Thursday, November 29, 2012


This morning I corroborated the axiom that it takes daily practice to become at least proficient in some occupation or vocation.  

After two weeks off tennis I returned to play with the three women I play two or three times a week.  It was dreadful.  I couldn't hit the ball to save my life.  And when I did return it, the ball went anywhere but...short shots, long shots, into the net, it was sad.  I lost my mojo I told my tennis partners.  Have you seen it?

It didn't help matters that right next to our court the rolly-polly guy playing with three women kept screeching and shouting.  He's there every Thursday, smack dab next to us.  He yells instructions at his teammates, celebrates loudly when he gets a point, and generally makes a nuisance of himself.  

But - after running and hitting and missing for 50 minutes my game took off.  I had some great shots 5 minutes before the end of the game.  I found my mojo guys I told my friends.  Practice does help.  Now, if only I could improve all other aspects of my life, I'd be set.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


We sometimes imagine we want what we don't really want.  The friend who returns to the man who mistreats her.  Spending money we don't have on something for the pleasure of the purchase.  I imagine I want peace and quiet, solitude, but when I have it I'm eager to go out or call a friend or watch tv.  Because solitude is a lot of work.  It entails looking inward, judging my needs and wants, reviewing past actions.  Solitude requires strength of character.  Like traveling alone requires inner fortitude.  Solitude is what I think I want until I get it.  Beware what you wish the Chinese proverb reminds us, you may get it.  And then you or I realize I don't really want it.  Not now.  Perhaps later.  Perhaps never.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


*    "Closure" - who came up with that crap?  Every time someone is killed the family needs closure.  Let's find who did it.  Let's punish him or her.  We need closure.  How in the freaking world does that provide closure?  And what the heck is closure?  You can't forget what happened.  You might put it away in a corner of your mind but the absence is still there.  Will always be there. 

*    Waiters who keep refilling my coffee cup after I have only taken one or two sips - Let me finish it first before you screw up my carefully balanced proportion of milk and sugar.  Stay away until I ask you for more.

*    Busboys who want to clear away my plates before I am finished eating - why do restaurant managers force the busboys to remove and clean tables as soon as possible?  I'm not done yet.  Let me finish!

What are your pet peeves?  Tell me.

Monday, November 26, 2012


The morning appeared gray and cold.  Not a good day to stay at home alone.  The Winter Garden at the Harold Washington Public Library on the other hand was luminous.  Blue walls, green plants, a domed skylight: the sun filtered through around 11 a.m. while I sat at a table reading and writing.  The silence was broken occasionally by a tourist taking photos or a staff member click-clacking her high heels on the marble floors.  If you haven't been there, don't miss it.  

I read a couple of travel essays to prepare for the class on Thursday, jotted down notes for future research, and skimmed through The Writer's Chronicle.  I breathed deeply in an effort to quiet down my insides, to be in sync with the outside: peaceful surroundings, light and airy.  

The cold temperatures and grey skies of Chicago in Winter have become more and more unbearable as the years go on.  One would think that I'd be used to them by now.  But no!  I need sun and warmth.  And with the sadness brought on by recent events, these ugly days are intolerable.  I must find a source of contentment soon or...I'll have to go to Florida for the Winter.  Or Argentina. 

Libraries are one of my most favorite places to spend time.  I can get lost between the stacks, reading book spines sideways, browsing, reading.  Sometimes I go to the DePaul University library near my house to borrow books or sit and read in one of the comfortable arm chairs scattered around the 4th floor.  I've even been known to take a nap in the quiet space.  

This morning I looked for a book I want to read: Wanderlust: A Social History of Travel.  I was sure it would be in the library.  I was looking forward to taking it to the Winter Garden but no such luck.  The book seems to be available only In digital format.  What's that about?!  I certainly hope that libraries and print books don't go out of style any time soon.  What will I do on cold, grey days in Chicago?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I'M STILL HERE - the three weeks project

Sorry I missed yesterday.  In the wee hours of Saturday however I became very ill with vomiting and other types of problems.  The culprit?  I believe a couple of spinach pie pieces I had earlier in the day.  I spent the day eating crackers and plain white rice, on the couch, working on feeling good enough to play with Oliver and Adelaide who were here for the holiday weekend.

