Since I gave no more thought to grabbing that pan handle than I had to leaving the house without checking the stove, I was very lucky that the pan had been top quality. Past tense. The thing was absolutely black. Any lesser piece of equipment would likely have started a nasty fire. I repeat--I was very lucky.
I learned some valuable lessons: First,if I am caught up in Fictionland, I should never multi-task with anything involving fire or water. Second, things can go terribly wrong on a beautiful day, which creates a certain tension that is much more pleasant to read about than to experience in real life. Third, all life experiences are fodder for stories. I may use some of this at some point, but relax, Julie Powell, I won't be attempting a blog on cooking.

P.S. Ironically, that morning I had seen a news story advising people to check their smoke detectors. I know mine work. Please check yours.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mothers & Daughters

In my newest short story (Skincare), Chrissie Sorensen finds a way to rebel against her mother, but ultimately her choice is more self-destructive than vengeful.
I've long recognized that an inordinate amount of my fiction writing is devoted to mother-daughter relationships. I'm also aware that, duh, this is because of my relationship with my mother.
Yeah, yeah, yawn. Here we go with another Mommy Dearest tale.
From my mother, I learned to make a decent bechamel sauce. I did not learn how to fix my hair, put on make-up, drive a car, or act like a mature adult. These were not things that she herself could do, ergo, she could not teach them to me.
Granted, I was a difficult child, and I remember more than once her shrieking at me, "I hope you have a daughter just like you someday."
I have three daughters. They are now all over 21. Raising them has been the joy of my life and, today as I look at these beautiful and accomplished women, I'm amazed that they were once the tiny girls I tucked into bed, read stories to, and whose boo-boos I could heal with a kiss. I really can't take credit for who they've become because try as I might, I have not always been up to the task of being "Mother." As they grew older, I lost the ability to give them answers, fix problems, or be a role model of perfect behavior and good decision making. I screw up. I do and say stupid things and continually expose myself to them as a deeply flawed human being. For that, I quite sincerely and publicly apologize. Being a better mother still ranks right up there with all the other things I wish I could give my girls.
Oscar Wilde once said something like: "Children often love their parents, but they rarely forgive them." Such is life. I can only hope that maybe through my stories, the girls and I and anyone else who reads them might take a step closer to understanding the webbed and intricate complexities of mothers and daughters.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On Down the Road

Labor Day weekend, Woki and I met a very interesting person, Wendy Witchner. She, unlike Mariah, is absolutely non-fictional.

Wendy is a jeweler who was among the 200-plus artists exhibiting with the Deer Path Art League's Fair on the Square, and her unique and lovely work drew me and many others to her booth. As I perused the necklaces, bracelets, and earrings that she had crafted from silver, beads, and antique buttons, I listened while she chatted with her customers. She told us that she made her first jewelry at age twelve, that her mother had been a scuba diver on the West Coast back when that was an outrageous job for a woman, and that she herself had been a flight instructor in Alaska. Now, she lives with her dog, Allie, in a 26-foot motor home and travels from art show to art show all year long.

For the rest of the afternoon, I found myself thinking about the romance and difficulties of such a lifestyle. There is certainly a beguiling allure to being so self-contained: one's home and business always at hand, the comfortable companionship of a faithful dog at one's side, the ability to pick up and leave--or stay--in one spot on any whim of the soul or the weather.

I bet there could be a pretty cool "Adventures of Wendy in Wonderland" blog. Perhaps it could even be spun into a fictional series: each episode, Wendy pulls into a new town where she discovers trouble (someone else's), solves the problem (cleverly), and drives off into the sunset.

Ah, but there I go trying to take her to Fictionland. Wendy is a real person, working hard to make a living in the real world. While the notion of being free and unencumbered enough to have one's entire life contained in 26 portable feet is the stuff of fantasies, in reality it could also be the stuff of nightmares. What happens if the "car" breaks down or has a flat tire? What about bad storms? Wendy spends a lot of time in Florida where tornadoes treat RVs much as sharks treat tender swimmers. And financial security in the sunshine artists' community is oxymoronic.
Hers is a lifestyle that requires more courage than I could muster, even in my wildest dreams, but I really admire her spirit.

