Category Archives: writing

Chicago Mourns

One of the greatest moments I have had as a writer was getting a chance to interview Leon Despres. The notable Chicago statesman was turning 100 years old and I was on assignment for the Hyde Park Herald.


I had become an instant fan of Mr. Despres after reading his memoir, “Challenging the Daley Machine.” As a new transplant to the Chicago area it was this book that served as my history primer. Leon Despres’ history is Chicago’s history.

Leon, a lawyer and alderman from 1955 to 1975 of the historic Hyde Park neighborhood, spent his entire life fighting for justice. Fighting for civil rights (although he is white he was called on more than one occasion “the lone Negro on the city council”), fighting for women’s rights, workers rights and fighting to keep parks assessable to all people and children safe from lead paint. He rode his bike miles to work long before it was fashionable to do so.

I visited Leon, called “Len” by his friends, in his home that overlooks Jackson Park and Lake Michigan. I tried to take in all there was to see in this Stoney Island apartment; the impressive artwork, stacks of eclectic books on the coffee table one happened to be about Frida Khalo, even a piece from a historic Chicago building that he failed to save from the wrecking ball hung on the wall. All artifacts of a colorful life.

During the course of our interview his phone rang a half a dozen times. Each time he politely took the call. And each time he was discussing either a newspaper article, a book or a new restaurant that had opened. This was truly a man who was living in the present and looking to the future.

Untitled-1_largeIn 2007, Kenan Heise wrote the book, “Chicago Afternoons with Leon: 99 1/2 years old and looking forward.” Heise describes outings he took with Leon around Chicago and what he thought about the schools, gentrification on the near South Side, the libraries and the parks. The book was a memoir but it was also a commentary on what should be done (or not done) in Leon’s beloved hometown.

I was saddened to hear that Mr. Despres died Wednesday at 101 years old. He was someone who lived his life to the fullest. Accomplishing more than most could in several lifetimes. I wasn’t sad for Leon. I can picture him now with his arm around the love of his life, his wife Marion, sipping a cocktail with his good friend Studs Terkel. No, I am mostly sad for Chicago, a place that still had a lot to learn from him.

Bringing home the bacon

I can’t help but feel I’m not living up to my potential. At least my financial potential. Come on,  I have a college degree (that I still owe mountains of cash for in student loans).

I have been using the bad economy for an excuse. No one is able to find a job these days, especially writers. But honestly, I don’t know if I want to get a full-time job.

Part of me does. I can picture myself wearing fashionable semi-professional clothes, carrying my commuter cup and sporting a really cool hair style. I’d be walking downtown Chicago to some hip office. After work I would meet up with my like-minded, extremely creative and fun coworkers for a couple drinks before catching the South Shore train home. People would appreciate how witty I was and they would swear they couldn’t believe that I was turning 40 on my next birthday.

But really how likely is that scenario.

I’m trying to find that perfect balance between work, family and passion….the topic that countless theses have been based on.

I love being with my son, especially at this age when he still wants to spend time with his mom. And I appreciate being able to spend time with my own mom, who has always been a good friend. So now I just have to figure out how to fit making money into my life too. I work a part-time retail job and I’m even trying my hand at selling Tupperware (which will probably just mean that we have some new shinny kitchen containers and gadgets). As far as freelance writing, I just have to start writing. I need to send out those all important and intimidating query letters. The ideas are flowing but translating them into nice pitch letters is another thing.

Eventually, my husband and I want to open a Bed and Breakfast on a small farm where we will grow heirloom vegetables and beautiful flowers. We will have classes on home-brewing and crafting.

But until then…

It pays real money at least

The alarm clock rudely wakes me at 3:15 a.m. I lay catatonic for at least ten more minutes before I stumble through the dark trying to be as quiet as I can. I grab the crumbled t-shirt off my dresser.

I can hear my dad in the bathroom so I rush down to the basement to avoid a loud conversation with him (see One Day at a Time).

I really don’t know what I was thinking getting a job that starts at 4 in the morning. Four or five months ago it seemed like a luxury after getting up at 2 in the morning to deliver newspapers. But, now it just seems crazy.

I work in the backroom of a popular department store several blocks from my house. I won’t tell which store except that it is not the evil Walmart. I was excited when I first got the job. “Hey I love shopping there it should be fun to work there. And I’m sure I’ll get an awesome discount.” I told my husband.

Well, it is as far from fun as a stroll through the Sahara Desert…barefoot. It is definitely not the cool job I had in college working in the stockroom of the campus bookstore.

Now that I’m starring down 40 years old this year, working in the backroom stocking toothbrushes and baby bottles is just not a great reality.  And the discount is only a measly 10 percent and that is if you pay with cash (like that ever happens) or you charge your purchase on their high interest store card.

I really can’t complain. I’m off early enough to do some writing before I go get my son from preschool. And it is a real job that pays real money.  Unlike the play money I get paid when my son and I play store or the check for a freelance project I finished months ago that I just know has to be in the mail.

Getting my creative writing mojo back

My good friend Julie is visiting from Phoenix this week. She heard about the minus 10 degree weather and just couldn’t resist.

view out my front door
view out my front door

I first meet Julie when I had a one-line part in a friend’s play. The play was about whether gay people should be allowed to own house plants.

We soon found ourselves hanging in the same circle, you know the non-paid but highly creative underground theatre crowd. I was in my late twenties and it finally felt like I had found my tribe.

Surrounded by creative, fun, free people I found my voice. It started with a piece I did called “Random Thoughts” for a late-night coffee house show. I just put a bunch of thoughts on index cards and rattled them off. To my surprise, I was a big hit.

I went on to write, direct and produce a one-act play called “Cindy Sparkles.” Before an attentive standing-room-only crowd my words came to life. It was truly one of the best moments of my life. OK, it was only seen at a small gallery in front of 100 people, but I was on top of the world.

Next came a monthly performance night called “Take Out: Emotional Leftovers”. Comedy skits, monologues and poems were just flowing out of me. But now, like the sink in our upstairs bathroom, it has slowed to a trickle, really just a drip.

Where did I lose my creative mojo?

I moved from Arizona, got married and had a son. I have continued to write non-fiction pieces for work, but I lost that creative groove. Without knowing people in Denver and eventually Chicago, I just reverted back to my grade school-introverted self. I understand now how important it is to know supportive like-minded people, like Julie. But mainly, it is just me feeling self-doubt about putting myself out there again.

I’m determined, with the dawning of this new year, this new hope-filled Obama Era, to get out there and get my creative writing and performing mojo back.