Besides the children, a new puppy came to stay for the weekend.  And the parents, of course.  The house filled with screaming, crying, laughing.  David and I realized how quiet our house usually is.  I can still hear Adelaide's screams and cries.  She enjoys having tantrums I guess because she had a few every day.  That too shall pass.  I hope so because they're coming back in two weeks.

Despite the anarchy I loved having them here.  They're so smart and funny.  And loving.  I didn't have children but I have amazing grandchildren.  Isn't that a kicker?  Besides them, there is Ezri who lives in Chicago and comes over once a week.  I take her to the Merit School of Music just like I took Oliver in earlier years.

Thanks David for making me a grandmother.  I guess I have another reason for thanksgiving.

Sometimes it's hard to be a curmudgeon.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Yesterday my good friend Myra invited us over for Thanksgiving.  There were about 23 people, all of them related to her, and us.  We felt welcomed and enjoyed ourselves, feasting on turkey, potatoes, sweet and regular, pastichio, cranberry and a myriad desserts.  So much food!  We watched football and learned all about Myra's relatives - some very colorful ones.

I've known Myra since 1972, when we joined a Greek theater company and performed plays in the Chicago area.  Unbelievable!  So many years!  That's when we met Sonia too.  The three of us remained friends to this day.  Very close friends.  We miss Sonia so much! 

We spent holidays and birthdays and weddings together.  We went on trips to Greece and Michigan and Argentina.  We laughed and cried and told stories and secrets.  Sonia's absence is still hard to believe, let alone accept.  Next month our group will go out for a holiday dinner just like we've been doing for years.  In the past Sonia would organize all sorts of outings and dinners.  Now we have to take up the task.  It will not be the same.  Ever.  But we'll try to have fun and enjoy ourselves, remembering our dearest friend who always brought us together - whether we wanted it or not. 
(We did.)

And so, I am thankful for having had Sonia in my life.  She made all the difference.  "She was always there."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Although I've lived in this country since 1970, I still don't get this "Thanksgiving" thing.  Well, no, I get it.  But - what's all the hoopla about?  And eating turkey?  I've been reading the Charles Mann book 1493 and today I learned that the Powahatan came to the aid of the starving colonists but it was December and it was not turkey. 

Gratitude should not be something we express once a year.  It is not something we should express gorging ourselves with fowl and carbs.  It is not something we should show by eating ourselves into oblivion and drinking ourselves silly and falling asleep in the middle of the day on the couch.  And then...then comes "Black Friday."  What kind of insanity is that!?

In the news I saw people lining up outside stores starting Monday in Los Angeles.  They are sleeping in tiny tents and waiting for their relatives to bring them some turkey and stuffing on Thursday so they can be first in through the door of the Best Buy or Walmart or whatever store they plan to invade as soon as the doors are unlocked.  Waiting in line outside for four days so you can buy a tv or a computer?  Sleeping in a tent so you can be the first to get a "deal" on something you don't even need? 

Are there other places on earth where this happens at some time during the year?  I can't imagine - but if you know, please let me know.  I'd like to shake my head in disbelief and laugh as I do with the people here.

I confess: I don't like the "holidays."  Such pressure!  So much hullaballoo (sp?)!  And for what?  Presents, sales, food, drink, songs, decorations:  be happy or else!  Can't wait til they're over.  January can't come soon enough.  Of course, then I have to deal with freezing cold and snow up to my ears but, who knows, maybe this will be a mild winter.  Maybe.  I can always hope.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I will never write about driving 
a car or giving birth.  I will never
write about how it feels to swim 
in the deep blue sea.  I will never 
write about riding horses or bicycles 
even though I tried both once or 
twice.  I will never write about 
hoarding because I am a purger, 
a discarder.  I clean up, toss out, 
put away.  I will never write about 
being a sister or an aunt.  Being an only 
child has always been my burden. I will 
never write about not writing because
I do, I write, I am a writer who writes because
it helps me heal.  Because I have stories
to tell.  Because I need to exorcise
my demons.  Because, when I read my writing
I look at the audience and see their eyes.