I went back to her booth and bought a bracelet of silver beads and snowflake obsidian. Wendy is many miles down the road by now, but the bracelet will be a reminder of the value of independence, and perhaps somewhere down my own road, one of my characters will find herself living in a 26-foot motor home.

Please visit the real Wendy at

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mariah Returns

A day or so ago, Woki and I were joined on our afternoon walk by Mariah Springer. (We had first encountered her a couple of weeks ago as she dashed past us on her way to the train.) As we walked along together this time, I learned quite a bit about her.
She lives in one of those really big houses near the Lake with her husband, Steve, and their ten-year-old son, Charlie. She and Steve both grew up in L.F., but he is eight years older than she, so they never knew each other as kids. They met when Mariah had just graduated from high school and they both happened to be at a Deer Path Gallery opening--Mariah's mother was showing some of her paintings, and Steve was there with his parents who had donated a significant sum of money to the Gallery.
Actually, Steve sounds like kind of a jerk. He's very controlling. The kind of guy that has to know her every move, which isn't too hard since Mariah doesn't even have a driver's license. Personally, I can't understand how anyone can get along without driving, but she said she walks to town almost every day, and if she has serious shopping to do, she takes the train into the city.
"What about groceries?" I asked.
Turns out, they have a housekeeper and a cook who take care of all that. They get deliveries from Sunset Foods twice a week, and anything Mariah wants, she just puts on a list for Carmella. (She's the housekeeper.)
So what does she do all day long?
She spends a lot of time in the dance studio they had built on the third floor. Mariah was going to be a professional ballerina before she married Steve. It's still her passion. Three times a week, Duncan DeMiro comes to the house to give her private lessons, which Steve doesn't mind because it is so obvious that Duncan is, in Steve's words, "gay as a Christmas pudding." Sometimes, Mariah sees Duncan as her only connection to the outside world....

So nobody's life is perfect. And there is a story here, which I plan to post on the Friends' Writers' Group blog as soon as it is up. Please keep checking here at Liminalesque to find out when that will be, and anyone interested in the Friends' Writers' Group (a.k.a. FWG) please email the group at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Angel of Death

Here is a story I wasn't going to post, but I must because my writing seems to be frozen until I exorcise the demon.
On July 31, Woody, my 19-year-old cat, was outside on our deck sunning himself in customary fashion. We always kept a close eye on the old boy because his health was failing, but being outside for a few hours each day was one of his greatest pleasures. (Another favorite pastime was parking himself in the middle of the room when my husband's band gathered for practice; Woody loved folk music.)
Unfortunately, around noon on that Friday, he wandered about ten feet from our property line onto the parking lot of the church next door. A woman who was at the church for business--someone who knew nothing of the neighborhood--saw Woody and thought he looked "distressed," so she put him in her car and drove him away. How did I learn this? I knew Woody was missing just before one o'clock and began looking everywhere for him. Someone at the church heard that a woman had taken a cat that she "found," and with further inquiries, I learned the woman's name. She had left no note or contact information other than her business card, but of course it was Friday afternoon and she wasn't in her office. After several more phone calls, someone remembered the woman said she lived in Lindenhurst. With her name, that information and the internet, I found a phone number and was able to reach Erin Nebel. When she answered her phone, I asked if she had taken a cat from L.F.
"Yes," she answered.
"That was my cat," I replied. "Where did you take him? How do I get him back?"
"You can't," she answered, "I took him to my vet and had him put down."