Monday, November 19, 2012


"They" say that it takes three weeks to make or break a habit.  "They" also say that to become good at something one must practice 10,000 hours.  I'm going to try the "three weeks" to make a habit of writing.  Discipline is not my strongest suit.  As a rule I tend to be lazy.  Yet here I am: writing today after I wrote yesterday.  Will I keep it up?  The jury is still out. 

Saturday evening David and I attended a fabulous concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  An all-Russian program with Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. The 21-year old pianist Daniil Trifonov performed the Tchaikovsky concerto bringing never-ending applause and some tears.  He seemed to be crying while playing.  

Percussion is probably my favorite type of instrument.  The Rite of Spring is rich with drums, bells,  cymbals, and the players were fascinating to watch.  One of the women percussionists wore ear plugs when not playing.  I saw her taking them off and putting them on again when she would sit down after her part.  Must be very loud back there with those huge drums.

It's been a long time since I enjoyed the sold-out concert as much as I did.  The Rite of Spring has been one of my favorites since 1979 when I took a course on 20th century music at the University of Illinois at Chicago during my undergraduate years.  We learned about Bartok and Prokofiev and Ives and Ravel and so many more.  The exams consisted of recognizing a piece of music as well as its composer and year after listening to a few bars.  It was hard!  But I loved it.  

By the way - who are "they" who say things?  Anybody know?

Sunday, November 18, 2012


My husband – David – and I seem to go overboard when buying tickets for festivals.  Last year David bought 40 tickets (20 movies x 2) for the Chicago International Film Festival.  Going to the movies became a chore after the first three.  But we did go and we saw some excellent films.  We also left in the middle of a few (we are known for leaving early if we’re not enjoying a film or a play or a concert).  This year I went crazy and bought over 40 tickets (20 lectures x 2) for the Chicago Humanities Festival that just ended last weekend.

The first weekend in mid-October the lectures took place at Northwestern University for an entire Sunday.  The next weekend we went to Hyde Park for a series of talks at the University of Chicago.  And in November we attended lectures in Chicago for two consecutive weekends.  Often we had to run from one location to the other; once in a while we took a taxi to make it on time.  David didn’t come to all of the events with me; he skipped a few because of work, or so he said.  The lectures in Chicago were concentrated in the Loop and Near North areas.  We anticipated being hungry at lunch time and took sandwiches and fruit to avoid spending time (and money) eating at a restaurant or coffee shop. 

What’s my conclusion about these lectures?  Did I enjoy them?  Did I learn anything?  Was it money well-spent? 

Yes and no.  A few talks were illuminating and entertaining.  Very few.  Most of them ranged from indifferent to bad.  The format of “conversation” – a dialogue between an author or scholar and a reporter or writer – was the worst.  Like the talk titled “The Iconic American City” where curator Katherine Bussard discussed the photography exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago Film and Photo in New York with Zoe Strauss and Paul D’Amato – a magnificent exhibit by the way.  The two artists talked mostly to each other, engaging in chit-chat and hugging, as if the audience were not there.  The sound system in Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute made the entire thing difficult to understand and the same photos were projected over and over.  I noticed audience members filing out after about twenty minutes.   And that’s unfortunate because the subject matter and exhibit are worth of a good discussion.  I wanted to hear about the Photo League of New York and how photography can change the world. 

Adam Gopnik’s conversation with Neil Steinberg titled “The Table Comes First”, The Whipping Man with Matthew Lopez and Dorothy Allison’s chat with Donna Seaman fared a little better in my opinion; however, I contend that having two people on stage talk about a subject informally does not make for good performance.  It can be boring, it can veer into the obnoxious, and it does not engage the audience as much as a straightforward lecture or even informal talk will.

By far our favorite lecture was “1492: Before and After” by Charles C. Mann, author of two books 1491 and 1493.  Professor Mann displayed that rare mixture of good showmanship and valuable information.  His visual aids worked to enhance the facts he was presenting, and my husband, a friend and I left the lecture with interesting questions and a desire to read his books. Last week I purchased 1493 and am looking forward to reading it.     