Needless to say, I was shocked and horrified. In the three weeks since that terrible day, I have tried to come to terms with what happened. Yes, I blame myself for not making Woody wear a collar. But the greater problem is someone who made an assumption that was so completely wrong and had irrevocable results. Woody was poorly, but he was robbed of his final days and of a peaceful death surrounded by people with whom he was familiar.
I have asked that both Ms. Nebel and the veterinary practice who performed the euthanasia make a donation to a No Kill shelter. I have also asked the veterinarians to review their policies regarding "strays." If they had given Woody even a few hours grace, this never would have happened. Finally, I ask that everyone out there consider a micro-chip implant for their animals. Woki had one put in the Monday after all this happened.

Perhaps now, after writing this, I can move on, but I won't forget.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Good Morning, Fictionland

So this is how it starts: I'm out and about early in the morning, walking Woki down to the Lake. We pass the usual assortment of other dog walkers, power walkers, social walkers, and solo walkers. Most of them smile and return our, "Good morning," and it becomes a game predicting who will respond.
There is a solo walker I see from quite a distance, mainly because she is dressed in a full-body electric blue leotard, partially covered by a yellow and white tunic that billows like a silk sail around her. She is walking briskly, and her hair--her dazzling red hair--flames out behind her like a jet contrail. When she passes, she offers no greeting. Instead, her face is tight with concentration. It is not a happy look. For all the brilliant gaiety of her garb, this young woman has a world of hurt at 7:15 on a beautiful summer morning.
Or so it seems. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Fictionland. It's a fun and wonderful place much of the time, but it can be scary as well. Let's see what happens to our red-haired gal in Fictionland.
First, she needs a name. Mariah. It's got to be Mariah. Dramatic, slightly exotic, and just a touch of something Old World. She's in a hurry, rushing to catch the train, no doubt. She'll go downtown, audition for that dance part, get rejected yet again, and then....
Ah, you get the idea. This can go on and on, which is the fun of Fictionland. The scary part is that bad things will have to happen to Mariah or no one will care about her. But in Fictionland, the endings don't always have to be terrible. To paraphrase Jane Austen, stories can have happy endings as long as the characters go through a great deal of trouble to get there. And though extended time in Fictionland makes me feel as though I've spent too much time on a carnival ride, I will visit Mariah there until I know her story well enough to tell it to you.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Although I do my best to keep the "all about me" factor out of this blog, today I am making an exception. Tomorrow, July 10, is my birthday. 55. Whew--how did the last thirty years slip by so quickly? Yesterday, while Woki and I were out walking, I began to think of my younger self and how I envisioned then what my life would be like now. When I was really young, before children (yes, kids age you), I never thought much beyond age thirty, but at some later point, I developed a vision for my mid-fifties. I thought we would live in L.B. or L.F. in a large, well-appointed house suitable for entertaining on a regular basis. Our three perfect daughters would live near enough to stop by on weekends. We would spend a good deal of our time at the Club for golf, tennis, and weekend parties. Our friends would host fun gatherings which we would drive to in our black Mercedes. For our 25th anniversary, I would receive a large diamond, and we would take a trip to Italy.
Cut to Reality.
Ex-husband has the Mercedes, but the two of us never made it to our 25th anniversary. In fact, for several years now, we have been happily remarried to other people. The three daughters are still perfect (well, almost) but only two of them live nearby, and I don't see enough of any of them. Parties are rare in my tiny house (at least until the incontinent cat has gone to the great litter box in the sky), and there certainly is no golf, tennis, or Club. Thank God. And thank God that I live in this beautiful town, that I have a job I love, and that I have a wonderful, considerate, and talented husband who brings me joy every day and has a high tolerance for my weirdness. I am finding my way down a path that I never expected to take, but as John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."
I would like to think that I can envision myself at 65. Jerry and I will be financially secure enough to retire and spend our days in our favorite pursuits: reading, walking, traveling, enjoying good food and wine, and finding success with our passions for music and writing. How wonderful that would be, but what's really going to happen?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Perfect Day

The other day as Woki and I took our six a.m. walk, the new day's sunlight had that special coruscating quality of an early summer morning, and the warm air held the delicate scent of peonies and honeysuckle. We headed toward the Lake, both of us savoring the peace and quiet. It was still early enough that we encountered few people and even fewer vehicles, though we were privileged to see a fox emerge from the shrubbery some ten yards ahead of us. Assuming correctly that we posed no threat, the fox proceded to trot nonchalantly down the sidewalk, then disappear onto the grounds of one of L. F.'s grand mansions. I wondered, as I often do, what it must be like to live in such a place--but that's a subject for some other post.

As we continued our stroll eastward to the park and the magnificent views of Lake Michigan, I pondered what makes a perfect day. Regardless of the size of our homes, most of us have been fortunate enough to experience a day we could rate pretty close to perfect: special events with family and friends, a best-day-of-the-vacation, or perhaps just a day of freedom from the stress of work.

For me, there are a few basic criteria for a perfect day: time spent outdoors (this can be tricky in Chicago), some sort of exercise (this can be tricky anywhere), accomplishing something (perferably from my ridiculously long "to-do" list), and sharing a nice meal with family and/or friends. There are, of course, innumerable additional pleasures (chocolate, afternoon naps, good music, windfalls of any sort, etc.). But if I really distill my most cherished things, I come up with an alliterative list: family, friends, freedom, and, oh, yeah, food. Sounds like the 4th of July.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Reading

One of Lake Forest's great treasures is its wonderful "indie" bookstore. On the southeast corner of Market Square, Lake Forest Book Store ( is within walking distance of my house, and Woki and I are there on a regular basis. (Yes, they allow him in the store, and I'm delighted to report he has been well-behaved. So far.)
Everyone on staff at L.F. Book Store is knowledgeable and friendly, and they have an amazing inventory. What they don't have on hand, they can usually get in a day or two. My family all know my fav gift is an L.F.B.S. gift certificate. I try (usually unsuccessfully) to save my certificates until this time of year, because once school is out, it is officially Summer Reading Time.
Of course, I read all year long, but there's something special about summer reading. It feels more indulgent, more escapist, more magical than any other reading. I have an enduring image of sitting on a white wicker swinging chair on the big, wrap-around veranda of a Victorian house, glass of lemonade within reach, lost in a great book. I don't know where this comes from; I've never lived in a Victorian house, never sat reading in a swinging chair. Perhaps I read that scene. Nevertheless, it is what I picture while I peruse the book reviews, browse the bookstore, and compile my summer reading lists.
I have two lists--middle level and upper level. The middle level is comprised of books I read ostensibly to advise my students about the best titles for 4th through 8th grade. The truth is, I enjoy many these books tremendously and recommend them to anyone who wants a good read. I think a lot of adults would be surprised that many of the stories deal with tough issues: death, divorce, abandonment, and abusive behaviors. Kids have never had it "easy" even in the most priviledged environments, and any adult who thinks childhood is all innocent sunshine should read the stuff our kids are reading. Four of the best that I have read recently include: Loser by Jerry Spinelli; The White Giraffe, by Lauren St. John; Alabama Moon, by Watt Key; and The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.
There is also a genre known as "Young Adult" which puts the above issues in an even harsher light. These books, while often compelling, poignant, and beautifully written, are not for readers younger than high school. Violence, sex, drugs and alcohol, and the gritty realities of life are treated frankly. Foul language is prevalent. It is a sign of our times that many (not all) of these books, which would never have made it past censorship in another era, are indeed, literature depicting modern life. The best that I've read include: Looking for Alaska, by John Green; Every Visible Thing, by Lisa Carey; The Absolutely True Diary of a Pat-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, and Slam, by Nick Hornby.
As for upper level titles, the ones I've read and would recommend are too numerous to mention. Well, okay, here are just a few: Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan; The Hounds of Winter, by James Magnuson; Home Safe, by Elizabeth Berg; Off-Season, by Anne Rivers Siddons; The Condition, by Jennifer Haigh; The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, by Shaffer & Barrows; and The Kindness of Strangers, by Katrina Kittle. These titles run the gamut from gentle (Geurnsey Literary) to vivid renderings of our worst nightmares (Kindness of Strangers), but each has that special quality of transporting the reader effortlessly to another world.
In my continuing quest for good stories well written, I have created my new list for this summer. Admittedly, it is a little ambitious, but there are so many choices. I've managed to narrow it down to 37. For now. I never recommend books that I haven't read, but with that caveat, I will mention a few of the titles that are on the list: Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; The Gift of Rain, by Tan Eng; Galway Bay, by Mary Pat Kelly; The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak; and City of Thieves, by David Benioff.
I would welcome any comments and any further suggestions for great summer reading. In the meantime, I'm going to fetch a glass of lemonade, head for my deck chair, and get started on the first 37.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Street Dance