I learned some very interesting facts from a handful of lectures: “The American Revolutions” by Caitlin Fitz, “The Hip Hop Pioneer” by Tricia Rose, “Freedom Papers” by Rebeca Scott, and “Icons of the Americas: Josephine Baker and Santa Evita” by Matthew Guterl.  Fitz’s presentation style was a bit dry and monotonous but her subject matter interested me personally and so, I was attentive.  Can’t say the same for some other audience members who nodded off.  Tricia Rose is certainly a captivating speaker and her subject matter, current and controversial.  Good one!  Rebeca Scott’s and Matthew Guterl’s lectures benefited from the visual aids which added to the understanding of the subjects. 

            Larry Wilmore’s presentation at Francis Parker High School wasn’t as funny as I had hoped.  There were humorous moments and a fair amount of wit on Wilmore’s part but nothing fabulous or even great as I expected, having seen him on The Daily Show several times.  John Hodgman’s conversation with Peter Sagal was a bit more amusing, breaking some rules of stage protocol when Hodgman took off his shoes and socks and even incited Sagal to do the same.  On the whole however, both presenters did not meet my expectations in comparison with Hodgman’s work on television. 

“Beyond Macondo: Contemporary Latino Fiction” with Luis Urrea and Christina Henriquez left a lot to be desired.  Again, the conversation format was not conducive to any insightful commentary but rather to small talk between the two.  Furthermore, the title was misleading since “Macondo” refers to the work of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the two writers featured are basically American writers of Latino descent.  They do not write about Latin America, not really.  For starters, Latin American writers write in Spanish (or Portuguese) while U.S.Latino authors write in English. They live vastly different lives and, therefore, write widely different stories. Conflating Latin American authors with U.S.Latino writers has been a hallmark of the mainstream academy and is a disservice to both, not to mention it confuses readers.

“Sneak Peek at Gay History” by George Chauncey engaged me somewhat.  And “Kafka’s Amerika” by David Wellbery brought up interesting albeit obscure facts about Kafka and the novel Amerika.  Wellbery weaved several topics that, although apparently relevant to his topic, eventually became confusing.

 “America’s Tongues: Three ‘Paradoxes’ “ by Michael Silverstein, again held at Fullerton Hall, was difficult to understand, an especially troublesome issue since it was about pronunciation of words in different regions of the USA.  “Ourselves as Others See Us: Latin America” with Boris Munoz, Claudia Mendez Arriaza, and Fernando Pisarro focused on US politics as seen by Latin America  circling around the same old concerns from a traditional point of view. Where was the talk about culture? 

“When Modern Art Came to America” with Judith Barter focused on the Armory Show of 1913 in New York and its Chicago exhibition at the Art Institute.  I enjoyed this lecture and learned something I didn’t know.  The slide show complemented the talk well.

“Lessons from the Ancient Mayas” presented by Lisa Lucero might’ve been the most tedious lecture I saw.  The speaker was too theatrical in contrast with her topic.  I bet a lot of the people in the audience expected to hear about the subject of the end of the world in December 2012 as prophesied by the Mayans.  I know that the description in the catalogue mentioned the issue of water and yet, I am not sure we all thought of that when we bought the tickets.

“The Other 1960s” by Kevin Boyle held my interest because of the storytelling quality of the speaker.  However, the substance of the lecture left a lot to be desired.  And as he confessed during the question and answer period, the description in the catalogue differed substantially from what he eventually presented.  His explanation?  Those descriptions are written way in advance and not always hold up when the lecturer is ready to prepare the actual talk.

The balance?  Next year I will be more discriminating when purchasing tickets.  I will read the catalogue and think before spending my money.  I love to learn.  I have a thirst for knowledge that goes back to childhood.  During the talks I took notes and, especially, marked subjects and topics I would like to look into further in the future.  I am always looking for ideas to research and write about.  This year’s festival provided me with a few intriguing  possibilities.  Let’s see what happens next year.