The enormous flatbed semi-trailer was pulled along the side of a quiet, tree-lined street in our neighborhood. The bed of the trailer, which I later learned was 45 feet long, was loaded with 14 concrete pipe sections, each of which looked to be about 3 feet in diameter and 4 feet long.

The driver got out of the cab, walked the length of his rig and released a fork-lift device at the back of the bed. This allowed the nearest pipe to be rolled off the bed, supported by the fork, and gently lowered to the ground. The driver then rolled the pipe a few feet before blocking it with a 2 x 4 chock. He casually rolled off the next two sections of pipe in the same manner, climbed back into the cab of the rig, moved it forward about fifteen feet, and repeated the entire process with the next three pipe sections.

I watched, fascinated by the control this man had over such large chunks of concrete. By the time he got to pipe number four, he had added a new step to the dance: another length of 2 x 4 was placed before the penultimate section of pipe to ensure that only one section rolled off the bed at a time. By section number seven, yet another step was necessary. The driver had to place a 2 x 4 across the width of the flatbed about half-way down its length so that the remaining sections of pipe wouldn't pick up too much speed as they rolled along the bed. He knew exactly where to place this barrier so that the momentum of the rolling pipe was slowed. A couple of times, one of the pipes would take off at a slight angle or look perilously close to steamrolling its way to freedom, but the driver had yet another 2 x 4 in his hand, which he used much like an elephant hook to correct the wayward object.

Finally, my curiosity overcame me. From the safety of the opposite side of the road, I opened conversation by yelling, "There's quite an art to this, isn't there?"
"Yeah, and today's my first day on the job," the driver replied.
Stunned, it took me longer than it should have to see his mischievous grin. "Nah," he admitted, "I've been doing this for a long time."
Indeed, his hair was gray and his skin leathery, but he moved with the grace of a man half his age.
"So what does one of those things weigh?" I asked.
"Twenty-five hundred pounds or so," he replied, casually correcting a pipe that had started rolling off-center.

I watched for a few more minutes, not wanting to be a nuisance or a distraction. Visions of runaway 2-ton pipes careening down Sheridan Road kept me quiet, and eventually, I resumed my walk. Later, when Woki and I were on our second stroll of the day, I noticed that another load of pipe had been deposited, bringing the total number of concrete sections to 28. This time, I ventured closer. I went up to a section, which on its side stood as high as my waist. I pushed just a little. Nothing. I pushed it a bit harder. Still not even the merest sense that it might move. I probably could have pushed with all my might (not that I would have dared) and never have budged any of those babies one inch. They sat inert. The magic was gone. It had only been the skill of that man whose name I never asked that made 2500 pound ballerinas out of concrete pipe.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Two Ways to See It

In Lake Forest there is, natch, a Lake Forest Preservation Foundation "committed to preserving the historic visual character" of the town. There are, without doubt, some architecturally interesting buildings scattered around town as well as some elegant homes and beautiful mansions. In recent days, plastic placards have been placed in front of a number of these edifices declaring them to be "historic award recipients." While I think it is fine to acknowledge the architectural merits of these places, the placards themselves are tacky.

Contrary to some notions, Lake Forest is not comprised exclusively of impressive, stately homes. Although a few big estates do exist, and there are some "McMansions" in the newer developments, they are outnumbered by "ordinary" houses. There are even some very modest dwellings here, some of which are in poor repair. One such place is not far from my house, and Woki and I often pass it while on our walks. It sits low and squat on a tiny scrap of land. The paint is mildewed and peeling, the roof is half tarpaper, half corrugated metal, and there are only a couple of small windows. The scrubby yard is littered with plastic toys, bikes and an old snow shovel. Definitely not a realtor's dream.

The other day as we walked past, I saw that some wag had swiped an "award recipient" sign from a more prosperous neighbor and put it in the front yard of this place. Amusing, at first glance, especially as a flip-off to the self-congratulatory Preservation Foundation. But if it was meant as a slap at the less fortunate in a land of plenty, then it's another story entirely.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lake Forest

I'm still trying to figure out this blog stuff. Last Thursday, I went to an excellent presentation on blogging given by Laura Hansen, Cindy Kurman, and Helen Gallagher. These people really know their stuff, and I learned a lot. One thing that became clear is that good blogs have a focal point.

I struggled to think of something that I could use as a springboard for all the things I want to write about: observations, opinions, anecdotes, and sometimes just plain fiction. Hmm. It was a tough puzzle. Whenever I am confronted with the various puzzles life has to offer, I walk. My dog, Woki, and I have covered many miles working through the tricky bits of life.

This time, however, we had gone only a couple of miles before those little synapses clicked into place and I realized the answer was beneath my feet. And all around me. Lake Forest. The place I live. The place I have had a love/hate relationship with my entire life. It is a place with a certain reputation thanks to history, gossip, and writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Judith Guest.

Lake Forest, however, is not easily defined when one knows it well. It is a complex place that, while it by no means reflects the rough and tumble of the "real world," has its own heady mix of glamor and ugliness, charm and dark behaviors. Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone lives in a mansion, drives a Rolls Royce, and has more money than God. But certainly that element is here, too. (Wouldn't they cringe to be referred to as "an element"?)

Like many others, I am definitely not in the RR category. Over the years, I have often asked myself, "What am I DOING here?" Perhaps the answer is: observing. There are so many interesting things that go on here beyond the stereotypes. I will have anecdotes and opinions, and much of what I observe I will spin into fiction for all sorts of reasons. In addition, I hope this blog will be a little window into the world of Lake Forest, at least as I see it, for those who are curious.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Eighth Grade and Beyond

The season of graduation--that most cliched of all thresholds--is once more upon us. Whether or not the graduation is our own or that of a sibling, child, friend, or even parent, the event inevitably brings to mind the question, "What happens next?"
By one of those odd confluences that Fate is so good at creating, this past weekend held two back-to-back events for me that simultaneously raised and answered that question.

On Thursday evening, I was privileged to watch a particularly talented group of eighth graders from Oak Grove School perform the musical Bye Bye Birdie. These kids were amazing. They sang, danced and acted at a level far beyond their years.
The other event of my weekend happened to be the 41st reunion of my own eighth grade class. Jeez, where did that time go? As the teenagers in Birdie sang, we had "a lot of livin' to do."
We lived through Flower Power, Woodstock, Watergate, the BeeGees, Travolta and disco, Dynasty, detente, Clinton and Lewinski, Oklahoma City, two Bushes, and 9/11. Our personal histories are a panoply of travel, careers, marriages, and divorces. Our children reflect the complexity of our lives: some are beautiful and accomplished, some are severely troubled, some are all, or none, of the above. Most, but not all of us have survived to our mid-fifties in spite of stupid decisions, alcohol and fast cars, drugs, and our own genetic time bombs. We are, by our shared history, a group who love and quarrel and ignore each other by turns. Oddly, at least in my case, the bond seems to grow stronger with time so that I am compelled to write a blog perilously close to cheese level about people I consider as an extended and rather eccentric family. (Yes, even you Mary and Martha who were so mean to me in sixth grade.) (Penny, forget it. You can still go to hell.)

So what I would love to say to the eighth graders of 2009 is: remember, you do have a lot of living to do. Live wisely, live well. Because in a nanosecond or two, you will look around and say, "OMG, I can't believe our eighth grade play was 41 years ago!"

Thursday, April 16, 2009


This is actually being posted 48 hours after it was written, for those of you with total weather recall....

It's cold outside. 39 degrees and raining. Typical April weather in Chicago. But the snow has melted, a few brave flowers are blooming, Easter and the Cubs home opener are behind us. We have crossed the threshold into spring.
Celebrating the changing of seasons abounds in every land and culture, though particular rituals may vary widely. Whatever our beliefs may call us to, the message of spring is positive: we have made it through the dark of winter.
With the arrival of spring, even the most jaded among us feels a sense of renewal as we return to a gentler time of year. We are teased with delicious promises, and we respond. Long johns and flannel sheets go back to their cedar-scented boxes. Pink, turquoise, bright green and crisp white replace brown, gray, and olive drab. Garden centers and grocery stores brim with pansies and potting soil, and the sounds of leaf blowers and lawn mowers fill the weekend air.
For many of us, the rite of spring cleaning has begun, at least in mind if not in fact. How wonderful it is to open the windows, sweep out the cobwebs, and let in the light. There may be rainy days, even storms, ahead, but there will also be sun and warmth and new growth.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Crossing the Threshold

By rights, you (whoever you are) should not be reading this. I have tried to resist blogging, but alas, as the title "Liminalesque" implies, I am crossing the threshold into the blogosphere. Perhaps it's more accurate to say I have been dragged across said threshold by forces beyond my control: blogging, everyone tells me, is now essential to one's credentials as a writer. My best revenge is, therefore, to begin my postings with a list of reasons I believe blogging to be a treacherous activity for me.

The first of those reasons would be the time factor. Two unfinished novels and three dozens short stories are glaring at me malevolently from my desktop as I write this. They are beginning to doubt my sincere promises to actually finish them, polish them, and send them out into the world.

Then, there are also stacks of books--enough to rival our local indy bookshop--scattered about the house. Some of these, I've actually read.
What am I doing starting a blog?

In addition to my own time factor issues, there is the time factor that involves others. The first person on that list would be my wonderful and tolerant husband who waits patiently for me to clean up the aforementioned stacks of books, as well as all the other projects around the house which I tackle with a focus akin to that of a four-year-old on a steady diet of Snickers and Red Bull.

There is also a fear factor. Who exactly will read this? And why? The possibilities are alarming: friends and family are okay, but what about my students, former teachers, old flames, people from my dark and distant past.... Yikes!

Considering the above mentioned readers, I suppose I need to have content control. I'd better watch not only what I say, but how I say it. That'll be a pain in the ass.

I guess quality control should be considered, too. Last week, while tracking down a former classmate for a reunion, I found a couple of published essays that he and his wife had written. They used phrases like "Monet's...blurry bosks" and "ephebic young men in gossipy thrall."
OMG, that kind of writing is so poetic and precise that I am both inspired and intimidated. It makes me feel as though English is my second language and I have no business writing anything but a grocery list.

Finally, I learned a couple of years ago, after I hit the big 50, that I am genetically predisposed to dislike and distrust new-fangled stuff, especially stuff of a techno nature. Just like dear old Dad, I rail against all the gadgets that do everything but beam you to the Enterprise (and I'm sure that's on its way). In my heart of hearts, I'm a paper and pencil kind of gal, happy to scribble away on materials, which, if the writing is miserable, can be burned, and no one will be the wiser.